|Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors|
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|History of China|
The Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors were a group of mythological rulers and sheng (sages) from ancient China. Today, they are considered culture heroes, but they were widely worshipped as divine "ancestral spirits" in ancient times. According to received history, the period they existed in preceded the Xia Dynasty, although they were thought to exist in later periods to an extent in incorporeal forms that aided the Chinese people, especially with the stories of Nüwa existing as a spirit in the Shang dynasty and Shennong being identified as the godly form of Hou Ji and a founder of the Zhou.
In myth, the Three Sovereigns were demigods who used their abilities to help create mankind and impart to them essential skills and knowledge. The Five Emperors were exemplary sages who possessed great moral character, and were from a golden age when "communications between the human order and the divine were central to all life" and where the sages were embodiments of the divine or aided humans in messaging divine forces.
In this period the abdication system was used before Qi of Xia violently seized power and established a hereditary monarchy.
Taoist mythos and parables involving shamanistic themes were inspired by Tungus shaman folklore, and the most ancient stories about Fuxi, Nüwa, and Shennong as the Three Sovereigns were inspired by that mythos.
Depending on the source, there are many variations of who classifies as the Three Sovereigns or the Five Emperors. There are six to seven known variations. Many of the sources listed below were written from much later dynasties.
The following appear in different groupings of the Three Sovereigns: Fuxi (伏羲), Nüwa (女媧), Shennong (神農), Suiren (燧人), Zhurong (祝融), Gong Gong (共工), Heavenly Sovereign (天皇), Earthly Sovereign (地皇), Tai Sovereign (泰皇), Human Sovereign (人皇), and even the Yellow Emperor (黄帝).
The following appear in different groupings of the Five Emperors: Yellow Emperor (黃帝), Zhuanxu (顓頊), Emperor Ku (嚳), Emperor Yao (堯), Shun (舜), Shaohao (少昊), Taihao (太昊), and Yan Emperor (炎帝).
The Three Sovereigns, sometimes known as the Three August Ones, were said to be god-kings or demigods who used their magical powers, divine powers, or being in harmony with the Tao to improve the lives of their people. Because of their lofty virtue, they lived to a great age and ruled over a period of great peace.
They have elements in common with xian, such as the Human Sovereign's cloud-chariot and their supernatural abilities. Upon his death, the Yellow Emperor was "said to have become" a xian.
The Three Sovereigns are ascribed various identities in different Chinese historical texts. The Yellow Emperor is supposedly the ancestor of the Huaxia people. The Mausoleum of the Yellow Emperor was established in Shaanxi Province to commemorate the ancestry legend.
|According to source||Three Sovereigns|
|Records of the Grand Historian (史記), addition by Sima Zhen||Heavenly Sovereign (天皇), Earthly Sovereign (地皇), Tai Sovereign (泰皇) or Fu Xi (伏羲), Nüwa (女媧), Shennong (神農)|
|Sovereign series (帝王世系)||Fu Xi (伏羲), Shennong (神農), Yellow Emperor (黃帝)|
|The book of Lineages (世本)||Fu Xi (伏羲), Shennong (神農), Yellow Emperor (黃帝)|
|Baihu Tongyi (白虎通義)||(1st variation)|
Fu Xi (伏羲), Shennong (神農), Zhurong (祝融)
Fu Xi (伏羲), Shennong (神農), Suiren (燧人)
|Fengsu TongYi (風俗通義)||Fu Xi (伏羲), Nüwa (女媧), Shennong (神農)|
|Yiwen Leiju (藝文類聚)||Heavenly Sovereign (天皇), Earthly Sovereign (地皇); Human Sovereign (人皇)|
|Tongjian Waiji (通鑑外紀)||Fu Xi (伏羲), Shennong (神農), Gong Gong (共工)|
|Chunqiu yundou shu (春秋運斗樞)
Chunqiu yuanming bao (春秋元命苞)
|Fu Xi (伏羲), Nüwa (女媧), Shennong (神農)|
|Shangshu dazhuan (尚書大傳)||Fu Xi (伏羲), Shennong (神農), Suiren (燧人)|
|Diwang shiji (帝王世紀)||Fu Xi (伏羲), Shennong (神農), Yellow Emperor (黃帝)|
The Five Emperors were traditionally thought to have invented "fire, writing and irrigation."
|According to source||Five Emperors|
|Records of the Grand Historian (史記)||Yellow Emperor (黃帝), Zhuanxu (顓頊), Emperor Ku (嚳), Emperor Yao (堯), Shun (舜)|
|Sovereign Series (帝王世紀)||Shaohao (少昊), Zhuanxu (顓頊), Emperor Ku (嚳), Emperor Yao (堯), Shun (舜)|
|I Ching (易經)||Taihao (太昊), Yan Emperor (炎帝), Yellow Emperor (黃帝), Emperor Yao (堯), Shun (舜)|
|Comments of a Recluse, Qianfulun (潛夫論)||Taihao (太昊), Yan Emperor (炎帝), Yellow Emperor (黃帝), Shaohao (少昊), Zhuanxu (顓頊)|
|Zizhi tongjian waiji, (資治通鑒外紀)||Yellow Emperor (黃帝), Shaohao (少昊), Zhuanxu (顓頊), Emperor Ku (嚳), Emperor Yao (堯)|
|(1) Yellow Emperor 黃帝|
|(2) Shaohao 少昊||Changyi 昌意|
|Jiaoji 蟜極||(3) Zhuanxu 顓頊|
|(4) Ku 嚳||Qiongchan 窮蟬||Sb.|
|(5) Zhi 挚||(6) Emperor Yao 堯||Houji 后稷||Jingkang 敬康||Sb.|
|Danzhu 丹朱||Juwang 句望||Sb.|
|Qiaoniu 橋牛||Gun 鯀|
|Gusou 瞽叟||(8) Yu 禹|
|Ehuang 娥皇||(7) Shun 舜||Nuying 女英|
There is the legend of the Four shi (四氏) who took part in creating the world. The four members are Youchao-shi (有巢氏), Suiren-shi (燧人氏), Fu Xi-shi (伏羲氏), and Shennong-shi (神農氏).
These kings are said to have helped introduce the use of fire, taught people how to build houses and invented farming. The Yellow Emperor's wife is credited with the invention of silk culture. The discovery of medicine, the invention of the calendar and Chinese script are also credited to the kings. After their era, Yu the Great founded the Xia Dynasty.
Shennong tasting herbs to discover their qualities
Historian's depiction of the Yellow Emperor
Another depiction of the Yellow Emperor
((cite book)): CS1 maint: others (link)