Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors
History of China
History of China
Neolithic c. 8500 – c. 2070 BC
Xia dynasty c. 2070 – c. 1600 BC
Shang dynasty c. 1600 – c. 1046 BC
Zhou dynasty c. 1046 – 256 BC
 Western Zhou
 Eastern Zhou
   Spring and Autumn
   Warring States
Qin dynasty 221–206 BC
Han dynasty 206 BC – 220 AD
  Western Han
  Xin dynasty
  Eastern Han
Three Kingdoms 220–280
  Wei, Shu and Wu
Jin dynasty 265–420
  Western Jin
  Eastern Jin Sixteen Kingdoms
Southern and Northern Dynasties
Sui dynasty 581–618
Tang dynasty 618–907
  (Wu Zhou interregnum 690–705)
Five Dynasties and
Ten Kingdoms

Liao dynasty
Song dynasty
  Northern Song W. Xia
  Southern Song Jin
Yuan dynasty 1271–1368
Ming dynasty 1368–1644
Qing dynasty 1644–1911
Republic of China 1912–1949
People's Republic
of China

Republic of
China on Taiwan


The Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors were a group of mythological rulers and deities from ancient China during the period circa 2852 BC to 2070 BC, today considered culture heroes.[1] According to received history, this period preceded the Xia Dynasty.[2]

In myth, the Three Sovereigns were demigods who used their abilities to help create mankind and impart to them essential skills and knowledge. The Five Emperors were exemplary sages who possessed 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 following appear in different groupings of the Three Sovereigns: Fuxi (伏羲), Nüwa (女媧), Shennong (神農), Suiren (燧人), Zhurong (祝融), Gong Gong (共工), Heavenly Sovereign (天皇), Earthly Sovereign (地皇), Tai Sovereign (泰皇), Human Sovereign (人皇), and even the Yellow Emperor (黄帝).

The following appear in different groupings of the Five Emperors: Yellow Emperor (黃帝), Zhuanxu (顓頊), Emperor Ku (嚳), Emperor Yao (堯), Shun (舜), Shaohao (少昊), Taihao (太昊), and Yan Emperor (炎帝).

Three Sovereigns[edit]

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 the Huaxia people.[4] The Mausoleum of the Yellow Emperor was established in Shaanxi Province to commemorate the ancestry legend.[4]

According to source Three Sovereigns
Records of the Grand Historian (史記), addition by Sima Zhen Heavenly Sovereign (天皇), Earthly Sovereign (地皇), Tai Sovereign (泰皇)[3]
Fu Xi (伏羲), Nüwa (女媧), Shennong (神農)
Sovereign series (帝王世系) Fu Xi (伏羲), Shennong (神農), Yellow Emperor (黃帝)[3]
The book of Lineages (世本) Fu Xi (伏羲), Shennong (神農), Yellow Emperor (黃帝)[3]
Baihu Tongyi (白虎通義) (1st variation)
Fu Xi (伏羲), Shennong (神農), Zhurong (祝融)[3]

(2nd variation)
Fu Xi (伏羲), Shennong (神農), Suiren (燧人)[3]
Fengsu TongYi (風俗通義) 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[edit]

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]

Family tree of ancient Five Emperors[edit]

(1) Yellow Emperor 黃帝[6]
(2) Shaohao 少昊
Changyi 昌意
Jiaoji 蟜極
(3) Zhuanxu 顓頊
(4) Ku
Qiongchan 窮蟬
(5) Zhi
(6) Emperor Yao
Houji 后稷
Jingkang 敬康
Danzhu 丹朱
Juwang 句望
Qiaoniu 橋牛
Gusou 瞽叟
(8) Yu
Ehuang 娥皇
(7) Shun
Nuying 女英
Shangjun 商均

Creation myth[edit]

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.[7] 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), Fuxi-shi (伏羲氏), and Shennong-shi (神農氏). The list sometimes extends to one more member being Nüwa-shi (女媧氏), making Five shi (五氏).[7]


These kings are said to have helped introduce the use 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 discovery of medicine, the invention of the calendar and Chinese script are also credited to the kings. After their era, Yu the Great founded the Xia Dynasty.[2]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hucker, Charles (1995). China's Imperial Past: An Introduction to Chinese History and Culture. Stanford University Press. p. 22. ISBN 9780804723534. 
  2. ^ a b Morton, W. Scott Morton. Morton, William Scott. Lewis Charlton M. (2005). China: its history and culture. McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-141279-4, ISBN 978-0-07-141279-7, p. 14.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k 劉煒/著. (2002) Chinese civilization in a new light. Commercial press publishing. ISBN 962-07-5314-3, p. 142.
  4. ^ a b 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. ^ a b ”CHINAKNOWLEDGE”, Chinese History - The Three Augusts and Five Emperors 三皇五帝
  6. ^ Sima Qian, Records of the Grand Historian
  7. ^ a b 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.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Preceded by
None known
Dynasties in Chinese history
2852–2205 BC
Succeeded by
Xia dynasty