Yan Emperor

The Yan Emperor, or Yandi (Chinese: 炎帝; Mandarin Pinyin: Yán Dì; Jyutping: Yim4 Dai3; literally "Flame Emperor") was a legendary Han Chinese ruler who lived in pre-dynastic China. Modern scholarship has identified the Sheep's Head Mountains (simplified Chinese: 羊头山; traditional Chinese: 羊頭山; pinyin: Yáng​tóu Shān) just north of Gaoping in Shanxi Province as his homeland and territory.

A long debate has existed over whether or not the Yan Emperor was the same person as the legendary Shennong. An academic conference held in China in 2004 achieved general consensus that the Yan Emperor and Shennong were the same person. Another possibility is that the term Flame Emperor was a title, held by dynastic succession, with Shennong being known as Yandi, perhaps posthumously. Accordingly, the term Flame Emperors would be generally more correct. The succession of Flame Emperors, from Shennong, the first Yandi, until the time of the last Yan Emperor's defeat by Huangdi (the Yellow Emperor), may have been some 500 years.

Historical records

No written records are known to exist from the era of Yan's reign. However, he and Shennong are mentioned in many of the classic works of ancient China. Yan literally means "flame", and K. C. Wu speculates that this appellation may be connected with the fire used to clear the fields in slash and burn agriculture. In any case, it appears that agricultural innovations by Shennong and his descendants contributed to some sort of social success that lead them to style themselves as di (Chinese: 帝; literally "emperors"), rather than hou (Chinese: 侯; literally "lord"), as in the case of lesser leaders. At this time it appears that there were only the bare beginnings of written language, and that for record keeping a system of knotting strings (perhaps similar to quipu) was in use. The Zuo Zhuan states that in 525 BC, the descendants of Yan were recognized as long having been masters of fire and having used fire in their names. Yandi was known as "Emperor of the South"


The last Yandi, or Flame Emperor, met his demise in the third of a series of three battles, known as the Battle of Banquan, probably on the Banquan plain, near the southern border of the modern Nei Mongol Autonomous Region, approximately 150 kilometers (about 93 miles) northwest of modern Beijing . Yandi, or the Flame Emperor, was defeated by the rising Huangdi, or the Yellow Emperor.


Since the Battle of Banquan is treated historically by Sima Qian in his Historical Records, it would appear that this is a pivotal transition point between mythology and history. Ironically, Yandi enters history only with his 'demise', which it seems was submission to the will of Huangdi, rather than actual physical demise. In any case, the title of Yan di apparently lapsed at this time, while his tribe's descendants were said to be perpetuated through intermarriage with the party of Huangdi (see Descendants of Yan & Huang Emperors).

In popular culture

Both Huangdi and Yandi are considered in some sense ancestral to Chinese culture and people. Also, the tradition of associating a certain color with a particular dynasty may have begun with the Flame Emperors. According to the Five Elements, or Wu Xing model, red, fire, should be succeeded by yellow, earth—or Yangdi by Huangdi.

List of Flame Emperors

This is the most common list given by Huangfu Mi, Xu Zheng, and Sima Zhen:



Shennong 神農

Born Jiang Shinian 姜石年

Linkui 臨魁


Cheng 承


Ming 明


Zhi 直


Li 釐 or Ke 克

Sima Zhen puts Ke between Ai and Yuwang

Ai 哀


Yuwang 榆罔

Defeated by Yellow Emperor at Banquan

List provided at the end of the Shan Hai Jing:



Yandi 炎帝


Yanju 炎居

Also possibly known as Zhu 柱

Jiebing 節並


Xiqi 戲器


Zhurong 祝融


Gonggong 共工


Shuqi 術器


Houtu 后土

Brother of Shuqi

Yeming 噎鳴

Son of Houtu

Suishi 歳十


Last update 16-06-2012

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