Statue of the Yellow Emperor in the Forbidden City Museum, Beijing.

Huangdi, or the Yellow Emperor, is a legendary Chinese sovereign and cultural hero presented in Chinese mythology.[1] He is said to be the ancestor of all Huaxia Chinese.[2] According to many sources he was one of the legendary Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors.[3] Tradition holds that he reigned from 2697–2597 BCE[4] or 2696–2598 BCE. He is regarded as the founder of Chinese civilization.


In the first annal of the Records of the Grand Historian, the opening few words of the first paragraph give the identity of the Yellow Emperor. Sima Qian, author of the records, gave considerable weight to the historicity of the emperor. For example, the Three Sovereigns has Fu Xi, Nüwa, and Yan emperor/Shennong, but he carefully chose to begin with the Yellow Emperor.[5] He refrained from beginning the records with any of the other legendary figures of claimed greater antiquity.[5]

The Yellow Emperor's surname was Gōngsūn (公孙/公孫), while his first name was Xuānyuán (轩辕/軒轅).[6] His full name was Gōngsūn Xuānyuán (公孫軒轅). He also used the assumed names of Xuānyuán-shi (轩辕氏/軒轅氏) and Youxiong-shi (有熊氏).[7] Xuānyuán is said by some to be the name of a village. Youxiong was a name taken from his heredity. The color yellow was given to his name because of the Five elements, earth was associated with his ruling era at the time.[8] Yellow is associated with earth. The correlation of the colors in association with different dynasties were mentioned in the Lüshi Chunqiu.[8]

Early years

The Yellow Emperor and the Yan Emperor were both leaders of a tribe that benefited from the proximity of the Yellow River.[9] According to the tradition, the Yellow Emperor's birth place is believed to be in Shou Qiu, today on the outskirts of the city of Qufu in Shandong Province. Early on, he lived with his tribe in the northwest near the Ji river (姬水), later migrating to Zhuolu in modern day Hebei Province (涿鹿).[9] He then became a farmer and tamed six different special beasts, the bear (熊), brown bear (罴/羆), the (貔) and xiū (貅) which later combined to form the mythical Pixiu with its appetite for gold and silver, the ferocius chū (貙) and the tiger (虎).[9] The Yan Emperor hailed from a different area.

Both emperors lived in a time of warfare.[10] The Yan Emperor was unable to control the disorder within his realm thus the Yellow Emperor began taking up arms to establish his domination over various warring factions.[10]


Described as a great inventor, the Yellow Emperor improved the livelihood of the nomadic hunters. He taught people how to build shelters, to tame wild animals and to grow the five Chinese cereals.[7] He also invented carts, boats and clothing.[7] At the Yellow Emperor's request, historian Cangjie created the first Chinese character writing system, changing the way history was recorded in the following dynasties through the use of Oracle bone script.[7] The system later became the basis for many scripts. The Yellow Emperor's principal wife Leizu taught people how to weave silk from Bombyx mori silkworms and to dye clothes.[7]

The Yellow Emperor's Inner Canon on internal medicine, supposedly the oldest medical book, forms the basis of traditional Chinese medicine. (The Yellow Emperor may not have written the work himself: his physician minister Qibo may have collaborated on the text; or it may date from a much later period in between the Zhou and Han dynasties.

Other inventions credited to the emperor include the Diadem (冠冕), palace rooms (宮室), bow sling, early Chinese astronomy, the Chinese calendar, calculations, sound laws (音律),[11] football.[12] He is also said to have played a part in the creation of the Guqin musical instrument, together with the Fuxi and Yan Emperors.[13] It is also recorded that at that time Ling Lun created music, whilst the Yan Emperor created the requisite musical instruments.[14]

At one point in his reign the Yellow Emperor allegedly visited the mythical East sea and met a talking beast called the Bai Ze who taught him the knowledge of all supernatural creatures.[15][16] This beast explained to him there were 11,522 existing types of supernatural creature, though some sources claim 1,522 types.[15][16]

Epic battles

When the Yan Emperor was leading his tribe, he met a force of nine Li barbarian tribes (九黎) led by Chi You [9] whereupon the two groups immediately became enemies. According to legend, Chi You had a bronze head and metal forehead.[9] He is said to be unbelievably fierce and possessed eighty-one brothers,[2] each having four eyes and six arms that wielded terrible sharp weapons in every hand.[2] Their head was also that of a bull with two horns, but the body was that of a human.[2]

The Yan Emperor stood no chance and lost the fight. He escaped and later ended up in Zhuolu begging for help from the Yellow Emperor.[9] At this point the epic Battle of Zhuolu between Chi You and the forces of the Yellow emperor began. The Yellow emperor rallied his army along with the six types of special beasts that he had tamed.[9] Legend also claims that Chi You breathed out a thick fog and obscured the sunlight.[17] The battle dragged on for days while the emperor's side was in danger.[2]

