In Chinese mythology it is sometimes difficult to separate history and myth, mortals and immortals (see Chinese Mythology). The most important gods who survive in today's popular culture are considered to be the first Chinese emperors: the Three August Ones (see Chinese Emperors) and later emperors such as the Han dynasty warrior Huangdi (see Huangdi), who was also God of War. Even historical figures are well insulated by legends. Furthermore, characters who possess the supernatural qualities of deities are considered to be human. Thus Pangu, born in the cosmic egg of creation and himself the animistic source of this world, is known as the First Man (see Chinese Cosmogony). Perhaps the nearest expression of the kind of absolute godhead we find in Hinduism, for example, might be the figure of Earth-Sky or Tiandi (see Taiyi Tiandi, Di, Tian) known in the Daoist tradition as the Jade Emperor (see Chinese Flood). In the Daoist (Taoist) tradition an individual, through certain spiritual and physical disciplines, could achieve the state of the “immortals” (Xianren) (see Daoism). Some Daoists consider their founder, Laozi (Lao tse) (see Laozi), a god. In his form as the Laojun (Lord Lao) he is part of a divine triad presided over by the Yuanshi Tianshun and the Yuanshi's follower, the Daojun (Lord of the Dao). These divinities embody Daoist principles. The role of the Yuanshi is that of father and revealer of truth to the Daojun, who passes the truth on to the Laojun, who as Laozi teaches the proper “way”, the Dao, to human beings.
Goddesses occupy an important place in pre-Buddhist Chinese mythology. Fubao was the mother of Huangdi by way of a miraculous conception (see Chinese Emperors). She was the goddess of spirits and divine possession. The mother of the Emperor Yu also conceived miraculously when she swallowed the yiyi seed. Yu was born when Fubao's side split open to release him. Jiandi, the mother of the Yin dynasty, conceived miraculously by swallowing a blackbird's egg. Perhaps the most important of the ancient goddesses is Nügua, the serpent sister-wife of the August One, the Emperor Fuxi. She was the divine matchmaker and the creator of the first humans. It was she who repaired the sky after the monster demon Gonggong smashed one of its supporting pillars (see Chinese Emperors, Nügua, Virgin Birth).
Easily the most popular Chinese goddess, who is derived from the male Buddhist Boddhisattva Avalokiteśvara (see Avalokiteśvara), is Guanyin, the goddess of Mercy. Guanyin is also the patron saint of Tibetan Buddhism. In ancient times of suffering and poverty, Guanyin used her breast milk to feed the rice plants and, therefore, the people (see Guanyin, Kannon).