黑暗傳 Epic of Darkness
Inscribed list: National List, Third Batch
Inventory no.: I-115
Nominating unit(s): Hubei Province, Baokang County, Shennongjialin Reserve
The Epic of Darkness (or Legend of Darkness) is a collection of tales and legends of primeval China. It is said that the oral form of this epic poem dates back to the Tang dynasty, and may have had a published manuscript that dates to the Ming Dynasty, but which is currently considered lost.
In 1982, Hu Chongjun was given a hand-written manuscript by a local villager from Shennongjia. Upon closer study, Hu realized that manuscript was a folk songbook of familiar Chinese mythologies of primeval times. It was suggested to him by Liu Shouhua, a professor at the Chinese Culture Department at the East China Normal University, that the epic poem represented the Han people’s creation myths handed down in oral form.
The Epic of Darkness is mainly performed by folk singers as a “funeral drum song.”
At the passing of a villager, the chief musician, who would be a male, will sing the lines in the Epic of Darkness, and participants will sit down and follow the song or dance around the coffin through the night, with accompanying drums and other percussions. The purpose of such performances is to comfort grieving relatives of the deceased. The continual use of the poem and Shennongjia’s location in the nature reserve and protected national park of Shennongjialin Reserve contributed to its survival.
There are a total of nine parts in the poem. The first event detailed is the story of Pangu separating the earth and sky, as well as the formation of nature from his body, followed by the legend of Nuwa restoring the sky through the smelting of the five colored elemental stones, and the marriage between Nuwa and Fuxi. After that, poem describes the story of the Five Emperors, namely Huangdi, Yandi (also known as Shennong), Yao, Shun and Yu.
The oral poem, which villagers claim date back to the Tang dynasty, was believed to have been first written down in the Ming Dynasty, and became popular during the Qing Dynasty. It was first discovered at the area of the Shennongjialin Reserve, a nature reserve and protected national park located at Hubei. When the Cultural Center of the Shennong Reserve Region published the Folk Tales of the Shennong Reserve Region in 1983, it included the most complete copy of the poem. There are other hand-copied versions collected in other journals, most of which were copied in the Qing Dynasty or the Republican era. The publication of the text was described as “one of the milestones for restoring the Chinese Mythology” by reviewers. Later, in 1986, the Hubei Folk Culture Arts Research Center published a collection of different versions of the Epic of Darkness, the old manuscripts of which Hu Chongjun had tracked down. Following the suggestion of Yuan Ke, an eminent scholar in Chinese mythology, Hu furthered his work on the Epic of Darkness by studying and rearranging all the different versions to create an integrated epic. This new edition was eventually published in 2002.
Other researches have pointed out that the Epic of Darkness might have served as source material for other various fantasy literature during the Ming Dynasty, as well as be connected to the Dunhuang manuscript Tian Di Ha Pi Yi Lai Di Huang Fei (天地开辟已来帝王纪), as both describe the events of the creation of the universe till the era of the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors.
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