Mythical Monsters, by Charles Gould, , at sacred-texts.com
The Classic containing "Wonders by Land and Sea" has been praised by all who have read it, for its depth, greatness, far sightedness and completeness; since the narratives therein contained are all wonderful and different from ordinary things. Moreover, the truth or veracity of the book is a matter of doubt to nearly all men, and I therefore think it fit that I should give my opinion on the subject. It has been said by the philosopher Chuang that "the things that men do know can in no way be compared, numerically speaking, to the things that are unknown," thus in reading "Wonders by Land and Sea," the force of his remark becomes apparent to me.
Now, since heaven and earth are vast, it follows that the beings which inhabit them must reasonably be numerous. The positive and negative elements being heated by vernal warmth, produce myriads of living beings of classes innumerable. When the essence of ether combines, motion becomes apparent and generates into wondrous and roving spirits, which, floating about and coming into contact with anything, enter into it and thus create wonderful beings, whether they be inhabitants of mountain or sea, or wood or stone; yea, so numerous are they, that it is an impossible task for me to give them in detail.
The evolution of the essence of the elements generates sound, which by development produces a certain image. When we call a thing wonderful, it is because we do not know the reasons attending its origin, and what we do not call wonderful, we still are unaware why it is not so. And why? A thing is, per se, not wonderful, it is because we wish to consider it so; the wonder is in ourselves and not in the thing. For instance, when a savage looks at the cotton cloth we wear, he calls it hemp; and when an inhabitant of Yüeh (Soochow and vicinity) sees a rug, he calls it fur or hair. The reason may be found in this: we believe only those things to which we have been educated, and anything
which might not be perfectly understood by us we deem wonderful. Hence the shortsightedness of human nature. I will now give a passing remark of what is known amongst us. A place called Ping Shui (?) produces fire, while the Yen mountain produces rats. Now all men know these facts, and yet when we read and speak of the classic treating of the "Wonders by Land and Sea," we call it wonderful! When a thing is really wonderful, we do not consider it so; and what is not wonderful, we persist in considering it to be so. Such being the case, if, what should be wondered at, we do not call it so, then there cannot be a single wonder in the whole Universe; and if we call a thing wonderful which in truth is not so, then up to the present time there can be nothing wonderful. Moreover, if what is unknowable appears clear to our minds, it follows that all things on earth should be understood by us.
According to the Bamboo Annals of Chi Chuen, and the records of King Müh, it is said that when that King went to visit the Fairy Queen of the West, he took with him as gifts to her, beautiful jade stones, and the best of raw and embroidered silks; while, on the other hand, the Fairy Queen gave a banquet in honour of the King, on the banks of the lake formed by white jade stones. During the banquet they composed and spoke their thoughts in verse, and the sentiments embodied therein were beautiful. Then the royal pair repaired to the hillock adjoining the Küen Lun mountain, and roamed over the palaces of King Hsüen Yüan, which were situated there, and thence to the artificial terraces of the Chung hill, and gazed on the precious and wonderful things collected by that king. Returning to the residence of the Fairy Queen, King Müh had a stone tablet engraved recording the event, and erected it in the Queen's magic garden. On King Müh's return home, he brought with him to the Middle Kingdom beautiful wood and magnificent flowers, precious stones and elegant jades, golden oils and silver candles. In his travels, King Müh rode in a chariot drawn by eight splendid horses; the right-hand horses were of a dark colour, while those on the left hand were greenish. Tsao Fu was the charioteer, and Pen Yung, who stood on the King's right, was the body-guard. Myriads of lis could thus be traversed. They went over barren wastes and over celebrated mountains and large rivers, yet none of them barred their onward course. To the east they came across the Halls of the Giants; to the west they arrived at the mansions of the Fairy Queen; to the south they crossed over a bridge composed of immense tortoises; and to the north they drove over streets made of layers of feathers. Traversing these, then, King Müh commenced his journey homeward full of joy. History informs us that "King Müh, riding in a chariot drawn by eight magnificent horses, with Tsao Fu as charioteer, made a journey to the west, in search of adventures in hunting, and, coming to the Fairy Queen of
the West, was so happy, that he almost forgot to return home." These words are similar to those recorded in the "Bamboo Annals" of Chi Chuen. The classic called "Spring and Autumn," says that "King Müh was a man of vast ambition, and desired that the whole world should bear the tracks of his cart-wheels, and receive the imprints of his horse's hoof," and the "Bamboo Annals" illustrate this ambition.
The disciples of Tsian Chow were all eminent scholars of famous attainments, but they were all sceptical as to the veracity of the adventures of King Müh, and say that in looking over history they are convinced of their fallacy. Sz Ma Tseen also, in writing the preface to the "Records of Ta Wan," says that when Chang Chien went on his mission to Ta Hsia, he traversed the whole length of the Huang Ho up to its very source, but never came across the Küen Lun mountain. Moreover, Sz Ma Tsëen in his own history also says, in referring to the "Book of Wonders by Land and Sea," that, "As to the wonders described in that work, I, for my part, dare not vouch for their truth." In the face, therefore, of all these authorities, is it not a hard task for me to prove the contrary? If the "Bamboo Annals" of a thousand years ago be not taken at the present day as a truthful record of the past, then, indeed, most of the narratives contained in the "Book of Wonders by Land and Sea" must be false. Now, Tung Fang Shun knew of Pe Fang; Lin Tsz Chen proved satisfactorily the existence of Tao Chea by a corpse from that kingdom. Wang Chi had an interview with men having two distinct faces on their heads, and a man from the sea coast picked up a dress having two very long sleeves. In carefully studying, therefore, these books, I am convinced that their stories mainly coincide with the tales in the "Book of Wonders by Land and Sea." Behold these evidences then, ye who doubt, and place some credence in the narrations contained in this book.
The Sage King made exhaustive researches into these wondrous beings, and then drew their images. It is indeed impossible to hide the existence of these wonders! The "Book of Wonders by Land and Sea" was compiled seven dynasties ago (up to the Tsin dynasty), a space of 3,000 years. During the Han dynasty this book received the closest attention, and was elucidated for the benefit of its readers; but shortly after it again fell into neglect. Moreover, since then, the names of some mountains and rivers have undergone changes. At the present day, teachers and expounders are unable to explain these wonders, and hence through disuse their reasons given at an earlier age have almost sunk into oblivion. Alas, for the loss of Reason! Fearing, therefore, that it will be entirely lost, I have written the accompanying work, making lucid the points that are obscure, and erasing those that are useless; pointing out what would not be noticeable, and explaining the parts that are deep. I shall endeavour to reclaim what has almost become obsolete, that it may stand for
thousand of ages, and the wonders herein recorded shall not, from the present day, be lost. Thus the works of the Emperor Yü of the Hsia dynasty will not be lost in the future, and the records of the Barren Wastes beyond the boundaries of this Empire will be transmitted to posterity. Will not this be a laudable object?
Insects that spring from grassy ground cannot soar as high as the birds of the air, nor can the living beings that inhabit the sea rise up heavenwards like the dragon. A man of medium abilities in music can never be a member of the Orchestra in the Halls of Chuen Tien, nor can the water-buffalo traverse the watery deeps to which even ships dare not venture. Hence, unless a person be of the highest understanding, it would be a hard task to converse with him intelligently of the "Wonders by Land and Sea." And I sigh because it is only the learned and intelligent man that can read understandingly the tales in this work.
Assistant Secretary and an Official of the 6th Rank,
of the Tsin Dynasty.