The Yellow Emperor's army fell into disarray and could not find their way out of the battlefield. At this critical moment the emperor invented the South Pointing Chariot, and ordered its construction on the battlefield.[2][17] With the device he was able to lead his army out of the fog. Chi You then conjured up a heavy storm. The Yellow Emperor then called upon the drought demon Nuba, who blew away the storm clouds and cleared the battlefield.[2][17] Chi You and his army could not hold up and was later killed off by the Yellow emperor.[9] While this battle was a victory, the Yellow and Yan emperors had a conflict with each other. Thus began the Battle of Banquan at a place called Banquan (阪泉)[9] which the Yan emperor would eventually lose. The ancient place was then renamed "Huangdiquan" (黃帝泉).[18] After this battle, he officially replaced the Yan Emperor as the official ruler.[10]


Family of the Yellow Emperor

The Yellow emperor's father was Shaodian (少典), whilst his mother was Fu Pao (附寶).<[19] The emperor himself had a total of twenty-five sons, fourteen of whom began their own surnames and clans.[20] His first wife, Léi Zǔ from Xiling bore him two sons. The oldest was Shaohao, known in the Record of Grand Historian as Xuanxiao (玄囂), who lived in Qingyang by the Yangtze River. Changyi, the younger, lived by the Ruo river (若水). He died and was succeeded by Changyi's son, Zhuanxu. The Yellow emperor had a total of four wives. His other three wives were his second wife Fanglei (封嫘), third wife Tongyu (彤魚) and fourth wife Momu (嫫母).[19][21]


According to the Mausoleum of the Yellow Emperor in modern day Shaanxi, the Yellow Emperor shares ancestry with that of a Zhongyuan race that went by the surname Ji (姬), which came from the Ji river.[7] Three eras of emperor kings were all direct descendants of the Yellow Emperor.[11]

  1. Zhuanxu, Diku, Tang Yao, Yu Shun[11]
  2. Xia dynasty[11]
  3. Shang dynasty[11]

Only after the Yellow emperor did people begin to get a better idea of the earliest ancient ancestors of the Zhōnghuá Mínzú or Chinese ethnic groups.[11] Since then, the Yellow emperor is said to be the ancestor of all Huaxia Chinese.[2] Modern day Chinese people generally refer to this ancestral connection as the "Descendants of Yan and Huang Emperors" (炎黃子孫).[7] Other minority groups in China may have their own myths or do not count as descendants of the emperor.[20] The Yellow Emperor and a number of other main tribal leaders at the time formed part of the Yuanshi society.[9]

Grand exit

When the Yellow Emperor lived for over a hundred years, he arranged his worldly affairs with his ministers, and prepared for his journey to the Heavens. The close of the Yellow Emperor's long reign was made glorious by the appearance of a phoenix and a mysterious animal known as the Qilin as tokens of his administration. Two tombs were built in Shaanxi within the Mausoleum of the Yellow Emperor, in addition to others in Henan, Hebei and Gansu provinces.[22] The Yellow Emperor has been commemorated every year since the Spring and Autumn Period.[23]

Societal influence

Dynasty eras

In religion, Laozi, from a later period, is generally regarded as the founder of Taoism - but the Yellow Emperor formulated some of the religion's precepts.[24] Other texts associated with the emperor include the Four classics of the Yellow Emperor or the Yellow Emperor's Hidden Talisman Classic..[25]

The fortune-telling almanac the Tong sing includes a section titled The Yellow emperor's four seasons poem (軒轅黃帝四季詩日).[24] This work supposedly allows readers to make predictions.[24] It is certain that the emperor himself did not write this poem, but the compiler of the Tong sing assumed mentioning his name would be useful, since the emperor was closely associated with divine beings and the forces of nature.[24]

"Xuanyuan 12" (轩辕十二/軒轅十二), derived from the Yellow Emperor's personal name, is also the Chinese star name for Gamma Leonis in the Leo constellation.[26]

King Ying Zheng of the later Qin state hoping to appropriate some of the Yellow Emperor's divine status, named himself Qin Shi "Huang", first emperor of Qin dynasty on his unification of China in 221 BCE.[27]

In the Hall of Supreme Harmony in Beijing's Forbidden City there is a mirror called the "Xuanyuan Mirror" (轩辕宝镜/軒轅寶鏡).[28][29]

Modern significance

The former People's Republic of China politician Deng Xiaoping argued for Chinese reunification with reference to "Taiwan is rooted in the hearts of the descendants of the Yellow Emperor.[20]" The PRC also acclaimed a Chinese American astronaut (Taylor Wang) as the first of the Yellow Emperor's descendants to travel in space.[20]

After the Chinese Civil War in 1949 the Kuomintang and the Republic of China relocated to Taiwan island. Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek made it a rule for the Republic of China to pay homage from Taiwan to the Yellow Emperor on Tomb Sweeping day on April 4, 1949.[30] However, he never paid homage nor did his son Chiang Ching-kuo.[30]

On April 4, 2009 Ma Ying-jeou became the first Taiwan president to pay respect to the emperor at the Taipei Martyrs' Shrine, while Lien Chan and his wife Lien Fang-yu paid homage at the Mausoleum of the Yellow Emperor in Huangling Yan'an in mainland China.[30][31]

