Great Reigns of Emperor Yao and Emperor Shun
Emperor Yao and Emperor Shun were two extraordinary monarchs in Neolithic China.
Emperor Yao abdicated the throne to Emperor Shun, and their kingdom kept developing during their ruling period, which was honored as the Great Reigns of Yao and Shun.
They are representatives of accomplished kings and great people with perfect virtues and are respected as Legendary Ancient Sages.
Legendary Ancient Sages in Chinese History
Emperor Yao or King Yao — Ideal Monarch and the Incarnation of Red Dragon
Yao (about 2377 BC — 2259 BC), surname Yiqi, name Fangxun, was sovereign of fiefs Tao and Tang. After Yao got the throne, he was respected as Emperor Yao or King Yao.
Mysterious Birth of Yao
Yao was the great-great-grandson of the Yellow Emperor or Huang Di (about 2717 BC — 2599 BC). He was subinfeuded in Tao and then migrated to Tang; hence, his empire was named Tao Tang.
Like the other kings of Mythical History, Yao had a magical birth in some legends.
A beautiful young lady, also the third queen of the current king, was visiting her parents on a boat when a red tornado appeared and flew around her twice.
That night, she dreamt of a red dragon flying into her body. The following day, she saw a handsome portrait beside her pillow, drawn using red water, and soon found she was pregnant.
About 14 months later, a baby boy who looked the same as that red water-painted portrait was born and named Yao.
Ritual Jade Decoration (Yu Huang) of Taosi Site of Longshan Culture (Around 2500 BC — 2000 BC), Same Era and Place that King Yao Reigned — Shanxi Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Legendary Love Story of Emperor Yao
When Yao was visiting a mountain, he fell in love with a deity that saved him from an evil black tiger. They got married in a beautiful cave in this mountain named Guye, had a baby boy, and lived a happy life there.
However, that black tiger tried to seek revenge years later and kept harassing them; the deity then had to ask help from the king of heaven to perish the black tiger permanently.
Another powerful immortal helped her defeat the black tiger, suppress it under a mountain, and forbade the deity from dating humans.
Afterward, she disappeared and lived in seclusion on a mountain.
Yao and his baby boy searched for his beloved one for years, but with no luck, he had to return to the civilian world.
Later, he got the throne from his older brother and married his queen years later.
Guye Mountain in Linfen City of Shanxi Province that King Yao had Lived.
Great Reign of Emperor Yao
Afterward, Emperor Yao became an accomplished monarch that brought his people stable, wealthy lives.
Under his rule, there were few wars and conflicts among tribes; instead, more communication and exchanges were realized in peace.
The basic Chinese Calendar used to distinguish the four seasons and guide agricultural works was formulated and widely applied, which contributed to huge progress in Chinese agriculture.
Restored Ancient Observatory of Taosi Site of Longshan Culture (Around 2500 BC — 2000 BC) in Shanxi Province.
Besides, Yao brought society the conception of the “nation” and a complete political system that assigned officials based on their specialties and achievements.
Since then, his territory has turned into a mighty kingdom instead of the previous loose alliance of tribes.
Yao invented a system that allowed all civilians to talk to him in person if they had suggestions or encountered injustice by hitting a drum in front of his house.
For people living far away, he set many wooden beams, each of which was guarded by an officer that civilians could talk to or get guidance on how to reach Emperor Yao.
Jade Weapon (Yue) of Longshan Culture — Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Selecting of New Heir and Abdicating the Throne
In historical documentation, Yao had nine sons, but he thought none was great enough to take over the throne.
Emperor Yao invented the Game of Go, designed to imitate military activities, to teach his first son to be calm and deliberate.
Yao and other people could see many mature and sophisticated administration strategies and philosophies from this game, but his son could not.
Hence, Yao started seeking talented, qualified monarchs that could flourish the empire.
Many people recommend a diligent, virtuous young man named Shun.
After a series of careful examinations, Yao ensured that Shun was qualified to be the heir.
So he subinfeuded his sons to remote places, married his two daughters to Shun, and then abdicated the throne.
During Yao's 28 years of retirement, he visited many intelligent people and beautiful places in China.
Because of him, the dragon was accepted as a holy totem in Chinese culture for Yao's mysterious dragon-related birth and outstanding contribution.
