The internet doesn't give much advice on this one. They both seem to be nouns meaning myth, legend, folklore. Not sure if natives make a distinction between the two...?

  • 1
    传说 is more like a legend or saga, typically not written down, not widely agreed upon, word-of-mouth stories, e.g. "urban legend". 神话 is like myth, widely agreed upon, written stories. Feb 19, 2020 at 19:53

4 Answers 4


Is there a difference between "神话" and "传说"?

Is there a difference between "myths" and "legends"?

In the Chinese context, the former, 神话, like Greek mythology, involves stories of the fantastical exploits of gods and supernatural beings, like the Eight Immortals which may not have a grain of truth at all.

However, legends, 传说, as the 传 implies, involves generational transmission by word-of-mouth, (eventually written down), of stories which may have some truth at its core but with so much peripheral fantasy embellishment that the core of truth got carried away with the fantasy part and became myths, 神话, like the Monkey, Piggy, Sandy and Xuanzang in 西游记.

So here, in 西游记, we have a legend, (core of truth), of a real monk, Xuanzang, going to India to seek out Buddhist scriptures, but morphed into mythology by being accompanied by a Monkey god-king and two sidekicks.

  • Not sure I'd call 西游记 传说. I think 牛郎织女 would probably be a more accurate example.
    – zypA13510
    Feb 20, 2020 at 6:50
  • In 西游记, we have a legendary character, Xuanzang the monk who actually existed historically. The fantastical stories in 西游记 may be fiction but still based around a real historical person. But in the story of 牛郎织女, there is no historical evidence that the two central characters actually existed. So I would categorize 牛郎织女 as 神话, myths, rather than legends, 传说. I suppose it is actually not easy to distinguish between myths and legends as these terms are often used interchangeably. Feb 20, 2020 at 9:01
  • 1
    But 西游记 is a piece of literary work, it's written by 吴承恩. As you said, as the 传 implies, involves generational transmission by word-of-mouth. Most recountings of the 西游记 are based on the textual work, not word-of-mouth. When you have conflicting information, you can look it up on the "canon" version. Whereas for 牛郎织女, although recorded in several literary work, does not have a canon version, it spreads primarily through word-of-mouth, that makes it a 传说 imho.
    – zypA13510
    Feb 20, 2020 at 9:27
  • Thanks all for your help - that has made it really clear
    – Hashamyim
    Mar 5, 2020 at 16:23
  • I agree with @zypA13510's comments on 传说 vs. 神话 in general, and in particular, I also feel that 牛郎织女 is a 传说 and 西游记 is not. Another example is 孟姜女的故事: it's not clear whether the woman actually existed, but still it's considered as 传说。
    – ALife
    Mar 25 at 5:35

传说 : Legend (legendary tales. Some have reality base. Some don't. Dragons exist is a legend, Bruce Lee in his prime was defeated by an unknown elderly man is also a legend)

神话 : myth (mystical tales involve gods and spiritual world)


As the character "神" shows, "神话" usually involves some kind of "神".

But "传说" does not require that.


传说 :Word of mouth turns into a story 神话 : Especially the story of fairy and demon

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