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Many Gods and New Paradises

Like others, China's first emperor, Shihuangdi (259-210 BCE), saw the world as filled with gods. It was said that when a strong wind impeded his crossing a river, he sent 3,000 prisoners to deforest a nearby mountain that was believed to be the home of a goddess who had created the wind.

And military expansions in the 100s BCE were accompanied by common people acquiring new ideas about wonderous places beyond China. Taoists – who still rejected Chinese civilization as corrupt and who idealized nature and wilderness – helped spread descriptions of far-away places. The stories appeared at the emperor's court, brought by those who came to demonstrate their magic and to entertain, and the court sometimes responded by sponsoring expeditions to find the wonderful places.

One such story described a paradise along the coast in China's extreme northeast. There the climate was milder than it was inland, and it was said that in this paradise were no diseases, that people never became sick and that people governed themselves. It was said that in this paradise the young and old had equal rights, that people were gentle and had no quarrels, that there was no conflict between humanity and nature, that people received what food they needed from a beneficent river, that drinking the water from this river restored one's body to the tautness and smoothness of youth, and that people lived a hundred years.

Another paradise was rumored to be in the distant mountains of Tibet. There, it was said, a Queen mother ruled who had many servants. In this paradise, cool breezes were said to blow. It was said that in this paradise were hanging gardens, with ponds and a beautiful lake, that waters there gave one immortality, that one could climb a mountain peak and become a spirit with the power to control the wind and rain, and that one could climb another nearby peak and ascend to heaven.


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