The legend of Hou Yi Shooting the Sun (Hou Yi She Ri):
In many ancient Chinese myths, as well as the myths of other cultures, the gods help the people. The Hou Yi, however, is one of the few mortals who helps the gods, thanks to his great skill with the bow and arrow. Like many of Chinese myths, this story may have been based on an actual person, in this case a skilled bowman who lived sometime between 2436-2255 B.C.
Plants and herbs often appear in the background of Chinese stories. The mythical Fusang tree is reputed to be over ten thousand feet tall and spreads its leaves out over two thousand feet. Because the tree appears in many ancient tombs, paintings, and sculptures, it once must have been a very important symbol.
Although some versions of the story depict the Fusang as a hibiscus, the mulberry tree is probably its basis. One variety of the mulberry, Morus alba, is native to China. Growing more than fifty feet tall, its leaves are used to feed silkworms. Strands from the silkworms’ cocoons are woven together to create silk, the strongest of all natural fibers. The cloth is lightweight and cool to the touch, but retains warmth and is highly flame-resistant. Its beauty and ability to absorb bright dyes made it a highly prized trade item in ancient Egypt, Rome, and Persia.
The water spinach, ung choy, has thick hollow stems and long slender leaves. It will sprout leaves and regenerate with very little water, and it will grow as much as four inches per day. This hardy plant saved people from starvation during China’s many wars and is also a valuable source of iron for the people of India, Vietnam, Brazil, Central America, and Africa.
China was once thought to be surrounded by four seas. To the east was a vast ocean. Beyond the ocean, magnificent plants bloomed on an island paradise. The most glorious specimen of all the plant life was the Fusang tree, whose wondrous branches stretched up toward the heavens and out across the island for hundreds of miles. Scattered among its masses of dark green foliage, fragrant hibiscus flowers burst into flaming shades of magenta, crimson, and violet.