Fushi Teaches The People

Fushi watched the new humans stumbling about. These people did not have the supernatural powers of gods, the strength of tigers, or the speed of leopards. They did not have the protective armor of turtles, the leathery hide of water buffaloes, or the thick fur of foxes.

People had thin skin, soft flesh, sparse hair, and moved about rather slowly. They had good hearts and cheerful laughter, but they were easily frightened and discouraged. Fushi decided to help the new humans.

First, Fushi taught people how to twist plant fibers together to form ropes of all widths and lengths. With the thinner ropes, he wove fishing lines and nets so people could plunge the water’s depths to find food.

With the thicker ropes, he braided strong bridges, then strung them across high chasms so people could cross from one mountain peak to another in search of food.

When lightning set trees on fire, as so often happened, the people trembled and hid in caves. To entice the people to come out, Fushi twirled together two willow sticks to start a fire. He showed the humans how cooked meat and fish were more digestible and tempting than raw meat and fish.

The people soon discovered that fire could also keep them safe and snug throughout the chilly nights. Ferocious animals feared its licking flames, and biting insects avoided its sooty smoke.

In the spring, Fushi shaped young branches over an open fire, then cooled them into curvy bows. He scraped, smoothed, and dried slender sticks into arrow shafts. Then Fushi led the people on hunts for deer, wild boar, and migrant birds.

He guided them in gathering up black mushrooms of the forests, wild grasses of the plains, and bitter cresses growing along the banks of trickling streams. He taught them how to raise sheep, goats, geese, and ducks. Fushi warned people only to take what they needed and never to waste food or kill senselessly.

To keep track of the food they grew and exchanged, people tied fancy knots shaped like butterflies, flowers, and diamonds. But they often forgot what each knot meant and argued and fought among themselves, so Fushi invented a writing system by scratching small pictures and numbers onto shells and bones. Each picture stood for a word. People copied the curving shapes of words onto turtle shells, bamboo sticks, and animal bones to remind themselves of their debts.

Fushi knew that he could not stay on earth forever to help the people make up their minds whenever they were in trouble. When they did not know which path to take or which way to turn, Fushi taught them how to consult the oracle. First, he took a turtle’s shell and copied its eight-sided edges in the dirt. Then, on each edge, he drew three lines, or a trigram.

On the edge, Fushi drew three straight lines to represent heaven:


On the opposite edge, he drew three broken lines to represent earth:


Water had one solid middle line between two broken lines; fire, its opposite, had one broken middle line between two solid lines.


A broken line below two solid lines signaled wind and wood; one solid line below two broken lines signaled storm and thunder.


Two broken strokes below a solid line showed mountain; two solid strokes below a broken line showed lake.


Then Fushi showed people how to use these trigrams. He found a yarrow plant and pulled off its feathery leaves and tiny yellow flowers, so that only the straight stalks remained. He broke the straight stalks into short pieces and long pieces.

He mixed them up and threw pieces on the ground six times, arranging them in rows. The short pieces stood for broken lines; the long pieces stood for solid lines. Fushi taught people how to interpret the meaning of the sticks.

He gathered up the stalks and threw down new stalks of yarrow again and again. No matter what pattern of short and long sticks appeared, they always resembled two
trigrams, such as earth/water, wind/fire, thunder/lake.

Each time, Fushi taught people the meaning of the patterns. Some patterns might mean the people were safe; others might warn them of impending danger. Some patterns advised them to stay in place; others advised them to move. Some urged them to attack, and some urged them to yield in battle. By reading the patterns of the sticks, the people could unlock their fortunes and make choices about their actions.

The people were delighted with their knowledge and felt ready to populate the earth. But Fushi knew better. He realized that finding food, making tools, raising animals, keeping records, and making choices were not enough.

He worried that the people would become boastful and selfish. Fushi wanted them to stay humble and learn from their past, to remember their successes and failures by telling stories. To help the storytellers, and to touch their hearts, he gave them his last gift, the gift of music.

Fushi taught the people how to make a Chinese lute, a pípa. Its melodic notes were a pleasure to hear, and its beautiful curves were a joy to behold. The pípa could mimic the sound of wind blowing against trees, water flowing over rocks, and horses’ hooves clopping forward in battle. Fushi taught the people how to use the pípato tell unforgettable stories.

Each time the people plucked a tune, the still air in the sound box of the pípa sprang to life. Each time they strummed the strings, sleeping emotions and silent thoughts welled up in their hearts and minds. Playing the pípa filled the people’s bodies with joy, calmed their most savage feelings, and eased their deepest sorrows.

When his time on earth was over, Fushi bade goodbye to his people and ascended to the heavens, hoping that they would share their wisdom with each other and continue to live in peace.

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