Research Professor Ye Shuxian (葉舒憲) associated the Yellow Emperor with the bear legends amongst northeast Asia people as well as the Dangun legend.[32] According to Western writer Louis Crompton's book on homosexuality, the eminent bibliographer Ji Yun, in his popular Notes from the "Yue-wei" Hermitage in (1800) said the Yellow Emperor was also the first to take male bedmates.[33]


  • Cotterell, Maurice. The Terracotta Warriors. Rochester, Vermont: Bear and Company, 2004.
  • Wu, K. C. (1982). The Chinese Heritage. New York: Crown Publishers. ISBN 0-517-54475X.


  1. "Huangdi (Chinese mythological emperor))". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 24 July 2011. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 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 11–13.
  3. 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. Publishing Company. ISBN 9620753143. pg 142.
  4. "Yellow Emperor." The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2008.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Wu, 49-50, and chapter end-notes.
  6. "" 轩辕黄帝与西安. Retrieved on 2010-08-22.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 戴逸, 龔書鐸. [2002] (2003) 中國通史. 史前 夏 商 西周. Intelligence press. ISBN 9628792806. p 33.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Walters, Derek. [2006](2006). The Complete guide to Chinese astrology. Watkins publishing. ISBN: 978-1-84293-111-0. Pg 39.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 9.7 9.8 9.9 戴逸, 龔書鐸. [2002] (2003) 中國通史. 史前 夏 商 西周. Intelligence press. ISBN 9628792806. p 32.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Haw, Stephen G. [2007] (2007). Beijing a Concise History. Routledge. ISBN 978041539906-7. pg 15-16.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 王仲孚. [1997] (1997). 中國文化史. 五南圖書出版股份有限公司 publishing. ISBN 9571114278, 9789571114279. pg 13.
  12. 刘向(Liu Xiang, 77 BC- 6 BC)《别录》:“蹴鞠者,传言黄帝所作。”
  13. Yin, Wei. Zhongguo Qinshi Yanyi 【中国琴史演义】. Pages 1-10.
  14. 黃大受. [1989] (1989). 中國通史, Volume 2. 五南圖書出版股份有限公司 publishing. ISBN 9571100315, 9789571100319.
  15. 15.0 15.1 "" 背叛者白澤. Retrieved on 2010-09-04.
  16. 16.0 16.1 洪葛, 顧久. [2005] (2005). 抱朴子內篇. 台灣書房出版有限公司 publisher. ISBN 9867332466, 9789867332462. pg 474.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 "" 黃帝大戰蚩尤與指南車. Retrieved on 2010-08-22.
  18. "" 涿鹿、阪泉、釜山考. Retrieved on 2010-08-22.
  19. 19.0 19.1 "Dynastic Wives and Concubines in China (歷代后妃中的超級醜女)" (in Chinese). Retrieved 8 August 2010. 
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 Frank Dikötter. [1997] (1997). The construction of racial identities in China and Japan: historical and contemporary perspectives. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0824819195, 9780824819194. pg 81-83.
  21. "" 嫫母與軒轅作鏡. Retrieved on 2010-09-04.
  22. "" Mausoleums of the Yellow Emperor . Retrieved on 2010-08-29.
  23. "" Taiwan leader pay tributes to Yellow Emperor. Retrieved on 2010-09-04.
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 24.3 Windridge, Charles. [1999] (2003) Tong Sing, The Chinese Book of Wisdom. Kyle Cathie Limited. ISBN 0-7607-4535-8. pp. 59, 107.
  25. "" 《黃帝四經》的傳說. Retrieved on 2010-08-29.
  26. "" Hong Kong Leisure and Cultural Services Department star list. Retrieved on 2010-08-29.
  27. Fowler, Jeaneane D. (2005). An Introduction to the Philosophy and Religion of Taoism: Pathways to Immortality. Sussex Academic Press. ISBN 1845190866, 9781845190866. p. 132.
  28. "" Hall of supreme harmoney. Retrieved on 2010-08-29.
  29. "" 金鑾寶座軒轅鏡 御門聽政太和殿. Retrieved on 2010-08-29.
  30. 30.0 30.1 30.2 "President" President Ma pays homage in person to the Yellow Emperor. Retrieved on 2010-09-04.
  31. "" 10,000 Chinese pay homage to Yellow Emperor. Retrieved on 2010-09-04.
  32. 《龙图腾:中国祖先神话探源》, 上海文艺出版社, edition July 2007
  33. Crompton, Louis, Homosexuality and Civilization, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003, p. 214. Ji Yun argued that this was probably a false attribution: 雜說稱孌童始黃帝, 殆出依托 (see Ji Yun's Yuewei caotang biji 閱微草堂筆記, chapter 12, "Huaixi zazhi er" 槐西雜志二 [Miscellaneous records from Huaixi, Part 2]).
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Yellow Emperor. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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