The Myth of China’s Queen Mother, Shi Wang Mu

To the Chinese, Hsi Wang Mu is the Queen Mother of the  West (Western China), an important figure of Chinese mythology.

It is believed that the myth of the Queen Mother goes back almost three thousand years, but the earliest recorded history was found from the Chou Dynasty (1122 – 222 BC) and was written in the second century BC.  It appears she may have been a real queen of a Western Chinese state and stories of her life become legend over hundreds of years turning into magical myths.

One of the older stories is about Hsi Wang Mu and the celestial archer, where she asks him to build her a palace of jade in the western sky. His reward was a pill made from the peaches of immortality, which ends in tragedy and heartbreak.

It is said that Hsi Wang Mu had nine sons and twenty-four daughters with her mate, Tung Wang Kung.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

His latest novel is the multiple-award winning Running with the Enemy.

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19 Responses to The Myth of China’s Queen Mother, Shi Wang Mu

  1. […] They Myth of China’s Queen Mother, Shi Wang Mu ( […]

  2. Hari Qhuang says:

    Hello, Mr. Lofthouse,
    I just nominated you for the Liebster Award. I really enjoy your blog and your “different”, eye-opening perspective. You just seem to know about anything. 😀
    I don’t know if you have been nominated before. I put a link to this blog on my post:

    • Thank you. Wow! No one has nominated this Blog before for anything. You were the first. I just read that the Liebster Award is for Blogs that have less than 200 followers. I think that eliminates iLookChina. Thank you anyway. It’s the thought that counts.

      Here’s a Blogger who talks about the origins and meaning of this award. Interesting stuff.

      • Hari Qhuang says:

        Oh, I did not know about the rules about “followers”. I guess I should have Googled about it. 😀
        Sometimes I do wonder how the blogging awards start. I’m going to check the link. Thank you so much.

      • It was all new to me. Thank you for introducing me to something new. There is so much out there on the Internet.

      • Hari Qhuang says:

        It seems like nobody really knows about the origin of the award. The number of followers of the nominees has changed, too! It used to be “under 3000 followers”and now it is “under 200 followers”.
        After reading the article, I become more curious about how the award started and who changes the regulation about the number of followers. 😀

  3. Hari Qhuang says:

    The Queen Mother of the West is one of the oldest and most mysterious figures in traditional Chinese religion. She is worshiped in many temples outside the Mainland of China. She is invoked by the priests to cure sicknesses and give advices.
    I wish there were more studies about the image of the Goddess as one of the icons of the Old Religion outside China Mainland. I found that she is portrayed differently from what I read or see in some articles and videos.

    • She was probably worshiped in China too before 1950 and especially before Mao’s Cultural Revolution. But after the Cultural Revolution, she would have been politically incorrect in mainland China. If anyone still worships her in China, they probably do not do it openly.

      Yes, I can see how she would be portrayed differently. Over time myths take on a life of their own and like Darwin’s theory of evolution, the evolution of a myth changes from place to place depending on the story teller and what he or she remembers.

      And most of the older stories like the one about China’s Queen Mother of the West started out as oral stories and each story teller probably embellished the myth differently to make it more interesting based on his or her own perception.

      For example, even the Old Testament (the original Bible before the New Testament came along several hundred years after the death of Jesus Christ who never wrote anything down) started out as oral stories and more than a thousand years would go by before Moses and his brother wrote the stories down creating the first written version of the Old Testament.

      Before the brothers wrote this history down, I wonder what the differences were from region to region for the same stories. And even modern day Old Testament Bibles do not match the original surviving documents which were copied in Greek because all of the original written versions by Moses and his brother of the Old Testament were destroyed. What we have today comes from Greek versions that only exist because Ptolemy (367 – 283 BC), who was one of Alexander the Great’s generals—when Ptolemy was the Pharaoh of Egypt—was collecting books for the Library of Alexandria. As part of this project to gather all the known world’s literature and written history in one library, Ptolemy gathered a team of Jewish Rabbi’s to write down the Old Testament that was destroyed by the Babylonians about 587 BC.

      One may wonder what was lost between the burning of the original text written by Moses and the revised version written in Greek by a team of Rabbi’s in Egypt more than two-hundred years later. Then one should wonder how accurate the written Moses text is to the original stories told around campfires centuries before Moses and his brother were born—an oral history going back thousands of years before the first words were written.

      However, China’s ancient queen mother must have been an incredible person for these myths to have been born in the first place so there must be a grain of truth in them. The people must have loved her.

