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Yu-huang

by Micha F. Lindemans
The "Jade Emperor" of Chinese mythology. He is one of the most important deities of folk religion and religious Taoism. He personally determines all that happens in Heaven and on Earth, and for this purpose he has an enormous celestial administration at his disposal. This administration is a faithful replica of the administration of the Chinese empire. At the beginning of each new year, his subordinates ascend to his palace in Heaven and report to him. Depending on how well those deities have lived up to their responsibilities, the Jade Emperor may promote them to higher positions or transfer them to other departments. His earthly representatives are the city deities Cheng-huang, the local deities Tu-di, and Tai-yue da-di, the deity of Mount Tai. These ministries are also responsible for various natural phenomena and aspects of human existence, such as thunder, wind, water, fire, time, sacred mountains, war, literature, etc.

In the Taoist celestial hierarchy he was originally the assistant of Yuan-shi tian-zong, the Celestial Venerable of the Primordial Beginning. Yuan-shi tian-zong resigned from his post in favor of Yu-huang, thereby making him the most important deity in the Taoist pantheon.

According to legend, Yu-huang was the son of a king. Before he was born, his mother had a dream in which Lao-jun handed her a child. Upon his father's death he ascended to the throne but abdicated his office after only a few days. He withdrew into the mountains where he studied the Tao. When he attained perfection, he devoted the remainder of his life to the sick and the poor, instructing them in the Tao. After 3,200 world periods he became a golden immortal and after a further hundred million aeons, the Jade Emperor. One of his sisters is the mother of Er-lang; one of his wives is the so-called horse-headed deity, who rules of silkworms; and one of his daughters is Chi Gu-niang.

The Jade Emperor is usually portrayed sitting on a throne, with a stern facial expression, which is meant to express calm and dignity. He is dressed in the ceremonial robes of an emperor, embroidered with dragons. On his head he wears the imperial headdress, from the front and back dangle thirteen strings of pearls. In his hands he holds a ceremonial plaque. He is one of the pure ones, the San-qing.

Yu-huangs palace is situated in Da-luo-tian, the highest Taoist heaven. From there he rules the entire universe, i.e., the subordinate heavens, the Earth, and the lower regions. His palace is guarded by Ling-guan.

The cult of Yu-huang began in the 11th century CE and his first temple was built in 1115. Twice a year, the Chinese emperor brought him offerings in the Heavenly Temple in Beijing.


Article details:

  • Also known as:
    Yü-huang
    Yu-di
    Shang-di

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