The Yellow Emperor (Huang Di 黃帝, occasionally written 皇帝 "august ancestor") is the mythological ancestor of the Chinese people and one of the Five Emperors 五帝. Chinese historians of the early 20th century believed that there was a certain Chinese tribe living in the region of River Ji 姬水 (around Qingdi 青地, Shaanxi) that venerated the Huang Di as their common ancestor (di 帝 is a deified ancestor). This is the so-called Qijia Culture 齊家文化. The people from this culture are thought to have regularly intermarried with the people of the Jiang River 姜水 valley (around modern Qishan 岐山 and Wugong 武功, Shaanxi, called the Hua people 華) that venerated the Yan Di 炎帝 as their common ancestor. Descendants of the Huang Di people migrated to the southern part of modern Shanxi province, where they founded the Xia Culture 夏文化, from which the Xia dynasty 夏 (17th-15th cent. BCE) originated. Another people that derived their origin from the Huang Di people are the Zhou 周 (11th cent.-221 BCE) that founded the dynasty with the same name, which can be seen in the surname of the rulers, which is Ji 姬. Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) apocryphal texts show that it is quite probable that the Yellow Emperor was originally a deity controlling lightning and thunder and was represented in the shape of the constellation of the Big Dipper. As a such, he also represented the centre of Heaven and the world and controlled all other directions and the deities attributed to them. The latter were seen as an element of disturbance that the Yellow Emperor had to calm down.|
The ancient writings Guoyu 國語, Shiben 世本 and Da Dai Liji 大戴禮記 say that Huang Di was the son of Shao Dian 少典 and Fu Bao 附寳. The Shiji 史記 says, his family name was Gongsun 公孫, his name Xuanyuan 軒轅 and the name of his fief Youxiong 有熊 (or Xiong 熊). Other tribal names of him are Lord Jinyun 縉云氏 or Dihong 帝鴻氏. The historian Cui Shu 崔述 points at the fact that the family name Gongsun did not exist in highest antiquity but is of a younger date, so that this statement can not be true. Xuanyuan is likely to be a place name (identified with modern Xinzheng 新鄭, Henan), probably his residence, but is by the Han period commentator Wang Yi 王逸 explained as the result of his invention of cart and wagon (compare the characters, written with the radical 車 "cart"). The name Youxiong does not appear in the oldest lists like that in the various Shiben editions. Any statements about Huang Di thus have to be seen as a part of mythology rather than as historical facts.
In most versions of the genealogical Shiben books, there are lists of inventors (zuo 作), a large part of which are said to have lived during the age of the Yellow Emperor. Such cultural inventions are the boring of wells, the mortar, bow and arrow, oxen as draught animals and horses as riding animals, carts and ships, clothing, caps and banners, fans, shoes, the calendar, mathematics, astrology, the pitchpipes, musical instruments, medicine, or the Chinese script. Of course, these inventions, too are part of a mythology, but all took place in a culturally advanced period of the neolithic age.
Mythological stories narrate the Yellow Emperor's battle with Chi You 蚩尤 (who was, according to a fragment of the Xinshu 新書 quoted in the Yishi 繹史, a half-brother of the Yellow Emperor) in Zhuolu 涿鹿 (around modern Beijing), or his battle with the Hunzhou 葷粥 (ancestors of the Xiongnu 匈奴) in the north, or the battle with the "Red Emperor" Chi Di 赤帝 (same as Yan Di) in Banquan 阪泉 (near modern Zhuolu, Hebei). He is so the first in a series or cycle of victorious rulers that subdue vile and depraved kings. Later books like the Shanghaijing 山海經 mention the generals Ying Long 應龍 and Nü Ba 女魃 that attacked Chi You, but such a battle is also mentioned in older documents like the Yizhoushu 逸周書 and the Shangshu 尚書, so that there must be some historical truth behind, probably a regular warfare (or one single battle) of the Xia people with tribes in the north, probably as a result of the northward migration of the Xia Chinese. Historians commenting on these stories bring forward that Banquan was likely the tribal name of Chi You, and not a place name. Others say that the river source Banquan and Mt. Zhuolu are located in the same area, so that the battle has been given different names by different authors or in different times.
With the growing cultural unity of the Chinese realm, the tribal background of the Yellow Emperor became less obvious, and all persons living in the Zhou empire accepted him as their mythological ancestor. The descendants of the Yellow Emperor became the forefathers of all Chinese, or at least their ruling houses. The earlier difference between the Huang Di and the Yan Di was blurred, and both became one single person, and the Xia and Hua peoples merged to one, the Hua-Xia people 華夏.
Traditional historians describe that the Yellow Emperor, after defeating Chi You and the Red Emperor, established a kind of government and enfeoffed the nobles of the various regions of his empire (the "ten thousand states" wanguo 萬國). He had four consorts, namely Lei Zu 嫘祖, Nü Jie 女節, Lady Tongyu 彤魚氏女 and Mo Mu 嫫母. He fathered 25 children or sons, 14 of which were bestowed 12 family names (Ji 姬, You 酉, Qi 祁, Ji 己, Teng 滕, Qian 葴, Ren 任, Xun 荀, Xi 僖, Jie 佶, Huan 儇 and Yi 依). The Yellow Emperor also belongs to the cultural heroes by the many inventions he made, like bronze tripods, boats and carts, and even the compass cart (zhinanche 指南車). His wife Leizu is the inventor of silk spinning, his minister Cang Jie 倉頡 invented the script, Xi He 羲和 (two persons, Xi and He?), Chang Yi 常儀, Sou Qu 臾區 astonomy and astrology, Ling Lun 伶倫 (also written 泠綸) the musical pitchpipes, Da Rao 大擾 the sexagenery cycle of the calendar, and Li Shou 隸首 mathematics. The Yellow Emperor ruled for one hundred years. His tomb mound Huangling 黄陵 is to be found in Huangling 黄陵, Shaanxi. The Shanhaijing says that the Yellow Emperor consumed a jade paste (yugao 玉膏) making him immortal (?). According to the Shiji 史記, he collected ores and cast a tripod, under which a dragon appeared. The Yellow Emperor then mounted the animal, and so the dragon became a symbol of imperial power.
The Yellow Emperor is sometimes referred to as Tai Di 太帝 "Great Emperor" or Tian Di 天帝 "Celestial Emperor" (see Heaven), or Shang Di 上帝 "Supreme Emperor".
Liu Qiyu 劉起釪 (1992). "Huang Di 黃帝", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史, vol. 1, pp. 405-406. Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe.
Xiong Tieji 熊鐵基, Yang Youli 楊有禮 (ed. 1994). Zhongguo diwang zaixiang cidian 中國帝王宰相辭典, p. 5. Wuhan: Hubei jiaoyu chubanshe.
Yuan Ke 袁珂 (ed. 1985). Zhongguo shenhua chuanshuo cidian 中國神話傳說詞典, pp. 61, 67, 187, 347-348. Shanghai: Shanghai cishu chubanshe.
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