      • Hari Qhuang says:

        What you said about the bible, I totally can relate to that. As a Buddhist, I was told that the Tri-Pitaka, the collection of Buddhist holy scriptures, were not written after a few hundred years after the passing of The Buddha. I strongly believe that the existence of the many branches of Buddhism has to do with the many versions of the holy scriptures. Many people say that Theravada is the “purest” or “most original” or “the orthodox” Buddhism, but how can one tell for sure if their texts had never been altered by Kings, conquerors, priests and other men of power?

        The Queen Mother has long been worshiped,even before Buddhism entered China. She is one of the primordial deities, along with Nu Wa and Pan Gu. I think no revolution – no matter how extreme it is – can make all of the Chinese people to forget their very own myths of origin. How can they believe that they are the descendants of the Dragon while at the same time they “teach” people to not believe in the divinity of a Dragon? 😀

      • I think what you say holds true for all major religions. The World Christian Encyclopedias of 2001 counted 33,830 different Christian denominations. And I just read that there are nine-major Islamic denominations with splinter groups. There are even several major Jewish subdivisions with splinter groups.

        And Buddhists can belong to other religions. It’s possible to practice Buddhism and also study and practice other religions such as Hinduism that is also divided into several major and smaller denominations.

        Religion is like a world market place. One may go out shopping and keep looking until he/she finds what he/she wants to believe and worship. There are even religions that worship Satan. There are theistic Satanists; LaVeyan Satanists, and Deistic Satanists.

        Then there are warnings about false prophets. For example in the New Testament—the Christian Bible—Matthew 7:15 says “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”

        I think it may be safer to be a spiritual person who studies all the major religions while not belonging to any.

      • Hari Qhuang says:

        What you said is very interesting and eye opening. People believe in what they want (or need) to believe.
        Didn’t the Buddha originally have blue eyes and slim figure? The Chinese folks in the past made his statues to look more “full figured and well-fed”. Of course, he had to have a pair of dark eyes, like most Chinese folks do. 😀

      • Wasn’t the first Buddha from northeastern India or present-day Nepal born into a royal Hindu family? Here’s a short video of the many faces of the Buddha.

        And then there is Jesus Christ who was Jewish and Middle Eastern. I think the centuries have also changed the way he looked in real life.

      • Hari Qhuang says:

        Wow! These are very interesting videos! Thank you for linking them! 😀

      • You’re welcome.

      • Hari Qhuang says:

        By the way, according to the “sacred texts”, Buddha did have blue eyes. It was one of the signs of “Divine Human Being”. Another one of them is being born as a male. I learned in high school that there has never been a female Buddha. 😀

      • I wondered where the genetic link for the blue eyes came from so I did a little Googling and found this at Live

        “People with blue eyes have a single, common ancestor, according to new research. A team of scientists has tracked down a genetic mutation that leads to blue eyes. The mutation occurred between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago. Before then, there were no blue eyes.”

        I think several thousand years is enough time for people to travel long distances—even if Nepal might be a bit out of the way of the Silk Road and other major trade routes—and share genetic material. 😮

        Ah, I think I found it: The first long-distance trade occurred between Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley in Pakistan around 3000 BC, historians believe … It wasn’t long after that trade networks crisscrossed the entire Eurasian continent, inextricably linking cultures for the first time in history.

      • Hari Qhuang says:

        WOW! People do conduct lots of studies about anything!
        I guess that is one of the things I really love about science. It is the excitement to find the truth, no matter if it finds out something supportive or contradictory to what the religion says to be. 😀

      • If someone hasn’t studied a topic yet, in time someone will. It’s amazing what we can find—of course that doesn’t mean that every study is right. Talking about studies, I just finished this piece in The New York Review of Books about bias, racism and prejudice. Very interesting and convincing with lots of data based on a lot of research. If what these scientists say is true, even if we don’t want to be biased, the odds are we can’t help it.

        The headline says: Most of Us Are Biased, After All.

        Here’s the link if you are interested.

        They won’t give the whole article but there’s enough there to get an idea. Basically, its called unconscious bias and we have very little or no control over it.

        “Whether we went them to or not, the attitudes of the culture at large infiltrate us.” Hence the potential for bias against even one’s own social group.

        “It is hard for human beings, endowed with the capacity for conscious thought to accept that the beliefs and preferences that so define us can be shaped by forces outside our awareness.”

      • Hari Qhuang says:

        I am going to check out the link! 😀

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