The Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors (Classical Chinese: 三皇五帝; Pinyin: Sānhuáng wǔdì; Wade-Giles: San-huang wu-ti) were a group of semi- mythological rulers and culture heroes from ancient China during the period circa 3500 BCE to 2000 BCE.[1] This period preceded the Xia Dynasty.[2]

In myth, the three sovereigns were demigods who used their abilities to help create mankind and impart essential skills and knowledge. The five emperors were exemplary sages possessed of great moral character.


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.[3] Many of the sources listed below were written from much later dynasties.

The three sovereigns may therefore refer to Fuxi (伏羲), Nüwa (女媧), Shennong (神農), Suiren (燧人), or even the Yellow Emperor (黄帝).

Three sovereigns variation

The Three Sovereigns, sometimes known as the Three August Ones, were said to be god-kings or demigods who used their magical powers 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. The Three Sovereigns are ascribed various identities in different Chinese historical texts. The Yellow Emperor is supposedly the ancestor of all Huaxia race of people.[4] The Mausoleum of the Yellow Emperor was established in Shaanxi Province to commemorate the ancestry legend.[4]

According to source Three sovereigns 
The book of Lineages (世本) Fu Xi (伏羲)   Shennong (神農) Yellow Emperor (黃帝)[3]
Sovereign series (帝王世系) Fu Xi (伏羲)   Shennong (神農) Yellow Emperor (黃帝)[3]
Records of the Grand Historian (史記), addition by Sima Zhen [Heavenly Sovereign (天皇) Earthly Sovereign (地皇) Tai Sovereign (泰皇)[3]  
Baihu Tongyi (白虎通義)(1st variation) Fu Xi (伏羲)   Shennong (神農) Zhurong (祝融)[3]
Baihu Tongyi (白虎通義)(2nd variation) Fu Xi (伏羲)   Shennong (神農) Suiren (燧人)[3]
Fengsu TongYi (風俗通皇霸) Fu Xi (伏羲) Nüwa (女媧) Shennong (神農)[3]
Yiwen Leiju (藝文類聚) Heavenly Sovereign (天皇) Earthly Sovereign (地皇) Human Sovereign (人皇)[3]  
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)

Five emperors variation

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)[3]
Sovereign Series (帝王世紀)       Shaohao (少昊) Zhuanxu (顓頊) Emperor Ku (嚳) Emperor Yao (堯) Shun (舜)[3]
I Ching (易經) Taihao (太昊) Yan Emperor (炎帝) Yellow Emperor (黃帝)       Emperor Yao (堯) Shun (舜)[3]
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)[5]      
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)[5]  

Creation myth

Chinese creation myths generally include Pangu. It is said that after his death his left eye became the sun, while the right eye became the moon. Different parts of his body became the world.[6] There is also 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).[6]


These semi-mythical kings are said to have contributed to the gift 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 kings are also credited with the discovery of medicine, the invention of the calendar and Chinese script. After their era, Yu the Great founded the Xia dynasty.[2]


  1. 劉煒/著. [2002] (2002) Chinese civilization in a new light 中華文明傳真#1 原始社會:東方的曙光. Commercial press publishing company. ISBN 9620753143. Timetable.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Morton, W. Scott Morton. Morton, William Scott. Lewis Charlton M. (2005). China: its history and culture. McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0071412794, 978-0071412797, p. 14.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 劉煒/著. (2002) Chinese civilization in a new light. Commercial press publishing. ISBN 9620753143, p. 142.
  4. 4.0 4.1 王恆偉. (2005) (2006) 中國歷史講堂 #1 遠古至春秋. 中華書局. ISBN 962-8885-24-3, p. 13.
  5. 5.0 5.1 ”CHINAKNOWLEDGE” || Chinese History - The Three Augusts and Five Emperors 三皇五帝
  6. 6.0 6.1 王恆偉. (2005) (2006) 中國歷史講堂 #1 遠古至春秋. 中華書局. ISBN 962-8885-24-3. p 4–7.

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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