Flame Emperor — Brilliant Sovereign and Inventor of Agriculture

Flame Emperor or Yan Di, also named Shennong, Lianshan, or Lieshan, was an influential Neolithic sovereign, and a brilliant inventor with exceptional contributions. 


Together with the Yellow Emperor (Huang Di), they are both respected as ancestors of the Han People, the majority ethnic group of Chinese. 


He was excellent at using fire to cook food and make pottery, hence, he was respected as Flame Emperor (or Yan Di). 


Besides, he taught people to plant crops, which turned his tribe into an agricultural society, in which fishing and hunting were supplementary means for people’s diets. 


In some historical documentation, Flame Emperor also spent years exploring and tasting different types of herbs, to find useful ones to cure people and extend their lifespans.

Portrait of Flame Emperor Yan Di the ancient Chinese Sovereign in Neolithic Period

Legendary Origin of Flame Emperor


Flame Emperor was the son of Lord Shaodian, his mother was Queen Fubao or Youjiao. After he grew up, he left his parents and built a new tribe by himself. 

In other historical documents, he inherited the crown to be the leader of his tribe named Shennong. 

Either way, he was a smart monarch of his tribe, which kept expanding under his reign. 

The brilliant Flame Emperor acquired adequate knowledge of agriculture and medicine. 

He taught his people to plant crops and invented some efficient tools to develop agriculture. When the production of his tribe kept growing, he established a market for people to exchange goods. 

Moreover, he traveled to many places in China and tried large numbers of herbs by himself, and afterward taught people how to use them to treat diseases. 

Painted Pottery Basin with Human and Fish Patterns of Yangshao Culture (Around 5000 BC — 3000 BC), Believed the Same Time and Place that Flame Emperor had Lived

Painted Pottery Basin with Human and Fish Patterns of Yangshao Culture (Around 5000 BC — 3000 BC), Believed the Same Time and Place that Flame Emperor had Lived — National Museum of China (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Competing War Over Hegemony

Later, Flame Emperor and Yellow Emperor fought three wars, competing for hegemony in a place named Banquan.

A widely believed reason was that the tribe of the Yellow Emperor became quite strong and powerful, and the ambitious Yellow Emperor wanted to unify all tribes. 

Another possible reason was that many other clan leaders became unsatisfied with the reign of the Flame Emperor, hence, they pledged their loyalty to the Yellow Emperor instead.  

After intense battles, he and his tribe failed in this war of hegemony, and they respected the Yellow Emperor as the most honorable sovereign. 

They allied together as Huaxia Tribal Union, the origin of Chinese civilization. Flame Emperor and Yellow Emperor together have been respected as the honored ancestors of the Chinese Han people, till today.

Human Head Shaped Terracotta Pot of Yangshao Culture (Around 5000 BC — 3000 BC)

Human Head Shaped Terracotta Pot of Yangshao Culture (Around 5000 BC — 3000 BC) — Banpo Museum of Xi'an

Intense Battle of Zhuolu and Flame Emperor’s Legacy

Their Huaxia Tribal Union kept growing and expanding with Flame Emperor’s brilliant agricultural skills, and Yellow Emperor’s exceptional inventions such as cart, ship, and other tools.

More and more tribes complied with Huaxia, except Lord Chiyou.

Chiyou was the lord of a strong tribe named Jiuli in the east; in some other documents, he had worked for but later rebelled against the Flame Emperor or the Yellow Emperor.  

Chiyou was very aggressive, and his tribe could produce many advanced weapons. 

Yellow and Flame Emperors had fought against Chiyou several times and achieved final success. That was the Battle of Zhuolu. 

In mythical history, many supernatural beings also participated in this decisive battle: God of Wind and Rain, large numbers of ghosts and monsters were on Chiyou’s side, while powerful dragon Ying Long, Fairy of Drought, and some deities of Mount Kunlun supported Yellow and Flame Emperor's troops.

Battle of Zhuolu in Chinese Mythical History

Battle of Zhuolu in Chinese Mythical History

After they finally won the Battle of Zhuolu, the Huaxia Tribal Union mostly dominated the central places in China, where the Yellow Emperor, as the most honorable sovereign, started his exceptional reign.

The Flame Emperor then continued his discoveries and research on more types of herbs and passed away after he tried virulent foliage. 

Many memorial temples of the Flame Emperor were built throughout history, to honor his exceptional contributions; today, grand worship ceremonies would be held there every year. 

Mausoleum of Flame Emperor (Yan Di)

Mausoleum of Flame Emperor (Yan Di) in Hunan Province