Four Mountains

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Four Mountains (traditional Chinese: 四嶽; simplified Chinese: 四岳; pinyin: Sìyuè) variously interpreted from Chinese mythology or the most ancient level of Chinese history as being a person or four persons or four gods, depending upon the specific source. The figures feature prominently in the myth of the Great Flood, and the related myths of Emperor Yao (in whose reign the Great Flood began), Gun, Shun (Yao's successor as emperor), and Yu the Great (who finally controlled the flood waters during the reign of Shun, and later succeeded him as emperor).

Mythologist Yang Lihui sees Four Mountains as four gods of a set of four mountains, with Four Mountains referring to the actual mountains themselves.[1] K. C. Wu sees Four Mountains as being a ministerial position established by Yao to "oversee the mundane affairs of the empire", but points out that a real description of the functions of this position is lacking, nor is it certain whether there were one or four persons holding this ministerial position; however, he goes on to say that the evidence suggests the existence of four of them, and that they were charged with keeping themselves knowledgeable about what was going on throughout Yao's domain and advising him upon request.[2] The importance of Four Mountains can be seen in their key role in selecting Gun to be the first to be put in charge of controlling the flood, then, later, in nominating Shun to be Yao's co-emperor, and later successor.


The name "Four Mountains" in Chinese uses 四 (sì), the standard character/word for the number four, plus 嶽 (yuè), which refers to a great mountain, or the highest peak of a mountain — in contrast to the usual word for mountain, 山 (shān), which may also be used to refer to a mere foothill or other geological prominence.


Anthony Christie relates the figure of Four Mountains to the Chinese cosmological idea of a square earth, with each of the peaks representing one of the four cardinal directions which the ruler would tour, and at which he would perform various imperial rituals, upon taking possession of his realm. The person or person(s) of Four Mountains being afterwards present in court then symbolized the completion of the ruler's having taken possession of his entire realm.[3]

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  1. ^ Yang, An & Turner 2005, p. 128.
  2. ^ Wu 1982, p. 68.
  3. ^ Christie 1968, p. 67.