Zhuanxu (Chinesetrad. 顓頊, simp. 颛顼, pinyin Zhuānxū), also known as Gaoyang (t 高陽, s 高阳, p Gāoyáng), was a mythological emperor of ancient China.

Emperor Zhuanxu. Rubbing of mural bas-relief from the Wu Liang shrines, Han Dynasty.

In the traditional account recorded by Sima Qian, Zhuanxu was a grandson of the Yellow Emperor who led the Shi clan in an eastward migration to present-day Shandong, where intermarriages with the Dongyi clan enlarged and augmented their tribal influences. At age twenty, he became their sovereign, going on to rule for seventy-eight years until his death.[citation needed]


Zhuanxu was the grandson of the Yellow Emperor and his wife Leizu by way of his father Changyi (昌意). His mother was named Changpu (昌僕), according to Sima Qian, and Niuqu (女樞) according to the Bamboo Annals.

Zhuanxu was claimed as an ancestor by many of the dynasties of Chinese history, including the Mi of Chu and Yue, the Yíng of Qin, and the Cao of Wei.[3]


Zhuanxu is held by many sources to be one of the Five Emperors.

According to Sima Qian's Records of the Grand Historian (Shiji), upon the passing of the Yellow Emperor, Zhuanxu's uncle Shaohao never reigned as king, as he was purported to do in other documents. Rather, Gaoyang was chosen as the tribe's new leader, with the regnal name Zhuanxu, in preference to his father and all his uncles.[4] Zhuanxu defeated Gonggong, a descendant of the Emperor Yan.[citation needed]

However, the account in the Bamboo Annals states that Zhuanxu became an assistant to his uncle, Emperor Shaohao, at the age of ten, and became king in his own right at the of age 20.[citation needed]

He made contributions to a unified calendar, astrology, religion reforms to oppose shamanism, upheld the patriarchal (as opposed to the previous matriarchal) system, and forbade marriages between close kin. The Bamboo Annals also credit him with composing one of the earliest pieces of music, known as "The Answer to the Clouds".[citation needed]

Zhuanxu was succeeded by his cousin, Shaohao's grandson, Ku. According to Shiji, Zhuanxu himself, or Zhuanxu's lineage, had an incompetent son (不才子) derided as Taowu (梼杌; literally: "block-stump; blockhead"). Two other descendants of Zhuanxu were also named: one is Zhuanxu's son Qiongchan (窮蟬), from whom descended Emperor Shun; the other is Gun, father of Yu the Great. Emperor Yao had also criticized Gun for being incompetent and ruinous. Qiongchan was an insignificant commoner though there is no account of his fall from grace. Eight of Zhuanxu's other descendants, unnamed yet of good repute, later worked for Shun.[citation needed]


The Bamboo Annals record that in the thirteenth year of his reign, Zhuanxu "invented calendric calculations and delineations of the heavenly bodies (歷象)".[citation needed]

Since Zhuanxu was claimed as a founder of the Qin dynasty, the new calendar system "zhuanxuli"(顓頊曆) was named after Zhuanxu by Shi Huangdi.[citation needed]


Zhuanxu is also mentioned as a god of the Polaris along with god Taiyi (太一, the original god of the Polaris.Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors were said to be sent by the Taiyi from the east to the land of the humans, and thus considered to return to their original jobs as gods of the Polaris when their job on the land was done.[5][not specific enough to verify][6][not specific enough to verify])

Potential connection with Longshan cultureEdit

Zhuanxu is commonly associated with the extremely important myth of the separation of the Heaven from Earth. According to the Lu Xing (呂刑) chapter of Shang Shu:

We are told that the Miao (苗)… created oppressive punishments which the people into disorder. Shang Di, the Lord on High… surveyed the people and found them lacking in virtue. Out of pity for those who were innocent, the August Lord (皇帝)… had the Miao exterminated. "Then he charged Chong (重) and Li (黎) to cut the communication between Heaven and Earth so that there would be no descending and ascending." After this had been done, order was restored and the people returned to virtue.[7]

Several Chinese mythologists interpreted this myth as a representation or symbolization of increasing social stratification. Before the "separation of Earth and Heaven", in Yangshao culture, every household could have or hire a shaman. However, during Longshan culture, shamans could only be hired by a few people, suggesting a monopoly of the ability to ascend to and descend from Heaven. In this sense, this myth may indicate the start of social stratification in ancient Chinese culture.[8]

Samguk SagiEdit

According to Samguk Sagi, the kings of Goguryeo regarded themselves as a descendant of Chinese heroes because he called his surname "Go" (Hanja: 高) as they were the descendant of Gaoyang (Hanja: 高陽) who was a grandchild of the Yellow Emperor and Gaoxin (Hanja: 高辛) who was a great-grandchild of Yellow Emperor.[9][10][11][12][13][14]


  1. ^ Howard L. Goodman (1998). Ts'ao P'i Transcendent: the Political Culture of Dynasty-Founding in China at the End of the Han (illustrated ed.). Psychology Press. p. 70. ISBN 0966630009. Retrieved 1 April 2012.
  2. ^ House of Chinn. "History".
  3. ^ This last claim was made by the Wei Shu and Tung Pa but attacked by Chiang Chi, who claimed the Tian () were descended from Zhuanxu instead.[1][2]
  4. ^ Asiapac Editorial (2006). Great Chinese emperors: tales of wise and benevolent rule (revised ed.). Asiapac Books Pte Ltd. p. 9. ISBN 9812294511. Retrieved 1 April 2012.
  5. ^ Book of Rites, Proceedings of Government in the different months (月令)
  6. ^ Lushi Chunqiu
  7. ^ Myths of Ancient China. (1985). Singapore: Asiapac.
  8. ^ Loewe, M. and Shaughnessy, E.L. (1999). The Cambridge History of Ancient China: From the Origins of Civilization to 221 BC. Cambridge histories online. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521470308. LCCN 97033203.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  9. ^ National Institute of Korean History. 三國史記 卷第二十八 百濟本紀 第六. National Institute of Korean HistoryDatabase.
  10. ^ National Institute of Korean History. 三國史記 卷第十八 髙句麗本紀 第六. National Institute of Korean HistoryDatabase.
  11. ^ 한국인문고전연구소 원문과 함께 읽는 삼국사기 의자왕 義慈王. 한국인문고전연구소.
  12. ^ 한국인문고전연구소 원문과 함께 읽는 삼국사기 광개토왕 廣開土王. 한국인문고전연구소.
  13. ^ Guanglin, Jin (2014). "A Comparison of the Korean and Japanese Approaches to Foreign Family Names" (PDF). Journal of Cultural Interactions in East Asia. 5: 15–43.
  14. ^

    Samguk Sagi volume 28

    Classical Chinese

    髙句麗亦以髙辛氏之後, 姓髙氏 見晉書載記。

    三國史記 卷二十八 百濟本紀 第六  Chinese Wikisource has original text related to this article: 三國史記/卷28

Regnal titles
Preceded by Emperor of China
c. 2514 BC – c. 2436 BC
Succeeded by