At the heart of symbolism

Kien-Mu or Jian-Mu, the Chinese World Tree


Chinese World Tree

The Tree at the World Centre

The World tree is usually distinguished from the other sacred trees by its location in the Centre of the Empire and World. It symbolizes the World Axis, the link between Earth and Heaven at the basis of the development of the world in the Chinese tradition. The World tree is described in several Chinese mythical narratives under two distinct names:

  • Kien Mu, the Erect Tree, naturally evokes the World Axis;
  • Jian Mu, the Builder Tree (of the World), also refers to the World Axis, for Jian equally means the sword, the Axis symbol par excellence.

The World Tree brings together all complementary aspects in a balanced way, in contrast to other sacred trees. The other sacred trees generally appear in pairs as they fulfil specific functions and/or take up special places. This is also true for the two trees growing on each side of the World Tree:

  • Fu Sang, or the Leaning Mulberry Tree, grows in the east. Its trunk is so high that its branches have the single function of supporting the ten suns associated with a ten days cycle. Once dried and purified by Xi He, the goddess of the sun Mixed Breath, the sun of the day is carried up to the summit of the tree by a crow, from where it undertakes a new daily voyage.
  • Da Tao Mu, or the Gigantic Peach Tree, probably grows in the west and plays the role of celestial ladder. At the summit of the Gigantic Peach Tree, the gates of Heaven are guarded by the Punishment Gods, assisted by ferocious beasts that push back all beings unworthy of attaining the firmament.

Other trees play similar roles. For instance, Kong Sang, or the Hollow Mulberry Tree, and Kont Tong, known today as the Hollow Paulownia Tree, are, at once, hollow trees and mountains. As mountains, they depict the World Axis. As hollow trees, they are used as shelter for the suns and as a cave for the Emperor. The cave is an image of the cosmic world where the Emperor takes refuge to leave behind the states of being of the obscure or terrestrial world before being reborn in the states of being of the luminous or celestial world. Thus, he travels up and down the World Axis before becoming the intermediary between Heaven and Earth for the beings of the Empire.

Many other trees play various roles that we rediscover within the World Tree at a potential state.

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