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What Came Before the Chinese Dynasties: Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors

From 2070 BCE up until 1912, China was ruled by a series of dynasties. Scholars use these dynasties to pinpoint periods in history by scholars. But what was there before the dynasties? There were the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors.

The Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors were two groups of mythological rulers in ancient northern China. The Five Emperors were said to exist around 2852 BCE to 2070 BCE, and the Three Sovereigns were said to have lived before that.

The Three Sovereigns were said to be demigods. They used their abilities to improve the lives of their people and share skills and knowledge that would help them. Meanwhile, The Five Emperors were said to be wise and good and ruled over a period of great peace.  They were said to have invented farming. Medicine, Chinese script, and the calendar also progressed thanks to the kings.

It is said that three of the four shi who took part in creating the world are the Three Sovereigns, namely Suiren-shi, Youchao-shi, and Shennong-shi. Suiren taught drilling wood for fire so they could migrate. Youchao taught constructing wood houses so that people could live on the plains. Shennong was in charge of various grasses to help alleviate food shortages when the population grew.

Depending on which variation you know, the following appear in different groupings of the Five Emperors: Huangdi, Zhuanxu, Ku or Gaoxi, Yao, Shun, Shaohao, Taihao, and Yan. And these Five Emperors were said to be the predecessors of each dynasty ruler.

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