Yellow Emperor

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Yellow Emperor

Nationality/Culture

Chinese/Taoist

Alternate Names

Huang-Di

Appears In

The Shiji

Lineage

Son of Shao-dian

Character Overview

In Chinese mythology , Huang-Di (pronounced hoo-arng-DEE), also known as the Yellow Emperor, was the most ancient of five legendary Chinese emperors, as well as a key figure in Taoism, one of China's main religions and philosophies. He was also a hero credited with civilizing the earth, teaching people many skills, and inventing numerous useful items, including the wheel, armor and weapons, ships, writing, the compass, and coined money. According to tradition, the Yellow Emperor began ruling in 2697 bce. His long reign was said to be a golden age, and he was honored as a generous and wise ruler. Before Huang-Di came to the throne, order and government were unknown in the world. He introduced systems of government and law to humankind, and he also invented music and the arts.

Major Myths

Legend says that the Yellow Emperor had four faces that gazed out in four directions, allowing him to see all that happened in the world. In addition, he could communicate directly with the gods through his prayers and sacrifices. When he traveled around his empire, he rode in an ivory chariot pulled by dragons and an elephant, accompanied by a procession of tigers, wolves, snakes, and flocks of the fabled phoenix birds.

During Huang-Di's reign, only one god challenged his authority. The rebel god was aided by the emperor's son Fei Lian (pronounced FAY lee-EN), lord of the wind. They sent fog and rain to drown the royal armies, but the emperor's daughter Ba (drought) dried up the rain and helped defeat the rebels.

After ruling for many years, Huang-Di became tired and weak. He allowed officials to make decisions for him and went to live in a simple hut in the courtyard of his palace. Through fasting, prayer, and meditation, he discovered the too (pronounced DOW), or way—the path to an ideal state of being and existence. The Yellow Emperor continued to rule for many additional years, attempting to bring a state of perfection to his realm. Upon his death he rose into the heavens and became an immortal, or a being who could live forever.

Yellow Emperor in Context

The Yellow Emperor is regarded as an actual historical figure in Chinese culture. It is common for real historical figures to acquire layers of myth over the centuries, building upon or exaggerating their accomplishments. However, because of the sweeping nature of the Yellow Emperor's achievements—he is believed to have invented traditional Chinese music, medicine, and the calendar, among other things—some have argued that the reverse has occurred: the Yellow Emperor was a purely mythic figure who was given an “historical” identity. This may have occurred as a way for some groups to claim that they are ancestors of the Yellow Emperor, and therefore hold special rights to rule.

Key Themes and Symbols

The word huang means “yellow” as well as “radiant,” which connects the Yellow Emperor to the sun as the center part of the universe. The myth of the Yellow Emperor focuses on the theme of progress and advancement. The Yellow Emperor civilizes many diverse peoples and teaches them the basics of civilization, such as medicine and music. The emperor himself then retreats in an effort to achieve his own personal advancement through Taoism. He ultimately achieves this, which leads to his immortality.

Yellow Emperor in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

The Yellow Emperor is a popular part of the cultural history of China. He has been the subject of many television shows that expand upon the legends of his life. The Yellow Emperor is also mentioned in a short story by Jorge Luis Borges titled “The Fauna of Mirrors,” and in the 2002 video game Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

For events that are said to have happened in the distant past, there may never be a way of knowing how much of what is believed is factual and how much is legend. In your opinion, would it matter if legendary events could be proven to be either factual or fictional? Why or why not?

SEE ALSO Chinese Mythology; Heroes; Xian

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Yellow Emperor

In Chinese mythology, Huang-Di (the Yellow Emperor) was the most ancient of five legendary Chinese emperors as well as a patron of Taoism, one of China's main religions and philosophies. He was also a culture hero, credited with civilizing the earth, teaching people many skills, and inventing numerous useful items, including the wheel, armor and weapons, ships, writing, the compass, and coined money.

According to tradition, the Yellow Emperor began ruling in 2697 b.c. His long reign was said to be a golden age, and he was honored as a benevolent and wise ruler. Before Huang-Di came to the throne, order and government were unknown in the world. He introduced systems of government and law to humankind, and he also invented music and the arts.

patron special guardian, protector, or supporter

culture hero mythical figure who gives people the tools of civilization, such as language and fire

benevolent desiring good for others

Legend says that the Yellow Emperor had four faces that gazed out in four directions, allowing him to see all that happened in the world. In addition, he could communicate directly with the gods through his prayers and sacrifices. When he traveled around his empire, he rode in an ivory chariot pulled by dragons and an elephant, accompanied by a procession of tigers, wolves, snakes, and flocks of the fabled phoenix birds.

During Huang-Di's reign, only one god challenged his authority. The rebel god was aided by the emperor's son Fei Lian, lord of the wind. They sent fogs and rain to drown the imperial armies, but the emperor's daughter Ba (drought) dried up the rains and helped defeat the rebels.

imperial relating to an emperor or empire

immortal able to live forever

After ruling for many years, Huang-Di became tired and weak. He allowed officials to make decisions for him and went to live in a simple hut in the courtyard of his palace. Through fasting, prayer, and meditation, he discovered the tao, or waya belief that leads to an ideal state of being. The Yellow Emperor continued to rule for many additional years, attempting to bring a state of perfection to his realm. Upon his death he rose into the heavens and became a Xian (or Hsien), an immortal .

See also Chinese Mythology ; Heroes ; Xian.

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Yellow Emperor, Mandarin Huangdi, legendary Chinese ruler and culture hero; tradition holds that he reigned from 2697 BC to 2597 BC He is one of the mythical prehistoric emperors who supposedly created the basic elements of Chinese civilization. His wife is said to have developed silk production. Along with the semimythical Lao Tzu, he was associated in the traditional Chinese folk culture with the founding of Taoism.