Some of Our Ancestors Are Crows

January 14, 2009

Some notes on primordial Chinese sovereigns. All of this is directly from the historical record.

The Shang/Yin people honored the God-King Jun as their primordial ancestor. We know this from oracle bones that mention his name.

Jun descended from heaven to rule the people, marrying Xihe and fathering the 10 Golden Crows — three-legged birds that are, in fact, suns, taking turns traveling across the sky each day. Xihe and the suns live in the land of Fusang (often associated with Japan) in the Eastern Sea. We know this from the Classic of Mountains and Seas, the oldest collections of Chinese myths still in existence.

The Shang kings traced their mortal ancestry back to a chieftain named Yi Lu. We know this from oracle bones in which the sovereigns called upon their ancestors.

Yi Lu’s wife, Jiandi, swallowed a crow’s egg and became pregnant with Xie, whose descendants included the Shang royal line. Again, this part is from the Classic of Mountains and Seas.

Some scholars now believe that the Shang/Yin mythology gradually lost prominence during the rise of the Western Zhou and the diversity of the Warring States period. Instead, later mythologies focus on the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors narratives not on the mythological rulers that the Shang honored as their ancestors.

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