Episode 2 - Chinese society's mythological origins
Mention the intro and how China’s history is around 5,000 years old.
China today – 1.4 billion people, 56 provinces which ranges from the deserts in the West, lush grasslands and jungles in the south, and huge grasslands in the north. Dominant group – Han. BUT NOT the only group. There are 55 different ethnicities in China as a whole.
So how did we get to the China we know today? Well it all starts here, around the 2 great rivers, the Yellow River in the North, and the Yangtze river in the South. Cultures did spring up around these rivers around 5,000 years ago. And probably before that too.
Focus on Yellow River.
Remind that the following story is myth.
Xuan Yuan, also known as Huangdi (The Yellow Emperor). At around 2697 BC.
Huangdi is a cultural icon and hero. Credited with: creating the Chinese calander based on lunar cycles (still celebrated today), teaching his nomadic peoples to build shelters, astronomy and sound laws of state.
Even his wife got in on the action – she is credited with inventing silk and teaching how to weave it, alongside the mirror.
Where abouts did he do this? In the Yellow River valley in Henan province.
First mention of Huangdi? No primary sources exist. The first mention of him comes during the Spring/Autumn period and during the warring states period. Thousands of years later… No archaeological evidence either. But it’s good to speculate these things, the Chinese back then seemed to believe it, would be a shame not to include these stories in our narrative today. Afterall, he is a cultural icon.
Leave Huangdi in our narrative just now. Move on to next one: Shennong.
Who is Shennong? Shennong was born around
So where was Shennong? He was located on the Wei river, a breakaway from the Yellow river. Modern day Shaanxi province.
When was he around?
Could not find any specific years. Same time as Huangdi.
Reason why is because his birth itself was said to be a special occasion – born with oxen like features and could start walking 3 days after his birth. 3 years late he was ploughing fields. Quick learner!
What is he known for?
A hell of a lot. The name Shennong literally translates to ‘divine farmer’ – guess what he was good at then. Invented tools such as the hoe to gain larger crop yields, irrigation techniques, domesticating oxen to plough fields as well.
Also became known as the God of Fire, because he could use fire to fertilise his fields and clear dense forest with fire, creating more room for humans to plant fields.
LASTLY – medicine. Before the days of penicillin and Shennong wanted to try and cure as many illnesses as he could using herbs. And no… Not THAT herb. Everything else you can think of.
He would try the herbs on himself as well, which is pretty selfless. Said to have had see-through skin to see how the herb affected his blood. Also said to ivent tea (which was an antidote in case he ate the wrong herb) and for that alone, he should be remembered. I’m from the British Isles, of course I love my tea!
So when you compare these two guys you have one who is more focussed on civilisation and statecraft and the other one focussed on agriculture and the backbone of said civilisation.
The 2 of them faced a problem though – his name is Chi You. Chi You was located in what is modern day Shangdong province, just where the Yellow River flows out to sea.
Said to be a demon god and basically rampaged through everything he came across. The Han depict him as a demon with a bulls head carrying a sword, an axe, and a bow and arrow on his hands and feet. He looks terrifying. Later generations of Chinese scholars depict him as just a man, like the other 2 men in this narrative.
Chi You had no navy, so he expanded westward and right onto Huangdi’s doorstep and engaged him in a number of battles. Huangdi lost every single one.
Chi you seemed to be a god of war, or a god of the mists if you will. He could call on the mist at any time, confusing his enemies then swoop in and route his enemies.
Huangdi had no defence for this, but eventually with dooming large, he called to Shennong for aid.
Shennong accepted. Then with that the 2 states set to war with Chi You.
Here is when the tide turned, and it came to a head at Zhuolu in modern day Hebei province (not far from Beijing).
Huangdi had a couple of new inventions up his sleeve – for one it was the battle drums which scared his foes, and the second was a primitive compass that allowed his men to ‘stay the course’ as they fought their enemies.
Result was a resounding victory for Huangdi and all of the tribal leaders hailed him as their emperor whilst Shennong? Well… he got sidelined.
Naturally, he was ticked off and rebelled but it was in vain.
After capture Shennong was actually allowed to live as long as he continued his work. Ironic that he died doing his work.
Huangdi on the other hand, dominated the entire Yellow River valley, from Shangdong province in the East to Shaanxi province in the West. The Han culture was born with him and he is known as the forefather of Han culture – hence why he is held up in such high prestige today.
It is said that when he did die, a dragon came down from the heavens and swept him up into the sky. Ancient astronaught theorists will be screaming it was an alien space-ship, and who knows? Maybe they are right and Huangdi was in fact an alien. But I will let you guys decide that.
Next week – we will look at the last of the 5 sage kings – who were called Yao, Shun and Yu. And what they achieved. Hope you enjoyed this episode!