Bronze Gear Shape Article of Longshan Culture — Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Emperor Shun or King Shun — Moral Model of Confucianism
Shun (about 2294 BC — 2184 BC), surname Yao or Gui, name as Chonghua or Zhonghua, was sovereign of Youyu. After he got the throne, he was respected as Emperor Shun or King Shun.
Struggling and Achievements of Shun in His Early Years
Shun was a descendant of the Yellow Emperor or Huang Di, but Shun’s family had been living as civilians for centuries.
When Shun was born, he had two pupils in each of his eyes, which made him look very special.
Unfortunately, his mother passed away when he was very young, and his father soon married another woman.
Afterward, Shun was poorly treated by his stepmother and step-siblings. Shun needed to do lots of heavy work and was given very few foods, and he got beaten frequently.
Thin Fetal Black Pottery Chalice of Longshan Culture (Around 2500 BC — 2000 BC), Same Era and Place that King Shun had Reigned — National Museum of China (Photo by Dongmaiying)
However, Shun still loved all his family members and was always kind to them.
During that period, he did almost all kinds of work, including planting, fishing, and handcrafting; he was excellent in nearly everything, and his good reputation was widely spread.
Because of Shun’s intelligent, hardworking, and kind personality, more and more people moved near him and respected him as their new leader.
Gradually, his new clan grew and expanded thanks to his excellent leadership.
Marring Beautiful Wives and Being Nominated as Heir
Decades later, King Yao heard about Shun and considered him a potential heir to the throne.
So Yao married his two beautiful daughters, Ehuang and Nvying, to Shun and sent nine officials to assist and observe Shun.
To occupy Shun’s two beautiful wives and properties, Shun’s stepmother and stepbrother tried several times to murder him.
Fortunately, Shun and his wives found out about those conspiracies and escaped successfully.
Anyhow they never complained or punished these family murderers.
A few years later, Shun passed Yao’s final test after crossing a grand forest alone, which was full of mist and dangerous animals.
His excellent leadership, courage, integrity, and benevolence influenced and impressed everyone around him, including Emperor Yao.
Consequently, Shun inherited the throne from Yao and started his reign.
Black Pottery Cup of Longshan Culture (Around 2500 BC — 2000 BC) — Shandong Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Remarkable Reign of Benevolent Emperor Shun
Shun further classified the division of labor and set up a strict political assessment system to examine officials every three years.
He also expelled sinned people to very remote places, ensuring justice was guaranteed, and everyone was well protected.
Under his rule, all people lived in peace and prosperity, and the whole political system was well organized and running efficiently.
After Yao passed away, Shun gave back the throne to Yao’s first son and moved out of the capital city. However, people all moved along with Shun and still respected him as the real king.
Hence, Shun accepted the honor and continued to serve the country as an extraordinary monarch.
Jade Shovel (Yu Chan) of Longshan Culture (Around 2500 BC — 2000 BC) — Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Abdication and Departure of Shun
When King Shun was old, he abdicated the throne to Yu the Great, who successfully defended the vast flood.
Compared to the reputation and contribution of Yu the Great, Shun’s son was too ordinary to inherit the throne.
A few years later, Shun passed away during an inspection visit.
As a son and a brother, Shun was always nice and polite and loved his family from heart and soul, no matter how badly he had been treated.
As a king, he was kind and intelligent and brought his kingdom peace and wealth.
Hence, he has been considered one of the most benevolent kings in the history of China, a moral model in Confucianism, both as a person and a monarch.
Exquisite Thin Black Pottery Chalice of Longshan Culture (Around 2500 BC — 2000 BC) — Shandong Museum
When Emperor Shun’s two wives heard about his death, they were very sad; their tears fell on many bamboos, forming mottled bamboo.
One day, they both had a dream in which Shun had been welcomed to heaven, sitting in a fancy cart that mythical animals surrounded.
Afterward, Ehuang and Nvying dressed and disappeared into Dongting Lake, where they passed by.
Since then, they have become the deity of Dongting Lake, blessing good people surrounding them.
Dongting Lake in Hunan Province
Next Story: Defender of Huge Flood & Founder of the First Dynasty — Yu The Great
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