Have you ever pondered the historical antecedents before the establishment of China’s inaugural dynasty, namely the Xia (夏) dynasty? The existence of the 3 Augusts and 5 Emperors, legendary rulers of ancient China, is highly doubtful. However, the significance of this narrative lies in its role in shaping the Chinese people’s understanding of their origins. Additionally, Confucius regarded these figures as paragons of morality, emphasizing the importance of emulating their wisdom and actions.
The 3 Augusts & 5 Emperors refer to the legendary sovereigns of ancient China who are believed to have governed before the establishment of the Xia dynasty, which marked the beginning of Chinese dynastic governance. Moreover, they serve as ethical role models within the framework of Confucianism. The aforementioned personalities have also been integrated into the myth and history of Korea, Vietnam, and the Hmong community.
The 3 Augusts & 5 Emperors are prominent figures in Chinese mythology, together referred to as the amalgamation of the “3 Augusts and 5 Emperors.” From the period spanning the 3 Augusts & 5 Emperors, commonly referred to as the legendary era predating the Xia Dynasty The calendar year of this entity is indeterminate, spanning a minimum of several thousand years. Two examples of agricultural societies that appeared between 7,000 and 10,000 years ago are the Peiligang Culture and Jiahu Culture, which modern archaeological investigations have found in the Central Plains.
The 3 Augusts and 5 Emperors are regarded as notable figures in ancient Chinese leadership. However, there exist a multitude of interpretations of their identities, as the oral tradition surrounding them has been transmitted over an extensive period. Consequently, several books present divergent accounts on this matter. According to both historical records and Chinese myths and legends, it is widely believed that the era of the 3 Augusts predates the era of the 5 Emperors.
In a broad sense, the epoch known as the 3 Augusts is situated in a remote antiquity, estimated to have occurred approximately 4,000 to 5,000 years in the past, or conceivably even earlier. The temporal extent of this era is likely to be considerable. Conversely, the epoch of the Five Emperors is closely associated with the Xia Dynasty, which emerged over 4,000 years ago.
The era known as the 3 Augusts & 5 Emperors holds significant importance in the early history of China. During this period, notable advancements were made, including the technique of wood drilling for fire production and the practice of medicine. These developments left a lasting impression on subsequent generations of Chinese civilization.
The 3 Augusts & 5 Emperors are prominent figures from ancient China, representing a historical era that extends far into the past. During that period, the availability of written and tangible artifacts was limited, resulting in a reliance on oral traditions and stories for the transmission of knowledge to the present day. Hence, subsequent generations encounter numerous difficulties when examining this particular historical era. Due to the prevalence of myths and stories intertwined with the available historical documents pertaining to this specific era, the task of assessing the veracity of numerous aspects becomes challenging. The collection of historical materials can be categorized as follows:
The epoch known as the 3 Augusts, which occurred approximately 6,000 to 4,000 years in the past, represents a crucial phase in the formative stages of Chinese civilization. The analysis of historical data reveals that the extended era known as the 3 Augusts marked a significant phase of societal transformation, specifically in the shift from a matrilineal clan-based structure to a patrilineal clan-based structure. As an illustration, Nuwa (女娲) in her early manifestations was frequently included among the 3 Augusts. This account documents the defining attributes of matrilineal societies.
During the era known as the 5 Emperors, the prevailing societal structure evolved into a patrilineal tribal alliance. However, it is noteworthy that women occupy a relatively elevated position in this social order. Notably, influential female leaders like Lei Zu (嫘祖) played a significant role in advancing the progress of civilization during this period. The civilization observed during the 5 Emperors Era can be regarded as a direct progression of the civilization witnessed in the preceding 3 Emperors Era. In the realm of Chinese character creation, it is widely believed that Fuxi (伏羲) had a pivotal role in the development of both writing and Earlier Heaven Bagua (先天八卦).
Additionally, during the era of the Yellow Emperor (黄帝), Cangjie (仓颉) emerged as a significant figure in the advancement of characters, leading to their increased sophistication and refinement. The practice of venerating dragons throughout the Nuwa and Fuxi eras underwent further evolution during the Yanhuang era. According to legend, Emperor Yan (炎帝) and the Yellow Emperor, the final Emperor Yan, are believed to be descendants of Shennong (神农). These tribes share a significant ancestral connection.
Subsequently, the Yellow Emperor assumed the position of Emperor Yan and ascended to the esteemed title of “Son of Heaven (天子),” assuming leadership over the 5 emperors. Following the reign of the 5 Emperors, the subsequent historical periods encompassed the Xia (夏), Shang (商), and Zhou (周) dynasties.
The historical period known as the 5 Emperors occurred approximately four millennia ago. During that period, there existed a tribal group known as the Ji (姬) clan residing in the Yellow River Basin (黃河流域). During the Battle of Banquan (阪泉之戰), it was the Yellow Emperor who emerged victorious against the Yan Emperor, leading to the subsequent formation of an alliance between the two tribes. Ultimately, the Yellow Emperor successfully subjugated the neighboring tribes. The Huaxia (華夏) tribe emerged as a result of the Chinese civilization’s significant advancements during the reign of the Yellow Emperor. Currently, the Chinese population identifies themselves as “Yanhuang Descendants (炎黃子孫).” The term “descendants” also derives from this source.
There exists an alternative perspective positing the preexistence of the Yu Dynasty (虞朝) prior to the Xia Dynasty. Numerous sentences can be found inside historical texts such as “Zuo Zhuan,” “Guoyu,” and “Yu, Xia, Shang, and Zhou.” Yu Shun is identified as a sovereign ruler. However, the intertwining of historical facts and tales over the course of an extensive historical timeline has rendered the verification process challenging.