Three Sovereigns And Five Emperors

The Three Sovereigns And Five Emperors (Chinese: 三皇五帝; pinyin: Sānhuáng wǔdì; Wade–Giles: San-huang wu-ti) were a group of semi- mythological rulers and culture heroes from ancient China during the period circa 2500 BC to 2100 BC. This period preceded the xia dynasty.

In myth, the three sovereigns were demigods who used their abilities to help create mankind and impart essential skills and knowledge. The five emperors were exemplary sages possessed of great moral character.


Depending on the source, there are many variations of who classifies as the three sovereigns or the five emperors. There are six to seven known variations. Many of the sources listed below were written from much later dynasties.

The three sovereigns may therefore refer to Fuxi (伏羲), Nüwa (女媧), Shennong (神農), Suiren (燧人), or even the Yellow Emperor (黄帝).

Creation myth

Chinese creation myths generally include Pangu. It is said that after his death his left eye became the sun, while the right eye became the moon. Different parts of his body became the world. There is also the legend of the Four shi (四氏) who took part in creating the world. The four members are Youchao-shi (有巢氏), Suiren-shi (燧人氏), Fu Xi-shi (伏羲氏), and Shennong-shi (神農氏).


These semi-mythical kings are said to have helped introduce the use of fire, taught people how to build houses and invented farming. The Yellow Emperor's wife is credited with the invention of silk culture. The discovery of medicine, the invention of the calendar and Chinese script are also credited to the kings. After their era, Yu the Great founded the xia dynasty.

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 Chinese historical texts. The Yellow Emperor is supposedly the ancestor of all Huaxia race of people. The Mausoleum of the Yellow Emperor was established in Shaanxi Province to commemorate the ancestry legend.

according to source

three sovereigns

Records Of The Grand Historian
(史記), addition by sima zhen

heavenly sovereign(天皇), earthly sovereign(地皇), tai sovereign(泰皇)
fu xi(伏羲), nüwa(女媧), shennong(神農)

sovereign series

fu xi(伏羲), shennong(神農), yellow emperor(黃帝)

the book of lineages

fu xi(伏羲), shennong(神農), yellow emperor(黃帝)

baihu tongyi

(1st variation)
fu xi(伏羲), shennong(神農), zhurong(祝融)

(2nd variation)
fu xi(伏羲), shennong(神農), suiren(燧人)

fengsu tongyi

fu xi(伏羲), nüwa(女媧), shennong(神農)

yiwen leiju

heavenly sovereign(天皇), earthly sovereign(地皇); human sovereign(人皇)

tongjian waiji

fu xi(伏羲), shennong(神農), gong gong(共工)

chunqiu yundou shu

chunqiu yuanming bao

fu xi(伏羲), nüwa(女媧), shennong(神農)

shangshu dazhuan

fu xi(伏羲), shennong(神農), suiren(燧人)

diwang shiji

fu xi(伏羲), shennong(神農), yellow emperor(黃帝)

Five emperors

according to source

five emperors

Records Of The Grand Historian

yellow emperor(黃帝), zhuanxu(顓頊), emperor ku(嚳), emperor yao(堯), shun(舜)

sovereign series

shaohao(少昊), zhuanxu(顓頊), emperor ku(嚳), emperor yao(堯), shun(舜)

i ching

taihao (太昊), Yan Emperor(炎帝), yellow emperor(黃帝), emperor yao(堯), shun(舜)

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