Chinese Mythology Sources

July 1, 2011

I have a feeling I’m going to get asked this:   What sources did I use to research the Chinese mythology that shows up in Kitty’s Big Trouble?

Answer:  Not the John Carpenter movie. Seriously, dude, what were you expecting?

Instead, I went to a couple of primary sources:

The Classic of Mountains and Seas is an ancient text, over 2,000 years old, and a really cool book besides. Strange, but full of neat tidbits. It isn’t a story, though it has stories in it. It’s mostly a catalog of places, monsters, and magic. It’s a guidebook that tells you what you might see if you’re traveling through these mystical lands, what spells can help you, what monsters to avoid, and so on. It took awhile to get into it, because it’s disjointed and repetitive. But I got a lot of really good ideas from it. The huli jing that Kitty and Co. meet is straight out of here.

Journey to the West is a classic of Chinese literature. It’s inspired by the real-life journey of Xuanzang, a Buddhist monk who traveled to India to seek out original Buddhist texts. I read parts of it looking for a particular character’s story. To say more would be a spoiler.

A useful secondary source I read was the Oxford University Press Handbook of Chinese Mythology. It consolidates a lot of information from other sources, but it also provides good context and background in its introduction, particularly about how much Chinese oral literature has survived the Communist era, and how folklorists continue to work to collect these stories.  (It’s a fascinating subject, and an issue I encounter a lot in research. Many anthropological accounts of non-western mythology and folklore try to preserve some ancient, unwesternized, unmodern, “untainted” version. For example, books on Native American folklore might try very hard to preserve or understand what it was like before colonization. But I’m usually interested in what it’s like now. What’s survived? How has colonization changed the culture? How has immigration changed it?  How have the stories changed?  This may be a rant for a different time.).

I also collected a lot of bits of information from all over the place: I took a walking tour of Chinatown when I visited the city last summer, read lots of online urban legends about the mysterious tunnels, read a fantastic history (The Barbary Plague) of how the bubonic plague entered the Americas though San Francisco’s ports at the turn of the last century, and how that intersected with racism, Chinese immigration, and Chinatown’s autonomy.

I’ll also confess to looking at the Dungeons and Dragons Oriental Adventures supplement, but I didn’t really find anything there that I didn’t find elsewhere.

As usual, not all my research ended up in the book. But really, it’s not supposed to. I needed to do enough research to give me a good basis of information to draw on to tell a story that goes beyond the surface.


7 Responses to “Chinese Mythology Sources”

  1. […] – Carrie Vaughn shares her sources for Chinese mythology […]

  2. DMS Says:

    While I was traveling in China last fall, I was reading your books and wondering if there was any urban fantasy drawing from Chinese mythology.

    I am now even more excited to read thes next one.

  3. Dave Says:

    See, if it had been me, instead of actually reading “Journey to the West,” I would have just watched Monkey again.

  4. Dustin Says:


    There is the Breaking the Wall Series Starting with Thirteen Orphans written by Jane Lindskold. Though I’ll admit I don’t now much about Chinese mythology so maybe it only ‘feels’ like it has a basis in such to those without the knowledge to know otherwise. Quite an enjoyable series either way!

    And all this talk about research is making me antsy to read, I like it when an author actually bothers to do the research. Makes things interesting!

  5. Alan Kellogg Says:

    Re Kara Tur

    Which version, and did you have a look at the first edition of Deities and Demigods?

  6. Jim Van Pelt Says:

    Hi, Carrie. This has nothing to do with mythology, but did you notice that there has been a rerelease (and remastering) of Concrete Blonde’s Bloodletting CD? It has some new cuts, and it sounds better than the original.

    I got all excited when I heard “Bloodletting” for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and I was midway through writing you a note about it, but then I checked your Kitty playlists and found out you already knew about Concrete Blonde.


  7. Mike H Says:

    I really enjoyed reading Big Trouble. I have a 60 minute train commute to work, so it made the ride bearable. The only problem is I can’t play the Kitty Drinking Game. Take a shot everytime the word “hackles” is used. Warning: Do ot play this game if you have to work the next morning.

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