Today we will talk about one of the highest-ranking god in Taoism and he appeared in many stories and we have mentioned him a few times in our podcast. He is the Jade Emperor 玉皇大帝.
To talk about Jade Emperor, we need to trace back to thousands years ago and talk about the worshiping of Tian 天 of Chinese people. Tian means the heaven, it is unknown highest power, the universe which is controlling everything. It is easy to understand most ancient cultures worshiped this power that when you look up the sky and see the endless universe with the sun, the moon and the stars. Human’s lives and destinies seem like are all in charge by the heaven.
From BoCi卜辞, which are bones or turtle shells witches use for divination around the year 1600 BC ~1000 BC from the Shang dynasty, , Chinese people already believed the lives are given by the heaven. The heaven was in charge of two things at that time, first, the heaven can control the wind and the rain and even the nature itself. Second, the heaven is in charge of the human society including the diseases and the wars.
Since the Zhou dynasty 周朝 between the year 1046 BC ~ 256 BC, people deified heaven as the Emperor HaoTian 昊天上帝, the high-ranking god in Chinese folklore and worshiped by the Emperor. The worshiping ceremony was the highest level by the Emperor himself with drums, music and sacrifice. Besides the worshiping the sky and the universe, the worshiping of the Emperor HaoTian also due to the worshiping the Northern star. In some folklore, it is believed that the Emperor HaoTian lives in the Northern star.
The Emperor HaoTian is also know as ShangDi 上帝. Shang means upper, above. The word first appeared in the Confucianism texts Four Books and Five Classics 四书五经 written before 300 BC. Actually God in Christianity is translated as ShangDi in Chinese and that’s another story.
Now let’s talk about the Jade Emperor, who is a Taoism god based adapted from the Emperor HaoTian we just talked about. In Taoism, he isn’t the highest-ranking but one of the high-ranking gods just below the Three Pure Ones 三清, which we will talk in the future. The word YuHuang 玉皇 started from the Eastern Han dynasty 东汉, which is between the year 25 to the year 220.
In the book GaoShangYuHuangBenXingJiJing 高上玉皇本行集经 from the Tang dynasty 唐朝 or the Song dynasty 宋朝, it says the there was a kingdom called GuangYanMiaoLe 光严 妙乐. The king is called JingDe 净德 and the queen is called BaoYueGuang 宝月光. They had no children and the king didn’t know who should be the next king after his death.That night, the queen had a dream where the gods bringing them a baby who shined bright lights. When the queen woke up, she was pregnant and gave birth to a kid on the 9th of the first month the next year. This is how the Jade Emperor was born.
In Taoism, it is also believed that PanGu 盘古 who created the universe is a formation of the Jade Emperor. This can be found the Taoism book ZhenHao 真诰 from the Southern dynasty 南朝, between the year 420 and 589. We have talked about PanGu in our episode 2, if you want to know more please check it out. So in a way, in Taoism, Jade Emperor created the universe.
There are temples in some parts of China dedicated to the Jade Emperor and people still worship the Jade Emperor especially on his birthday the 9th of the first month in the Lunar calendar.
四书五经 Four Books and Five Classics