Emperor Yao

For other uses, see Yao (disambiguation).

Chinese Emperor Yao. Color on silk, Song Dynasty. National Palace Museum
Reign 2333 BC–2234 BC (100 years)[1]
Predecessor Emperor Zhi
Successor Emperor Shun
Born 2324 BC
Gaoyou, Jiangsu or Tianchang, Anhui
Died 2206 BC (aged 118)
Spouse San Yi (concubine)
Issue Danzhu
Father Emperor Ku
Mother Qingdu
Emperor Yao statue in the Guanyun hall of the Yao temple in Linfen (Shanxi).

Emperor Yao (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: Yáo; traditionally c. 2356 – 2255 BC)[2] was a legendary Chinese ruler, according to various sources, one of the Three Sovereigns and the Five Emperors.

Ancestry and early life

Yao's ancestral name (姓) is Yi Qi (伊祁) or Qi (祁), clan name is Taotang (陶唐), given name is Fangxun (放勳), as the second son to Emperor Ku and Qingdu (慶都). He is also known as Tang Yao (唐堯).[3][4]

Yao's mother has been worshipped as the goddess Yao-mu.[5]


Often extolled as the morally perfect and intelligent sage-king, Yao's benevolence and diligence served as a model to future Chinese monarchs and emperors. Early Chinese often speak of Yao, Shun and Yu the Great as historical figures, and contemporary historians believed they may represent leader-chiefs of allied tribes who established a unified and hierarchical system of government in a transition period to the patriarchal feudal society. In the Classic of History, one of the Five Classics, the initial chapters deals with Yao, Shun and Yu.


According to the legend, Yao became the ruler at 20 and died at 119 when he passed his throne to Shun the Great, to whom he had given his two daughters in marriage.[6] According to the Bamboo Annals, Yao abdicated his throne to Shun in his 73rd year of reign, and continued to live during Shun's reign for another 28 years.


Of his many contributions, Yao is said to have invented the game of Weiqi, reportedly to favorably influence his vicious playboy son Danzhu.[7] After the customary three-year mourning period after Yao's death, Shun named Danzhu as the ruler but the people only recognized Shun as the rightful heir.

Bamboo Annals

The Bamboo Annals represent Yao as having banished prince Danzhu to Danshui in his 58th year of reign. They add that following Yao's abdication in favor of Shun, Danzhu kept away from Shun, and that following the death of Yao, "Shun tried to yield the throne to him, but in vain."

However, an alternative account found elsewhere in the Annals offers a different story. It holds that Shun dethroned and imprisoned Yao, then raised Danzhu to the throne for a short time before seizing it himself.[8]

Dynastic succession

Yao was claimed to be the ancestor of the Han Dynasty Emperor Liu Bang.[9] Other important noble families have also claimed descent through Yellow Emperor.[10]

Astronomical observations

According to some Chinese classic documents such as Yao Dian (Document of Yao) in Shang Shu (Book of Ancient Time), and Wudibenji (Records for the Five Kings) in the Shiji (Historic Records), the King Yao assigned astronomic officers to observe celestial phenomena such as the sunrise, sunset, and the rising of the evening stars. This was done in order to make a solar and lunar calendar with 366 days for a year, also providing for the leap month.

Some recent archaeological work at Taosi, an ancient site in Shanxi, dating to 2300 BC–1900 BC, may have provided some evidence for this. A sort of an ancient observatory – the oldest in East Asia[11] – was found at Taosi that seems to coincide with the ancient records.[12]

Some Chinese archaeologists believe that Taosi was the site of a state Youtang (有唐) conquered by Emperor Yao and made to be his capital.[13][14]

The structure consists of an outer semi-ring-shaped path, and a semi-round rammed-earth platform with a diameter of about 60 m; it was discovered in 2003–2004.

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Emperor Yao.


  1. Records of the Grand Historian
  2. Ching, Julia; R. W. L. Guisso (1991). Sages and filial sons: mythology and archaeology in ancient China. The Chinese University Press. p. 140. ISBN 978-962-201-469-5.
  3. Sarah Allan (1991). The shape of the turtle: myth, art, and cosmos in early China. SUNY Press. p. 59. ISBN 0-7914-0460-9. Retrieved 2012-04-01.
  4. Asiapac Editorial (2006). Great Chinese emperors: tales of wise and benevolent rule (revised ed.). Asiapac Books Pte Ltd. p. 11. ISBN 981-229-451-1. Retrieved 2012-04-01.
  5. Yang, 102
  6. Asiapac Editorial (2006). Great Chinese emperors: tales of wise and benevolent rule (revised ed.). Asiapac Books Pte Ltd. p. 12. ISBN 981-229-451-1. Retrieved 2012-04-01.
  7. Yang, Lihui; Deming An; Jessica Anderson Turner (2005). Handbook of Chinese mythology. ABC-CLIO Ltd. p. 228. ISBN 978-1-57607-806-8.
  8. Bamboo Annals
  9. Patricia Buckley Ebrey (2003). Women and the family in Chinese history. Volume 2 of Critical Asian scholarship (illustrated ed.). Psychology Press. p. 171. ISBN 0-415-28823-1. Retrieved 2012-04-01.
  10. Fabrizio Pregadio (2008). Fabrizio Pregadio, ed. The encyclopedia of Taoism, Volume 1 (illustrated ed.). Psychology Press. p. 505. ISBN 0-7007-1200-3. Retrieved 2012-04-01.
  11. David Pankenier, et. al (2008), The Xiangfen, Taosi site: A Chinese Neolithic 'observatory'?. Archaeologica Baltica 10
  12. He Nu, Wu Jiabi (2005), Astronomical date of the "observatory" at Taosi site. Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (IA CASS)
  13. 尧的政治中心的迁移及其意义
  14. Scientists discover Emperor Yao's capital, China Daily, June 19, 2015.


Emperor Yao
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Emperor Zhi
Emperor of China Succeeded by
Emperor Shun
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