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Chinese History - The Five Emperors

Huang-di (The Yellow Emperor)26972597
Emperor Ku24362366
Emperor Yao23582258
Emperor Shun22552195
From in the earliest mists of history, over four thousand years ago, China was ruled by the mythical Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors. These names and reigns are more legendary than historical. An appendix to the Spring and Autumn Annals says, "From the creation to the capture of the Lin18 (B.C. 481) there have elapsed three million two hundred and seventy-six thousand years, divided into ten epochs, and comprising in all seventy thousand six hundred generations. The first epoch was called that of the nine heads; the second, the ' Five dragons ;' the third, She-t'i; the fourth, Ho-lo ; the fifth, Lien-t'ung ; the sixth, Hsiiming ; the seventh, Hsiu-fei; the eighth, Hui-t'i; the ninth, Shan-t'ung ; and the tenth epoch is called Liuchi. Now the Liu-chi epoch corresponds to the era of the Yellow Emperor.

The drama of Chinese history may be said to open with Huangti, the Yellow Emperor, who in 2698 B. C. consolidated his authority by military triumphs and is regarded as the founder of the empire. His surname was Kung-sun (Duke's Grandson) and his personal name was " Hsien-yuan. From his birth he had divine power ; as a babe he could speak ; as a boy he was always quick ; as a youth he was generous and alert; and as a man thoroughly intelligent."l In the time of Hsien-yuan the descendants of Shen-nung became corrupt. The princes made raids on each other, fought and harassed the people, and Shennung could not control them. Hsien-Yuan therefore practised himself in the use of shield and spear so as to subdue those who would not pay homage. The princes all came, submitted and were obedient, except Ch'ih-yu (Stupid Criminal), who was the fiercest and most unconquerable.

Yellow Emperor then levied an army of the princes, fought against Stupid Criminal in the plain of Stricken-Deer, and finally captured and slew him. The princes thereupon exalted Hsien-Yuan, and made him Son of Heaven in place of Shen-nung. This was Yellow Emperor. Those in the empire who would not obey him Yellow Emperor pursued and conquered, but those who were quiet he left alone. He cut through mountains, opened roads, and was never at rest.

Many important improvements in agriculture are recorded in the reign of Huangti. The system of weights and measures was rearranged (decimally) ; the pu and mow (Chinese foot and acre) were established; and the Chinese calendar was regulated (cycle every sixty years). Shonnung's work was thus improved upon because the year was divided into four seasons and time was determined for sowing and planting. Huangti ordered his consort to teach the people the raising of silk worms from which time the industry was raised to the dignity and importance which it has always retained among the Chinese to the present day. The invention of writing is also ascribed to this period together with the manufacture of silk, the making of bows and arrows, the building of houses and the invention of agricultural implements.

It is during Huangti's administration that the Tsing Tien System had its beginning. "Huangti marked the country and divided it into states, established kingdoms of 100 li square to the number of 10 thousand, ordered the people to establish the districts within these kingdoms, measuring the land and establishing the tsings in order to prevent disputes and for purposes of land and soil administration." So the division into tsings and the emerging of the Tsing Tien System is not due to divine sanction or any mysterious reason but to the needs of the hour-an equitable system of land holdings with definite demarcations to prevent disputes.

Yellow Emperor lived on the hillock of Hsien-Yuan, and married a daughter of ' Western Range,' namely, Lei-tsu, and she was Yellow Emperor's principal wife." She bore two sons, both of whose descendants possessed the empire. One of them was called Hsuan-hsiao4; this was Ch'ing-yang (Azure Male) who came down to dwell on the river Chiang. The other called Ch'ang-yi (Splendid Idea). Yellow Emperor died, and was buried at Ch'iaoshan (Bridge mountain), and his grandson, Ch'ang-yi's son, High Male, that is emperor Chuanhsii, came to the throne. Emperor Chuan-hsii, or High Male, "was Yellow Emperor's grandson and Ch'ang-yi's son. Calm and deep in his designs, which were clear and thorough, he understood what to do.

Emperor Chuan-hsii had a son called Ch'iungchan. Chuan-hsii died, and Hsiian-hsiao's grandson Kao-hsin (High H) reigned. This was emperor K'u. Emperor K'u was Yellow Emperor's great-grandson. He distributed his favours everywhere, and did not think of himself. His apprehension was so fine that he knew what was far off, and so clear that he perceived the smallest details. He followed Heaven's laws, and knew the people's needs. Humane and yet dignified, kind and yet trustworthy, he practised self-culture, and the empire submitted to him.

Emperor K'u died, and Chih (Grasp) reigned in his stead. Emperor Chih reigned badly, died, and his younger brother Imitating Merit reigned ; this was emperor Yao.

