Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors

The Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors were two groups of mythological rulers or deities in ancient northern China. The Three Sovereigns lived before The Five Emperors, who have been assigned dates in a period from 3162 BC to 2070 BC. Today they may be considered culture heroes.[1]

Era of the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors
三皇五帝
c. 3162 BC–c. 2070 BC
Map of tribes and tribal unions in Ancient China, including the tribes led by Huang Di, Yan Di and Chiyou.
Map of tribes and tribal unions in Ancient China, including the tribes led by Huang Di, Yan Di and Chiyou.
StatusLegendary kingdom
CapitalQufu
Common languagesOld Chinese, Sinitic languages
GovernmentTribal kingship, Chiefdom
Di 
• 2698–2598 BC
Huangdi
• 2514–2436 BC
Zhuanxu
• 2436–2366 BC
• 2366–2358 BC
Zhì
• 2356–2255 BC
Yáo
• 2255–2208 BC
Shùn
History 
• Established
c. 3162 BC
• Disestablished
c. 2070 BC
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Neolithic China
Xia dynasty
Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors
Chinese
Literal meaningthree huang ("magnificent ones"), five di ("lords of heaven")

The dates of these mythological figures may be fictitious, but according to some accounts and reconstructions, they supposedly preceded the Xia Dynasty.[2]

DescriptionEdit

The Three Sovereigns, sometimes known as the Three August Ones, were said to be god-kings or demigods[3] who used their abilities to improve the lives of their peoples and impart to them essential skills and knowledge. The Five Emperors are portrayed as exemplary ancestral sages who possessed a great moral character and lived to a great old age and ruled over a period of great peace. The Three Sovereigns are ascribed various identities in different Chinese historical texts.

These kings are said to have helped introduce the use of fire, taught people how to build houses and invented farming. Leizu, wife of Huangdi, 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 5 Emperors. After their era, Yu the Great founded the Xia Dynasty.[2]

According to a modern theory with roots in the late 19th century, the Yellow Emperor is supposedly the ancestor of the Huaxia people.[4] The Mausoleum of the Yellow Emperor was established in Shaanxi Province to commemorate the ancestry legend.[4]

The Chinese word for emperor, huángdì (皇帝), derives from this, as the first user of this title Qin Shi Huang considered his reunion of all of the lands of the former Kingdom of Zhou to be greater than even the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors.

ClanEdit

A related concept appears in 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), Fuxi-shi (伏羲氏), and Shennong-shi (神農氏). The list sometimes extends to one more member being Nüwa-shi (女媧氏), making Five shi (五氏).[5] Four of these five names appear in different lists of the Three Sovereigns. Shi (氏) means clan or family, so none of them are a single person in prehistoric times.

There is a saying that the Three Sovereigns are Suiren-shi (燧人氏), Youchao-shi (有巢氏), Shennong-shi (神農氏). The Suiren taught people to drill wood for fire so people could easily migrate. The Youchao taught people to build houses out of wood, so that people could leave caves to expand into the plains. After the number of people grew, Shennong tried a variety of grasses to find suitable herbs to solve people's food problems. The tribes also used the sovereigns' respective contributions as the name of the tribes.

VariationsEdit

Depending on the source, there are many variations of who classifies as the Three Sovereigns or the Five Emperors. There are at least six to seven known variations.[6] Many of the sources listed below were written in much later periods, centuries and even millennia after the supposed existence of these figures, and instead of historical fact, they may reflect a desire in later time periods to create a fictitious ancestry traceable to ancient culture heroes. The Emperors were asserted as ancestors of the Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties.[7] 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 (黃帝).

The following appear in different groupings of the Five Emperors: Fuxi (Taihao/ 太昊), Yan Emperor (炎帝), Yellow Emperor (黃帝), Shaohao (少昊), Zhuanxu (顓頊), Emperor Ku (), Emperor Yao (), Emperor Shun ().

Source Date of source Three Sovereigns Five Emperors
Records of the Grand Historian (《史記》)
edition by Sima Qian[note 1]
94 BC
Sovereign series (帝王世系)(book written by Huangfu Mi)[6]
Shiben[6] 475–221 BC (the Warring States period) according to the Book of Han (AD 111)
Baihu Tongyi (白虎通義)[6]
Fengsu TongYi (風俗通義)[6] AD 195
Yiwen Leiju (藝文類聚)[6] AD 624
Tongjian Waiji (通鑑外紀)
Shangshu dazhuan (尚書大傳)
Diwang shiji(book written by Huangfu Mi) (帝王世紀)
I Ching (易經)[6] 800s BC
Comments of a Recluse, Qianfulun (潛夫論)[8]
Zizhi tongjian waiji, (資治通鑒外紀)[8]

