An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Yan Di 炎帝

Feb 5, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald

Yan Di 炎帝, the Fire Emperor, also called Chi Di 赤帝 "Red Emperor", was a deity in early Chinese mythology. He is often said to be the same person as the cultural hero Shen Nong 神農, the Divine Husbandman.

According to cosmological theory in the book Huainanzi 淮南子, the Red Emperor was the personification of the processial element fire (huo 火) and the south, master of the summer, and assistant to the deity Zhuming 朱明 (i. e. Zhu Rong 祝融).

In the person of the Emperor of Fire, this deity symbolized the phenological and political power of fire, while he is the symbol for human culture in the person of Shen Nong. Shen Nong was seen as the inventor of agriculture, pottery, metallurgy, and of pharmacology.

Yan Di was a son of Shao Dian 少典 and Lady Jiao 有蟜氏, and a brother of the Yellow Emperor (Huang Di 黄帝). Among his descendants were the river hero Gong Gong 共工 and the regional rulers (zhuhou 諸侯) of Qi 齊, Lü 呂 and Shen 申.

Yan Di supported the Yellow Emperor in the battle against his enemy Chi You 蚩尤, yet there is also talk of wars of the two emperors against each other, like in the battle of Banquan 坂泉 (modern Huailiai 懷来, Shaanxi) where Yan Di won a victory. The tribespeople of the two Emperors later turned to peace again and merged to the population of China, with the Yellow Emperor as the highest leader. The battle against Chi You at Zhuolu 涿鹿 probably also took part after the unification of the two tribes.

Li Jianping 李劍平, ed. (1998). Zhongguo shenhua renwu cidian 中國神話人物辭典 (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe), 375.
Xiong Tieji 熊鐵基, Yang Youli 楊有禮, ed. (1994). Zhongguo diwang zaixiang cidian 中國帝王宰相辭典 (Wuhan: Hubei jiaoyu chubanshe), 5.
Yi Xingguo 衣興國, ed. (1988). Shiyong Zhongguo mingren cidian 實用中國名人辭典 (Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe), 5.
Yuan Ke 袁珂, ed. (1985). Zhongguo shenhua chuanshuo cidian 中國神話傳說詞典 (Shanghai: Shanghai cishu chubanshe), 194, 251.