Great Reigns of King Yao and King Shun

King Yao and King Shun were two extraordinary monarchs in Neolithic China. 

 

King Yao abdicated the throne to King Shun, and their kingdom kept developing during their ruling period, which was honored as Great Reigns of Yao and Shun. 

 

They are representatives of accomplished kings and great people with perfect virtues, hence, respected as Legendary Ancient Sages.

Legendary Ancient Sages in Chinese History

King Yao — Ideal Monarch and the Incarnation of Red Dragon

Yao (about 2357 BC — 2258 BC), surname Yiqi, name Fangxun, was sovereign of fiefs Tao and Tang. After Yao got the throne, he was respected as King Yao or Emperor Yao.

Mysterious Birth of King Yao

 

Yao was the great-great-grandson of 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.

In some legends, like the other kings of Mythical History, Yao had a magical birth.

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 had a dream of a red dragon flew into her body. The next morning, she saw a handsome portrait, next to 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 as 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 King Yao 

When Yao was visiting a mountain, he fell in love with a fairy 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 fairy then had to ask help from the king of heaven to perish the black tiger permanently. 

The most powerful deity helped her defeat the black tiger and suppressed it under a mountain, but also forbidden the fairy to date human anymore. 

Afterward, this fairy disappeared and lived in seclusion in a mountain. 

Yao and his baby boy searched his beloved fairy for years, but with no luck, so he had to come back 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 King Yao

Afterward, King Yao became an accomplished monarch that brought his people with stable, wealthy lives.

Under his ruling, there were few wars and conflicts among different tribes; instead, more communication and exchanges were realized in peace. 

Basic Chinese Calendar that was used to distinguish four seasons and guide agricultural works was formulated and widely applied, which made a great contribution 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 “nation” and a complete political system that assigned officials based on their specialties and achievements. 

Since then, his territory had turned into a powerful kingdom, instead of the previous loose alliance of tribes. 

King Yao invented a system that allowed all civilians to talk to him in person if they had suggestions or injustice encounters, 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 King 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 historic documentation, King Yao had nine sons, but he thought that none of them was great enough to take over the throne. 

King Yao invented the Game of Go, which was 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, his son, however, could not. 

Hence, King Yao started seeking for talented, qualified monarchs that can flourish the empire. 

Many people recommend a diligent, virtuous young man named Shun. 

After a series of careful examinations, Yao made sure 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 paid visits to lots of intelligent people and wonderful 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)

 

King Shun — Moral Model of Confucianism

Shun (About 2187 BC — 2067 BC), surname Yao or Gui, name as Chonghua or Zhonghua, was sovereign of Youyu. After he got the throne, he was respected as King Shun or Emperor Shun.

Struggling and Achievements of Shun in His Early Years 

Shun was a descendant of 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, while 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 of his family members and was always kind to them. 

During that period, he did almost all kinds of works, included planting, fishing, and handcrafting; he was excellent in almost everything, and his good reputation was then 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 kept growing and expanding because of his excellent leadership. 

Marring of Beautiful Wives and Being Nominated as Heir

Decades later, the current King Yao heard about Shun and considered him as a potential heir of 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 those conspiracies and escaped successfully. 

Even though, they never complained or punished these family-murderers. 

A few years later, Shun passed King Yao’s final test after crossed a grand forest alone, where was full of mist and dangerous animals. 

His excellent leadership, courage, integrity, and benevolence influenced and impressed everyone around him, including King 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)

Great Reign of Benevolent King Shun

Shun further classified 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, which made sure justice was guaranteed and everyone was well protected.  

Under his ruling, all people were living 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 King Shun

When King Shun was old, he abdicated the throne to Yu the Great, who successfully defended the huge 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, loved his family from heart and soul, no matter how bad he had been treated. 

As a king, he was kind and intelligent and brought his kingdom peace and wealth. 

Hence, he has been considered as 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 King Shun’s two wives heard about his death, they were very sad; their tears fell on many bamboos, which formed the mottled bamboo. 

One day, they both had a dream, in which Shun had been welcomed to heaven, sitting in a fancy cart that was surrounded by mythical animals.

 

Afterward, Ehuang and Nvying dressed up and disappeared in the Dongting Lake that they were passing by. 

Since then, they have become the deity of Dongting Lake, blessing good people surrounding. 

Dongting Lake in Hunan Province

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