The Jade Emperor: Taoist Ruler of Heaven – and Celestial Bureaucrat

February 1, 2021

The Jade Emperor is not only a notable figure in Chinese mythology, but also one of the most important deities in Taoism and in Chinese folk religion. Today, the Jade Emperor is regarded as the supreme ruler of Heaven, guiding the affairs of mortals via a bureaucracy not unlike that which was once used in imperial China.

Considering the Jade Emperor’s significance as the ruler of Heaven, the history of his worship is rather peculiar. In the early Taoist writings, he was either a minor deity, or not even mentioned at all. In fact, it was only later on, during the Tang Dynasty, that the Jade Emperor became an important deity. Apart from his religious significance, the Jade Emperor also appears in many Chinese myths.

Becoming the Jade Emperor: Popular Folk Take of Zhang Denglai

The Jade Emperor is known by a variety of names. In the Chinese language, he is known either as Yu Huang, or Yu Di. He is formally known as the Pure August Jade Emperor, or the August Personage of Jade, and informally as the Heavenly Grandfather.

There are two stories regarding the Jade Emperor’s origin, which, interestingly, contradict each other. One of them is a popular folk tale, whilst the other is derived from Taoism. In the former, the Jade Emperor is depicted as attaining his position by pure chance, whereas in the latter, he is portrayed as earning it through his personal virtue, and the cultivation of Tao.

The Jade Emperor is not only a notable figure in Chinese mythology, but also one of the most important deities in Taoism and in Chinese folk religion. Today, the Jade Emperor is regarded as the supreme ruler of Heaven, guiding the affairs of mortals via a bureaucracy not unlike that which was once used in imperial China.

Considering the Jade Emperor’s significance as the ruler of Heaven, the history of his worship is rather peculiar. In the early Taoist writings, he was either a minor deity, or not even mentioned at all. In fact, it was only later on, during the Tang Dynasty, that the Jade Emperor became an important deity. Apart from his religious significance, the Jade Emperor also appears in many Chinese myths.

Becoming the Jade Emperor: Popular Folk Take of Zhang Denglai

The Jade Emperor is known by a variety of names. In the Chinese language, he is known either as Yu Huang, or Yu Di. He is formally known as the Pure August Jade Emperor, or the August Personage of Jade, and informally as the Heavenly Grandfather.

There are two stories regarding the Jade Emperor’s origin, which, interestingly, contradict each other. One of them is a popular folk tale, whilst the other is derived from Taoism. In the former, the Jade Emperor is depicted as attaining his position by pure chance, whereas in the latter, he is portrayed as earning it through his personal virtue, and the cultivation of Tao.

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