Lineage of the Five EmperorsEdit

Family tree of ancient Five Emperors
Legend
Descent


Adopted
(1)
Taihao
太昊[9][10][11]
Youxiong
有熊[12]
Shaodian
少典[13][14]
(3)
Yellow Emperor
黃帝[15]
(2)
Flame Emperor
炎帝[16]
(4)
Shaohao
少昊
Changyi
昌意
Jiaoji
蟜極
(5)
Zhuanxu
顓頊
(6)
Emperor Ku
Qiongchan
窮蟬
King of
Gu Shu
古蜀王
Cheng
Taowu
梼杌
Wangliang
魍魉
(7)
Emperor Zhi
Xie of
Shang

(8)
Emperor
Yao

Houji
后稷
Jingkang
敬康
Lao Tong
老童
Danzhu
丹朱
Juwang 句望Luo Ming[17]
Zhurong
祝融
Wuhui
吳回
Qiaoniu
橋牛
Gun
Gusou
瞽叟
(10)
Yu
Luzhong
陸終
Ehuang [zh]
娥皇
(9)
Emperor Shun
Nuying [zh]
女英
Kunwu
昆吾
Shen Hu
參胡
Peng Zu
彭祖
Hui Ren
會人
Yan An
晏安
Ji Lian
季連
Shangjun [zh]
商均

Numbers in parenthesis mark a possible enthronement order of the emperors that are considered by one or more authorities to be among the "Five Emperors".

GalleryEdit

See alsoEdit

NotesEdit

  1. ^ Sima Qian only lists the names of the Three Sovereigns fleetingly in the "Basic Annals of Qin Shihuang" (《秦始皇本紀》): "古有天皇,有地皇,有泰皇". Details were supplied by the "Basic Annals of the Three Sovereigns" (《三皇本紀》), written centuries later by Sima Zhen as a supplement to the Records (《補史記》). The 《三皇本紀》 has sometimes been conflated with the Records proper (e.g., by the Gujin Tushu Jicheng), but the original Records begins with the Basic Annals of the Five Emperors (《五帝本紀》), without mentioning the Three Sovereigns.

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Hucker, Charles (1995). China's Imperial Past: An Introduction to Chinese History and Culture. Stanford University Press. p. 22. ISBN 9780804723534.
  2. ^ a b Morton, W. Scott; Lewis, Charlton M. (2005). China: its history and culture. McGraw-Hill. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-07-141279-7.
  3. ^ Eliade, Mircea; Adams, Charles J., eds. (1987). The Encyclopedia of religion. Vol. 9, Liu–Mith. Macmillan. p. 133.
  4. ^ a b 王恆偉 (2005). Zhongguo li shi jiang tang #1 Yuan gu zhi Chun Qiu 中國歷史講堂 #1 遠古至春秋 [Chinese History Lectures #1: Ancient times to Spring and Autumn period]. 中華書局. p. 13. ISBN 962-8885-24-3.
  5. ^ 王恆偉 (2005). Zhongguo li shi jiang tang #1 Yuan gu zhi Chun Qiu 中國歷史講堂 #1 遠古至春秋 [Chinese History Lectures #1: Ancient times to Spring and Autumn period]. 中華書局. pp. 4–7. ISBN 962-8885-24-3.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g 劉煒 (2002). 原始社会 中华文明传真 [Chinese civilization in a new light]. Commercial press publishing. p. 142. ISBN 962-07-5314-3.
  7. ^ Soothill, William Edward; Hosie, Dorothea Lady; Hudson, G. F. (2002). The Hall of Light: A Study of Early Chinese Kingship. James Clarke & Co. pp. 146–. ISBN 978-0-227-17123-3.
  8. ^ a b Ulrich Theobald. "Sanhuang wudi 三皇五帝, the Three Augusts and Five Emperors". ChinaKnowledge.de.
  9. ^ Bamboo Annals
  10. ^ I Ching
  11. ^ Book of Rites
  12. ^ Sima Qian, Records of the Grand Historian
  13. ^ Zhang, Qizhi (2015-04-15). An Introduction to Chinese History and Culture. Springer. p. 3. ISBN 978-3-662-46482-3.
  14. ^ Sima Qian, Records of the Grand Historian
  15. ^ Sima Qian, Records of the Grand Historian
  16. ^ I Ching
  17. ^ Classic of Mountains and Seas

Further readingEdit

Preceded by
None known
Dynasties in Chinese history
2852–2205 BC
Succeeded by