Shennong (which can be variously translated as "God Farmer" or "God
Agriculture God"), also known as the Wugushen (五穀神
"Five Grains' or Five Cereals' God") or also Wuguxiandi (五穀先帝
Deity of the Five Grains"), is a deity in Chinese religion, a
mythical sage ruler of prehistoric China.
Shennong has at times been counted amongst the Three Sovereigns (also
known as "Three Kings" or "Three Patrons"), a group of deities or
deified kings said to have lived during the early third millenium BCE,
some 4,500 years ago.
Shennong has been thought to have taught the
ancient Chinese not only their practices of agriculture, but also the
use of herbal drugs.
Shennong was credited with various inventions:
these include the hoe, plow (both leisi style and the plowshare), axe,
digging wells, agricultural irrigation, preserving stored seeds by
using boiled horse urine, the weekly farmers market, the Chinese
calendar (especially the division into the 24 jieqi or solar terms),
and to have refined the therapeutic understanding of taking pulse
measurements, acupuncture, and moxibustion, and to have instituted the
harvest thanksgiving ceremony (Zhaji Sacrificial Rite, later known as
the Laji Rite).
"Shennong" can also be taken to refer to his people, the Shennong-shi
(Chinese: 神農氏; pinyin: Shénnóngshì; literally: "Shennong
2 Popular religion
Shennong in literature
5 Popular culture
8 See also
11 External links
Yan Emperor 炎帝
Yan Emperor 炎帝 is well known as the first Emperor of
Ancient China, who not only invented the farming tools for his people,
but also herbs for treating his people's illnesses. Depicted in a
mural painting from the Han dynasty.
Map of tribes and tribal unions in Ancient China. The tribe of
Shennong is in the west.
Chinese mythology Shennong, besides having taught humans the use of
the plow together with other aspects of basic agriculture, the use of
medicinal plants, and having been a god of the burning wind (perhaps
in some relationship to the
Yan Emperor mythos and/or slash-and-burn
agriculture, in which the ash produced by fire fertilizes the
fields), was sometimes said to be a progenitor to, or to have had
appointed as one of his ministers, Chi You; and like him, they were
both ox-headed, sharp-horned, bronze-foreheaded, and iron-skulled.
One difference between mythology and science is exemplified in Chinese
Shennong is also thought to be the father of Huang
Emperor黃帝 who did carry on the secrets of medicine, immortality,
and making gold.. According to the eighth century AD historian Sima
Zhen's commentary to the second century BC
Shiji (or, Records of the
Shennong is a kinsman of the
Yellow Emperor and is
said to be an ancestor, or a patriarch, of the ancient forebears of
Communal worship of
Shennong at the Great Temple of Yandi Shennong
(炎帝神农大殿) in Suizhou, Hubei.
According to some versions of the myths about Shennong, he eventually
died as a result of his researches into the properties of plants by
experimenting upon his own body, after, in one of his tests, he ate
the yellow flower of a weed that caused his intestines to rupture
before he had time to swallow his antidotal tea: having thus given his
life for humanity, he has since received special honor though his
worship as the Medicine King (藥王 Yàowáng). The sacrifice of
cows or oxen to
Shennong in his various manifestations is never at all
appropriate; instead pigs and sheep are acceptable. Fireworks and
incense may also be used, especially at the appearance of his statue
on his birthday, lunar April 26, according to popular tradition. Under
his various names,
Shennong is the patron deity especially of farmers,
rice traders, and practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine. Many
temples and other places dedicated to his commemoration exist.
Reliable information on the history of China before the 13th century
BC can only come from archaeological evidence, because China's first
established written system on a durable medium, the oracle bone
script, did not exist until then. Thus the concrete existence of
Xia dynasty - said to be the successor to
Shennong - is yet
to be proven, despite efforts by Chinese archaeologists to link that
dynasty with Bronze Age
Erlitou archaeological sites.
However, Shennong, both the individual and the clan, are very
important, in the history of culture—especially in regards to
mythology and popular culture. Indeed,
Shennong figures extensively in
Shennong in literature
Sima Qian mentions that the rulers directly preceding the Yellow
Emperor were of the house (or societal group) of Shennong. Sima
Zhen, who added a prologue for the Shiji, said his surname was Jiang
(姜), and proceeded to list his successors. An older and more famous
reference is in the Huainanzi; it tells how, prior to Shennong, people
were sickly, wanting, starved and diseased; but he then taught them
agriculture, which he himself had researched, eating hundreds of
plants — and even consuming seventy poisons in one day. Shennong
also features in the book popularly known in English as I Ching. Here,
he is referenced as coming to power after the end of the house (or
Paoxi (Fu Xi), also inventing a bent-wood plow, a cut-wood
rake, teaching these skills to others, and establishing a noonday
market. Another reference is in the Lüshi Chunqiu, mentioning
some violence with regard to the rise of the
Shennong house, and that
their power lasted seventeen generations.
