Who is the Jade Emperor?
Leadership, Authority, and Religious Roles
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One of the more intriguing personalities in the Daoist and CCT pantheons is the Jade Emperor, Yu Huang Da Di. His emergence as a power to be reckoned with in popular worship offers important insight into the dynamics of Chinese religion generally. During the fifth and sixth centuries Yu Huang Da Di was but one among many relatively minor deities. During the Tang dynasty of the seventh through ninth centuries he gained prominence as a result of the appearance of a new text called the Jade Emperor Scripture (Yu Huang Jing). It tells how centuries earlier a queen had dreamed that Tai Shang Dao Jun, second of the Three Pure Ones, handed her an infant. She awoke and bore a child, who after a short time as a young prince, withdrew to mountain solitude. Lengthy spiritual discipline transformed the youth into the Jade Emperor. In the tenth century, a Song dynasty emperor named Jen Zung (r. 998-1022) chose Yu Huang Da Di as his patron deity and spread word of an expected revelation. That came in 1008 in the form of sacred scriptures, thus bolstering the weak emperor’s position. Thereafter the Jade Emperor rose to the top of the popular pantheon, thus becoming the CEO of a divine bureaucracy. Stories like that of the Jade Emperor help to explain why enumerations of the Daoist and CCT pantheons are sometimes a bit confusing.