The Chinese people often refer to themselves as the descendants of Huang Di, the Yellow Emperor, a part-real, part-legendary personage who is credited with founding the Chinese nation around 4,000 BC. He is known as the Yellow Emperor for his imperial colour, chosen for the tones of the yellow earth. Many extravagant tales have grown up around him. A collection of legends written down in the Warring States period (475-221 BC) gives the following account.
Huang Di lived in a magnificent palace in the Kunlun Mountains in the west, with a heavenly door keeper who had the face of a man, the body of a tiger and nine tails. The Kunlun Mountains were full of rare birds and animals and exotic flowers and plants, and Huang Di had a pet bird that helped take care of his clothes and personal effects.
To Huang Di was attributed the invention of the cart, the boat and the south-pointing chariot- a chariot with a gear mechanism that enabled a pointer to always indicate south no matter which way the cart turned. Huang Di is said to have taken one with him in battle. He is credited with the laws of astronomy and drawing up the first calendar used by the Chinese people. His supposed conversations on diagnosis and treatment with the physician Qi Bo are contained in China's first medical book, Nei Jing (The Yellow Emperor's Canon of Medicine).
Lei Zu, Huang Di's wife, is said to have taught the people to raise silkworms and weave beautiful silk fabrics. Apparently, encouragement of the initiative of talented persons was a thing as much desired then as it is now, for the Warring States account mentions that this was one of Huang Di's strong points. As a result, a whole list of men are credited with inventions. Cang Jie of pictographs; Ling Lun, the twelve tone musical scale; Li Shou, various measuring instruments; and the craftsman Fang Bo who actually built the south-pointing chariot. These things all did come into existence four or five thousand years ago, so in this way the Yellow Emperor has become the symbol of the culture of the Chinese nation and representative of its talents. A pavilion on cypress-covered Mount Qiaoshan in Huangling county on the road north from Xi'an is Shananxi province marks the place said to be his grave. There ceremonies have been performed honouring him as the founder of the Chinese nation. A theory has been advanced that Huang Di may represent a real leader of a tribal confederation of the Yangshao Neolithic culture.
A story which may originate in a memory of tribal wars between Huang Di and Chi You is related in the Taiping Yulan compiled by Li Feng and others between 977 and 981. (Chi You is described therein as a god, and in other sources as leader of tribe). He had 72 brothers (81 by some accounts), all of them with ferocious visages such as a head of bronze and forehead of iron, a human face and the body of an animal. He was skilled at making weapons and casting bronze, and his arrows, axes and spears were unparalleled. He took his men to Shangdong and attacked the tribe of Yan Di, driving him into Huang Di's territory around Zhuolu in northwestern Hebei province. The latter was angered and went battle with Chi You.
He was no rival for Chi You and at first suffered several defeats. Chi You conjured up a thick fog which blurred the vision of the Yellow Emperor's men. Luckily the south-pointing chariot helped them know their way. Huang Di also had his men make bugles. There were in Chi You's army many spirits, but they were afraid of the sound of a certain kind of dragon. So the Yellow Emperor had his men make instruments out of animal horns which duplicated this sound and the demons were paralysed with fear.
Chi You called on a god of wind and rain and blew up a tempest, but Huang Di brought out his daughter who emanated an enormous amount of heat and dried up the storm. Before Chi You's brothers could recover from their surprise Huang Di's forces defeated them.
The last and decisive battle was fought at Zhuolu. Chi You had gone for help to the Kuafu, a clan of giants in the north (its ancestor was Kuafu who raced with the sun and died of thirst ) and they drove Huang Di back 50 li. But, using strategy learned from the Goddess of the Ninth Heaven, Huang Di finally defeated them. Chi You retreated until he reached what is today's Shanxi, where he was captured by Huang Di's men and beheaded. To make sure the head would not reunite with the body, Huang Di sent it to be buried a thousand li away. The place where Chi You was beheaded came to be called Xiexian (xie, to sever, and xian, county) and is still known as that today. Nearby there is a salt lake with water of a reddish colour, tinted, people say, by Chi You's blood.
After the defeat of Chi You, Huang Di became leader of all the tribes on the central plains. He ruled an area stretching east to the sea, west to today’s Gansu province, south to the Changjiang (Yangtze) River and north into today’s Shanxi and Hebei provinces. Legend has it that he lived to be 110 years old and then a dragon came and took him back to Heaven where he belonged.
Legend adapted from Shanghai on Internet