Shénnóng Běn Cǎo Jīng
Shénnóng Běn Cǎo Jīng is a book on agriculture and medicinal
plants, attributed to Shennong. Research suggests that it is a
compilation of oral traditions, written between about 200 and 250
As noted above,
Shennong is said in the
Huainanzi to have tasted
hundreds of herbs to test their medical value. The most well-known
work attributed to
Shennong is The Divine Farmer's Herb-Root Classic
(simplified Chinese: 神农本草经; traditional Chinese:
神農本草經; pinyin: Shénnóng Běncǎo Jīng; Wade–Giles:
Shen2-nung2 Pen3-ts'ao3 Ching1), first compiled some time during the
end of the
Western Han Dynasty
Western Han Dynasty — several thousand years after
Shennong might have existed. This work lists the various medicinal
herbs, such as lingzhi, that were discovered by
Shennong and given
grade and rarity ratings. It is considered to be the earliest Chinese
pharmacopoeia, and includes 365 medicines derived from minerals,
plants, and animals.
Shennong is credited with identifying hundreds of
medical (and poisonous) herbs by personally testing their properties,
which was crucial to the development of traditional Chinese medicine.
Legend holds that
Shennong had a transparent body, and thus could see
the effects of different plants and herbs on himself. Tea, which acts
as an antidote against the poisonous effects of some seventy herbs, is
also said to have been his discovery.
Shennong first tasted it,
traditionally in ca. 2437 BC, from tea leaves on burning tea twigs,
after they were carried up from the fire by the hot air, landing in
his cauldron of boiling water.
Shennong is venerated as the Father
of Chinese medicine. He is also believed to have introduced the
technique of acupuncture.
Shennong is said to have played a part in the creation of the guqin,
Fuxi and the Yellow Emperor. Scholarly works mention
that the paternal family of famous
Song Dynasty General
Yue Fei traced
their origins back to Shennong.
Shennong is associated with certain geographic localities including
Shennongjia, in Hubei, where the rattan ladder which he used to climb
the local mountain range is supposed to have transformed into a vast
Shennong Stream flows from here into the Yangtze River.
Shennongding: "Shennong's peak", associated with the story that
Shennong had a ladder which he used to climb up and down the mountain,
and which later turned into the local forest.
A picture of
Shennong bencao jing (Shennong's Root and Herbal
Classic): a classic work on plants and their uses, named in
attribution to Shennong.
Shennong tasting plants to test their qualities on himself.
The Shennongxi Bridge near its confluence with the Yangtze River.
Shennong Temple in
Taiwan — where he is worshiped under the names
King Yan, God of Five Grains,
Shennong the Great Emperor, the Ancestor
of Farming, Great Emperor of Medicine, God of Earth, and God of
Shennong (Shinnō in Japanese) tasting herbs to discover their
qualities; a distinctive, iconic pose often used in depictions of
Shennong; in this case from a 19th-century Japanese painting.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Shennong.
Yan Huang Zisun
Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors
^ Christie, 87
^ Yang, 190-199
^ Christie, 90
^ Christie, 90
^ Christie, text caption 116 and picture of ivory statue 117
^ Yang, 195
^ Yang, 198-199
^ Bagley, Robert. "Shang Archaeology." in The Cambridge History of
Ancient China. Michael Loewe and Edward Shaughnessy, ed. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1999.
^ Liu, L. & Xiu, H., "Rethinking Erlitou: legend, history and
Chinese archaeology", Antiquity, 81:314 (2007) pp. 886–901.
^ Wu, 53, referring to Shiji, Chapter One.
^ Wu, 45, referencing Huainanzi, xiuwu xun
^ Wu, 54, referencing I Ching, xici, II, chapter 2
^ Wu, 54, lisulan, 4, yongmin.
^ Christie, 141
^ Unschuld, 17.
^ Jane Reynolds; Phil Gates; Gaden Robinson (1994). 365 Days of Nature
and Discovery. New York: Harry N. Adams. p. 44.
^ Kaplan, Edward Harold (1970). Yueh Fei and the founding of the
Southern Sung (PhD Thesis)format= requires url= (help). University
of Iowa. OCLC 63868015.
^ Yang, 199
Christie, Anthony (1975). Chinese Mythology. London: Hamlyn.
Forbes, Andrew; Henley, David (2011). China's Ancient
Tea Horse Road.
Congoscenti. access-date= requires url= (help)
Wu, K. C. (1981). The Chinese Heritage. New York: Crown.
Unschuld, Paul U. (1986). Medicine in China: A history of
Pharmaceutics. Berkeley: Univ. of California Pr.
Yang, Lihui; An, Deming; Turner, Jessica Anderson (2005). Handbook of
Chinese mythology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Shennong in ZhuZhou
Variants on the nóng character.
"Shen Nong and Tea" article from The
Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors
Emperor of China
c. 2737 BC – c. 2698 BC