Bashe (Chinese: 巴蛇; pinyin: bāshé; Wade-Giles: pa-she) was a mythological giant snake that ate elephant in Chinese mythology.
The Shanhaijing is an ancient Chinese mytho-geography. Chapter 10, the Haineinan jing 海內南經 Classic of Regions within the Seas: South describes a legendary land where bashe lived.
The Big Snake eats elephants and after three years it disgorges their bones. Gentlemen take a dose of this snake so that they will never have heart disease or illnesses of the belly. The snakes of Bigsnake country are green, or yellow, or scarlet, or black. One author says the black snakes have a green head. The land of Bigsnake lies west of Rhinoceros country. (tr. Birrell 2000:136, cf. Schiffeler 1978:97)
The Shanhaijing commentary by Guo Pu (276-324 CE) compares the ba snake with the southern ran 蚺 "python", which after eating a large animal can wind around a tree trunk and expel the bones from between its scales, and notes they could grow up to a length of 100 xun 尋 (about 270 meters). Guo's commentary likewise notes this exaggerated length for the changshe 長蛇 "long snake" that the Shanhaijing locates on Daxian 大咸 Mountain "Mount Bigwhole" (3, tr. Birrell 2000:40, cf. Schiffeler 1978:109); "There is a snake here named the long-snake; its hair is like pig bristles. It makes a noise like a nightwatchman banging his rattle."
The 1578 CE Bencao Gangmu entry for ranshe 蚺蛇 "python" mentions the bashe.
The Shan-Hai-Ching says that pythons can eat elephants, the bones of which they emit every three years. Gentlemen who take these bones as medicine never suffer from heart or visceral ailments. They are referred to as Pa She, that is the great snake. (tr. Read 1934:112)
The Chinese folklore scholar Wolfram Eberhard links bashe with the legendary archer Houyi 后翌 who descended from heaven to destroy evildoers. One of Houyi's victims was a monstrous serpent in Lake Dongting, the xiushe 修蛇 "adorned/long snake" (or changshe 長蛇, cf. above). Eberhard (1968:84) concludes giant snakes such as the xiushe, bashe, and ranshe "were typical for the South", but were not part of a snake cult like those among the ancient Yue (peoples).
Bashe not only names this mythical giant reptile or Chinese dragon but is also a variant Chinese name for the South Asian ran 蚺 or mang 蟒 "python" (and South American "boa constrictor" or African "mamba"). "Mythical draconyms often derive from names of larger reptilians", says Carr (1990:167) and, "Since pythons usually crush their prey and swallow them whole, one can imagine Chinese tales about southern ran 蚺 'pythons' being exaggerated into legendarily-constipated bashe 'giant snakes' that ate an elephant every three years.
- Birrell, Anne. 2000. The Classic of Mountains and Seas. Penguin.
- Carr, Michael. 1990. Chinese Dragon Names", Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area 13.2:87-189.
- Eberhard, Wolfram. 1968. The Local Cultures of South and East China. E.J. Brill.