Daoism and Cct

Leadership, Authority, and Religious Roles

Who is the Yellow Emperor?

Ancient Chinese lore tells of Five August Emperors whose reigns date back to before 2500 B.C.E. They are sometimes called “culture heroes,” in that tradition credits them with providing humankind with a host of skills and essential practical wisdom. As guardians of the five sacred mountains, the divine quintet ruled the cardinal directions and the center. Each was associated with a color: green with the east, red with the south, white with the west, black (or “dark”) with the north, and yellow with the center. By far the most famous and popular of them is Huang Di, the Yellow Emperor, giver of such arts as medicine, agriculture, weaving, pottery, silkworm culture, and domestic architecture, to name only a few.

Huang Di began his life in legend as a ruler and a shaman whose magical powers allowed him to confront all manner of evil. Dated either 2697—2597 or 2674—2575 B.C.E., he was evidently a patron of the ancient fang shi, or shamans. But the Yellow Emperor went on to become one of the two patrons of an early Daoist school called Huang Lao, perhaps a combination of the first names of Huang Di and Lao Zi. Huang Lao Daoism may have begun as a religious movement as early as third century B.C.E. In any case, though the figure of Lao Zi seems to have upstaged that of Huang Di for some centuries, the Yellow Emperor made a comeback in popularity. In any number of Daoist and popular temples a visitor may encounter a statue of Huang Di prominently displayed, perhaps in his own glass case. Standing erect, the sovereign, of solemn countenance, wears elaborately embroidered robes whose main color is, of course, yellow.


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