The emperor Yao, Imitating Merit, "whose goodness was like that of heaven, and whose wisdom was god-like, when near was like the sun, and when far off like a cloud. He was gifted without being proud, and exalted without being insolent. He wore a yellow cap and plain silk dress, and had a red car drawn by a white horse." He discriminated and controlled the people, and they were enlightened and intelligent. He brought into accord the myriad states. He then ordered Hsi and Ho carefully to observe the vast heavens, to calculate the laws relating to the sun, moon, stars, and planets, and carefully to indicate to the people the seasons. He put in accord the seasons and months, and rectified the days; he made uniform the musical tubes, and the measures of length, capacity, and weight; he restored the five rites, the five jade tokens, the three pieces of silk, and the two living animals and one dead one12 which were brought as presents : as for the five instruments, when all was over they were returned.

At the time of Yao the empire was suffering from a great flood (suggested by Western writers to be indentical with Noah's flood) and so the energies of the officials were directed to coping with the dangers and the restoration of agriculture after the waters had subsided. The making of canals, connecting the ditches in the fields with the rivers, and the deepening of the rivers for the purpose of drainage at this time inaugurated the immense systems of canala found in present-day China. The appointment of Hou Chi as a special officer to look after the production of food at this time is noteworthy. He was doubtless the world's) first minister of agriculture. " People were hungry, food must be raised in season, and so Hou Chi was ordered to see to the restoration of the planting of 100 crops" and he proved his worth by his many works. We are told that Hou Chi was a real "dirt" farmer, having taken to farm work since childhood, and his appointment was the result of accounts of his success reaching the ears of the emperor. To him is credited the invention of the system of " alternating fields," a system of alternating high and low lines in the field for the annual rest and recovery of the soil.L Also the cultivation in pairs. The Shi King says "attend to your cultivation with your ten thousand men, all in pairs " and " in thousands of pairs they remove the roots."

After the death of Yao, when the three years mourning was over, the princes who came to render homage went to Shun ; those who were condemned to gaol, or had lawsuits pending, went before Shun; those who recited and sang songs sang in praise of Shun. Shun said, ' It is from Heaven.' He then returned to the capital, and occupied the throne of the son of Heaven." Such was the emperor Shun. Shun of Yu had the personal name Ch'ung-hua (Renewed Glory) ; Ch'ung-hua's father was Ku-sou; Ku-sou's father was Chiao-niu; Chiao-niu's father was Kou-wang ; Kou-wang's father was Ching-k'ang ; Ching-k'ang's father was Ch'iung-chan; Ch'iungchan's father was the Emperor Chuan-hsii ; Chuanhsii's father was Ch'ang-yi; up to Shun there were seven generations: from Ch'iung-chan to emperor Shun they were all insignificant and persons of low rank.

Shun's son, Shang-chun, "was worthless," and therefore Shun had previously presented Yu to Heaven; seventeen years afterwards he died. When the three years' mourning was over, Yu also withdrew from the presence of Shun's son, just as Shun had withdrawn from before Yao's son. The princes gave their allegiance to him, and afterwards Yu ascended the Imperial throne. Yao's son Tanchu and Shun's son Shang-chun both possessed certain territories in order that they might perform the sacrifices to their ancestors ; they wore their own dresses, had their own ceremonies and music, and went to the Imperial audiences as guests. The son of Heaven did not treat them as subjects, thus showing that he did not presume to act on his own authority. From Yellow Emperor to Shun and Yu all the sovereigns had the same family name, but were distinguished by the names of their states, so that they might manifest their illustrious virtue.

The grand historian says, 'Students generally observe that the five gods are the most ancient. Now the 'Book of History' only speaks of Yao and those subsequent to him. Again the writings of the various schools referring to Yellow Emperor are not canonical teaching; and the literary gentlemen are reluctant to speak of him.

The time of Yao and Shun is considered the golden period of Chinese history by the historians, in that it is characterized as that of a model government based on solicitude and a feeling of responsibility for the true interests of the people. Thus Yao is recorded as saying: " Are the people cold ? It is I who am the cause. Are they hungry ? It is my fault. Do they commit crime? I ought to consider myself the culprit." Moreover the custom of hereditary succession was set aside at that time and the man chosen as the emperor's successor was one long associated with him in his adminstration and deemed best fitted to be intrusted with the office, instead of the eldest son of the ruler.

With the death of Yu this prosperous patriarchial period is said to have reached its close. The principle of hereditary succession was firmly established. Yu being succeeded by his son became the founder of the Hsia Dynasty, which lasted four centuries.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:40:04 ZULU