Suiren, Fuxi and Shennong are regarded as the Three Sage Kings of ancient China who made personal sacrifices to improve the lives of the people. They are known for one or more unique contributions to mankind.
Suiren who reputedly lived 18,000 years ago discovered how to make fire by drilling wood. This discovering enabled mankind to eat cooked food and use fire to keep warm and ward off wild animals.
Fuxi taught people how to domesticate animals. He also taught them to make nets to catch fish, birds and wild animals and in the process ensure the supply of food all year round. He was also responsible for creating the institution of marriage and the for a 35 string musical instrument. His most important contribution however was the Bagua or Eight Trigram that formed the basis for the all important I Ching or Book of changes.
Shennong, also known as Yandi, invented the ancient rake, spade, plough and sickle and taught people to grow five types of cereals, rice, two types of millet, wheat and beans. He also invented barter trade and further modified Fuxi’s 35 strings musical instrument into a 5 strings one.
However he was best remembered for tasting hundreds of wild herbs to find remedies to treat illnesses. In the process he suffered continually from poisoning and eventually die from eating one too many.
The emperors after Shennong were Huangdi, Zhuanxu, Diku, Yao and Shun and they are collectively known as the Five Legendary Rulers.
Huangdi have many achievements attributed to him. He had good management skills and knows how to use men of ability to help him rule the country and come out with innovations.
He commissioned his subject to develop a written language which contributed to the growth of Chinese Culture. With another he studied the art of healing and compiled “The Yellow Emperor’s Medicine Classic”. Yet with another he developed the 60 year cycle “Jia Zi” calendar that aided in farming.
Huangdi advocated peace and avoided war. During his reign, the people enjoyed peace and prosperity and it ushered in the age of civilization for the Chinese people.
Zhuanxu who succeeded Huangdi was not his son. He was chosen over Huangdi’s many sons because of his outstanding ability. Zhuanxu greatest contribution was to bring law and order to the people plus consolidating the power of the central authority.
After Zhuanxu comes Diku who was a great grandson of Huangdi. Diku was a benevolent king who placed the people’s welfare above self. He created new official posts and ministries with clearly demarcated duties such as the Ministry of Land, Forestry, Water, Metal Ores and Fire. And he personally conducted inspections frequently to ensure that the country was well run. He also further improved the calendar which contributed to farming.
Yao was Diku’s son. He was industrious and benevolent like his father. He further developed the calendar and modified the timing of planting that resulting in bumper harvests.
Shun was Yao’s son in law. Although his mother died when he was very young, and his step mother and father ill-treated him, he remained filial to them. His great virtue helped him to gain fame and he was summoned to King Yao’s service at 30. He eventually married King Yao’s daughter.
Shun drafted the five rules of etiquette and others rules and regulations which the dukes and princes had to observed. He also divided the country into 12 states with each having its own administrator. He continued to implement changes at the administrative level and set up the department of rites, music, farming, mulberry planting, works, water and land.
Shun was succeeded by Yu who founded the Xia Dynasty. Yu was famed for his ability to control flooding but that is another story for another time.