The Three Sovereigns
The Three Sovereigns, sometimes known as the ''Three August Ones'', were said to be god-kings or demigods who used their magical powers to improve the lives of their people. Because of their lofty virtue, they lived to a great age and ruled over a period of great peace.
The Three Sovereigns are ascribed various identities in different texts. The ''Records of the Grand Historian'' by Sima Qian, in a chapter added by Sima Zhen, states that they were:
The ''Chunqiu yundou shu'' and ''Chunqiu yuanming bao'' identify them as:
Fuxi and Nüwa are respectively the god and goddess, husband and wife credited with being the ancestors of humankind after a devastating flood. The invention of the Primal Arrangement of the Eight Trigrams is attributed to Fuxi. Shennong invented farming and was the first to use herbs for medical purposes.
The I Ching starts like this: “In the old times of King Fuxi’s regime, he observed sky and the stars when he looked upwards, and researched the earth when he looked downwards, and watched the birds and beasts to see how they lived in their environment. He took examples from nearby and far away, and then made 8 Yin Yang signs to simulate the rules of universe...After Fuxi died, Shennong rose. He made Plow and taught people how to grow crops and fish. He invented money and market for the exchange of goods."
The ''Shangshu dazhuan'' and ''Baihu tongyi'' replace Nüwa with Suiren , the inventor of fire. The ''Diwang shiji'' replaces Nüwa with the Yellow Emperor , the supposed ancestor of all Han Chinese people.
The Five Emperors
The Five Emperors were legendary, morally perfect sage-kings. According to the ''Records of the Grand Historian'' they were:
*The Yellow Emperor
* Emperor Ku
Yao and Shun are also known as the ''Two Emperors'', and, along with Yu the Great , founder of the Xia dynasty, were considered to be model rulers and moral exemplars by Confucians in later Chinese history. The ''Shangshu Xu'' and ''Diwang shiji'' include Shaohao instead of the Yellow Emperor.
The ''Song of Chu'' identifies the Five Emperors as directional gods:
The ''Book of Rites'' equates the Five Emperors with the Five Lineages , which comprise:
All these "emperors" were only people with great contributions or famous rulers of tribal unions. From the Bamboo Annals and Classic of History, their positions are known to have been attained by election by other chiefs in the tribal unions. When they die, their children may succeed the positions of the ruler of their own tribe, but not the position of the ruler of the tribal union. Their power is much less than the historical Chinese emperors, generally commencing with the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang , who coined a new term for "Emperor" by combining the titles of "sovereign" and "god-king" who had over the people.