Legendary Foundations of Chinese Civilization: The Rule of Emperor Yao

Leo Timm
By Leo Timm
November 3, 2016Arts and Culture
Legendary Foundations of Chinese Civilization: The Rule of Emperor Yao

This series by Epoch Times surveys the course of Chinese history, showing how key figures aided in the creation of China’s divinely inspired culture. This installment introduces the legendary Emperor Yao.

Featured image: A Qing Dynasty era depiction of Emperor Yao. Credit: Public Domain-US

Yao Inherits the Throne by Divine Right

As time passed, it became evident that Yao possessed greater virtue and ability than his half-brother Zhi. The marquises of the Four Directions indicated their preference for Yao, and, after nine years on the throne, Emperor Zhi issued an imperial edict announcing his abdication in favor of Yao.

In legends, it is said that before his ascension to the throne, Yao had a dream in which he encountered an azure dragon that took him to the zenith of Mount Tai and beyond to the gates of heaven, where he saw the splendors and riches of a divine city.

Yao thus took the throne and made his capital at Pingyang. To support his rule, he sought talents among the common folk and conducted investigations to give voice to and understand the people’s concerns.

If there is but a single man who goes hungry, it is I who is responsible.

Additionally, the new emperor visited four ascetic cultivators residing at Mount Gunshe, greeting them with the proprietous modesty of a disciple asking a teacher for instruction.

Yao’s Rule

The reign of Yao was characterized by sensitivity for the people and their opinions. The emperor divided China into the Nine States and frequently toured them. In his administration, Yao sought advice and assistance from the marquises of the four directions. At the city gates, he set up wooden boards on which commoners could point out shortcomings in the emperor’s rule.

In the “Records of the Grand Historian,” Han Dynasty-era scholar Sima Qian praised Yao’s imperial merits: his “virtue and character were as broad as the sky; his wisdom matched that of gods. To approach him was as to approaching the sun, a light that illuminated the world. From afar, he appeared like the rose-tinted clouds. He was rich but not domineering; noble without arrogance. He treated the people with virtue and benevolence. His heart filled with thoughts of all the commoners, he brought the nine degrees of kinship into intimacy and the people into harmony.”

A folk ode from the time of Yao praises the monarch for his “benevolence as broad as heaven, his wisdom the equal of gods; as the sun warms the heart and clouds blanket the earth, his virtue shines brightly and all the world rejoices in him.”

According to another Han Dynasty text, the “Garden of Legends,” Emperor Yao’s concern for the wellbeing of his subjects was such that “if there is but a single man who goes hungry,” Yao said, “it is I who is responsible.”

Click here for the original article on Epoch Times, and read the next installment here

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