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Religions in China - Yuhuang 玉皇, the Jade Emperor


The Jade Emperor, known as Yuhuang 玉皇 or Yudi 玉帝 "Divine Jade Ancestor", Yuhuang shangdi 玉皇上帝 "Supreme Jade Emperor" or Yuhuang dadi 玉皇大帝 "Great Jade Emperor", is the highest deity in Daoism and Chinese popular religion. This deity is not known in early Daoist writings, and in Tao Hongjing's 陶弘景 enumeration of Daoist gods, the Zhenling weiye tu 真靈位業圖, the Jade Emperor only functions as the third of the Three Pures 三清. Only during the Tang period 唐 (618-907) the Jade Emperor achieved a higher status and was venerated as the highest deity in the Daoist pantheon, not only by believers, but also by poets and writers. In popular belief he soon occupied the position that the worldy emperor occupied in China. He so replaced older "celestial emperors" like Tianweng 天翁 "Father Heaven" or Zhang Tiandi 張天帝 "Heavenly Emperor Zhang" (i. e. Zhang Daoling 張道陵). During the Song period 宋 (960-1279) the Jade Emperor also entered the echelon of deities to which the state offered sacrifices, and merged with the more impersonal Haotian shangdi 昊天上帝 "High Ancestor of Bright Heaven". Emperor Huizong 宋徽宗 (r. 1100-1125) bestowed the Jade Emperor the title of Haotian yuhuang shangdi 昊天玉皇上帝 "High Ancestor of Bright Heaven, Jade Emperor". After the downfall of the Song, the Jade Emperor again was dropped out of the "official" Heaven and remained a deity to which sacrifices would be offered only on a personal base. In popular belief, the Jade Emperor kept on being venerated as the highest deity and was even bestowed the Buddhist title of Qingjing ziran juewang rulai 清凈自然覺王如來 "Pure King of the Natural Enlightenment, Tathāgata". It was believed that the Jade Emperor was a prince of the Country of miraculous joy of the garland of brightness 光嚴妙樂國 and gave up his imperial position in order to obtain enlightenment. After three thousand years of meditation he became a "golden immortal" (jinxian 金仙), and, after a second kalpa (world age) of contemplation he emerged as the Jade Emperor. The full canonical title of the Jade Emperor is Haotian jinjue wushang zhizun ziran miaoyou miluo zhizhen yuhuang dadi 昊天金闕無上至尊自然妙有彌羅至真玉皇上帝 "Most Perfect Supreme Jade Emperor, Utmost Venerated Wonderful Natural Maitreya of the Golden Towergate in the Bright Heaven", or Haotian jinque zhizun yuhuang dadi 昊天金闕至尊玉皇大帝 "Great Highly Venerated Jade Emperor of the Golden Towergate in the Bright Heaven", or Xuanqiong gaoshang yuhuang dadi 玄穹高上玉皇大帝 "Great Jade Emperor of the Highest Mysterious Void", or Taishang kaitian zhifu yuli hanzhen tidao Yuhuang da tiandi 太上開天執符御歷含真體道玉皇大天帝 "Great Celestial Jade Emperor, Opening the Heavenly Gate in the Utmost Heights, Holding the Talismans, Comandeering the Ages, Including the Perfectness and Personifying the Way". The Daoist Canon Daozang 道藏 includes a book called Gaoshang yuhuang benxing jijing 高上玉皇本行集經, authorship of which is attributed to the Jade Emperor.

Sources: Huang Ming 黃鳴 (ed. 1990), Jianming minzu cidian 簡明民族詞典 (Nanning: Guangxi renmin chubanshe), p. 543. ● Xu Yu 許鈺 (ed. 1992), Zhonghua fengsu xiao baike 中華風俗小百科 (Tianjin: Tianjin renmin chubanshe), p. 423.

October 20, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail