Classic of Mountains and Seas

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Classic of Mountains and Seas
Traditional Chinese山海經
Simplified Chinese山海经
Literal meaning"Classic of Mountains and Seas"
Classic of Mountains and Seas illustration of a nine-headed phoenix (colored Qing dynasty edition)
Classic of Mountains and Seas illustration of Nüwa
Classic of Mountains and Seas illustration of Nine-tailed Fox, companion of the Queen Mother of the West

The Classic of Mountains and Seas, also known as Shan Hai Jing,[1] formerly romanized as the Shan-hai Ching,[2] is a Chinese classic text and a compilation of mythic geography[3][4] and beasts. Versions of the text may have existed since as early as the 4th century BC,[5][6] but the present form was not reached until the early Han dynasty a few centuries later.[6] It is largely a fabulous geographical and cultural account of pre-Qin China as well as a collection of Chinese mythology.[citation needed] The book is divided into eighteen sections; it describes over 550 mountains and 300 channels.


The exact author(s) of the book and the time it was written are still undetermined. It was originally thought that mythical figures such as Yu the Great or Boyi wrote the book. However, the consensus among modern Sinologists is that the book was not written at a single time by a single author, but rather by numerous people from the period of the Warring States to the beginning of the Han dynasty.[citation needed]

The first known editor of the Classic was Liu Xiang from the Western Han, who among other things cataloged the Han imperial library. Later, Guo Pu, a scholar from the Western Jin, further annotated the work.


The book is not a narrative, as the "plot" involves detailed descriptions of locations in the cardinal directions of the Mountains, Regions Beyond Seas, Regions Within Seas, and Wilderness. The descriptions are usually of medicines, animals, and geological features. Many descriptions are very mundane, and an equal number are fanciful or strange. Each chapter follows roughly the same formula, and the whole book is repetitious in this way.

It contains many short myths, and most rarely exceed a paragraph. A famous ancient Chinese myth from this book is that of Yu the Great, who spent years trying to control the deluge. The account of him is in the last chapter, chapter 18, in the 2nd to last paragraph (roughly verse 40). This account is a much more fanciful account than the depiction of him in the Classic of History.


Earlier Chinese scholars referred to it as a bestiary, but apparently assumed it was accurate.[citation needed] In fact the information in the book is mythological. It is not known why it was written or how it came to be viewed as an accurate geography book.

English Translations[edit]

Title Publication Date ISBN
The Classic of Mountains and Seas by Anne Birrell (Paperback) January 1, 2001 978-0140447194
A Chinese Bestiary: Strange Creatures from the Guideways Through the Mountains and Seas by Richard Strassberg June 17, 2002 (Hardcover); November 4, 2008 (Paperback) 978-0520218444 (Hardcover); 978-0520298514 (Paperback)
Fantastic Creatures of the Mountains and Seas: A Chinese Classic by Jiankun Sun, Siyu Chen, Howard Goldblatt (Hardcover) June 1, 2021 978-1950691388

See also[edit]

  • Bai Ze – titular figure of the lost treatise on demonology which has similarities to some of the Shanhaijing.
  • Shi Yi Ji (拾遺记) by Wang Jia – a 4th-century work containing "apocryphal" versions of some of the stories in the Classic of Mountains and Seas.


  1. ^ "Shan Hai Jing". Chinese Text Project.
  2. ^ Jonathan H. Ping; Brett McCormick (14 December 2015). China's Strategic Priorities. Routledge. pp. 40–. ISBN 978-1-134-59229-6.
  3. ^ Lewis, Mark Edward (2006). The Flood Myths of Early China. State University of New York. p. 64. ISBN 978-0-7914-6663-6.
  4. ^ Mark Edward Lewis (2009). China's Cosmopolitan Empire: the Tang dynasty, Vol. 4 (illustrated ed.). Harvard University Press. p. 202. ISBN 978-0-674-03306-1. Retrieved February 8, 2012.
  5. ^ Leo Bagrow, R. & A. Skelton (2009). History of cartography. Transaction Publishers. p. 204. ISBN 978-1-4128-1154-5.
  6. ^ a b Lust, John (1996). Chinese popular prints. Brill Publishers. p. 301. ISBN 90-04-10472-0.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]