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Xirang (Chinese: 息壤; pinyin: xīrǎng), also known as Swelling Earth, is a magical substance in Chinese mythology that had a self-expanding ability to continuously grow – which made it particularly effective for use by Gun and Yu the Great in fighting the rising waters of the Great Flood.[1] This Chinese word compounds "breathe; cease; rest; grow; multiply" and rǎng "soil; earth". Noting similarities with earth-diver creation myths, Anne Birrell translates xirang as "self-renewing soil", and compares other translations of "breathing earth" (Wolfram Eberhard), "swelling mold" (Derk Bodde), "idle soil" (Roger Greatrex), and "living earth" or "breathing earth" (Rémi Mathieu).[2]

In some versions of the myths, Gun stole the xirang from the Shangdi, who sent Zhu Rong to execute him in punishment, on Feather Mountain.[3] According to some accounts, Yu, on the other hand, went up to Heaven. After begging Shangdi, he received from him a gift of as much xirang as his magical black tortoise could carry on its back, thus allowing Yu to successfully block up the 233,559 springs, the sources of the flood waters.[4] In other versions of these myths, xirang was stolen or obtained from the Primordial Divinity, or Gun's executioner was other than Zhu Rong.[5]

A historical basis has been suggested for both the Great Flood[6] and for xirang. Hawkes proposes that the myths are a symbolic interpretation of a societal transition. In this case, Gun represents a society at an earlier technological stage, which engages in small-scale agriculture which involves raising areas of arable land sufficiently above the level of the marshes. The "magically-expanding" xirang soil may represent a type of raised garden, made up of soil, brushwood, and similar materials. Yu and his work in controlling the flood would symbolize a later type of society, which allowed a much larger scale approach to transforming wetlands to arable fields.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Yang, Lihui; An, Deming (2008). Handbook of Chinese Mythology. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-533263-6. 218
  2. ^ Birrell, Anne (1993). Chinese mythology : an introduction (Johns Hopkins paperbacks ed.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0801845956., p. 80
  3. ^ Christie, Anthony (1975). Chinese mythology (3rd impression. ed.). London: Hamlyn. p. 87. ISBN 978-0-600-00637-4.
  4. ^ Christie, Anthony (1975). Chinese mythology (3rd impression. ed.). London: Hamlyn. pp. 87–88. ISBN 978-0-600-00637-4.
  5. ^ Yang, Lihui; Turner, Deming An, with Jessica Anderson (2008). Handbook of Chinese mythology. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 127, 237. ISBN 0-19-533263-6.
  6. ^ Outburst flood at 1920 BCE supports historicity of China’s Great Flood and the Xia dynasty. Qinglong Wu, Zhijun Zhao, Li Liu, Darryl E. Granger, Hui Wang, David J. Cohen, Xiaohong Wu, Maolin Ye, Ofer Bar-Yosef, Bin Lu, Jin Zhang, Peizhen Zhang, Daoyang Yuan, Wuyun Qi, Linhai Cai, Shibiao Bai. Science 05 Aug 2016: Vol. 353, Issue 6299, pp. 579-582. DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf0842 http://science.sciencemag.org/content/353/6299/579.full accessed 5 Aug 2016
  7. ^ Hawkes, David, translator and introduction (2011 [1985]). Qu Yuan et al., The Songs of the South: An Ancient Chinese Anthology of Poems by Qu Yuan and Other Poets. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-044375-2, pp 138-139