Why is the Yellow Emperor the “first human ancestor” of the Chinese nation

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Located in the mausoleum of the Yellow Emperor in Shaanxi Province, the plaque of “the first ancestor of Humanities” inscribed by Cheng Qian.

People often say that the Yellow Emperor is the “first human ancestor” of the Chinese nation. How did this title come from and what profound cultural connotations did it have? What is the positive significance of carrying forward the Yellow Emperor culture for us to build the common spiritual home of the Chinese nation and cultivate the national spirit?

Special guest

Hanzhen (vice president and professor of Beijing Normal University)

Liuzhiqin (researcher, Institute of modern history, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)

Zhaofujie (Chairman of Shaanxi Federation of Social Sciences and professor of Northwest University of political science and law)

Calling the Yellow Emperor “the ancestor of humanity” fully affirms the pioneering role of the Yellow Emperor in the history of Chinese civilization

Moderator: people often say that the Yellow Emperor is the “first human ancestor” of the Chinese nation. Why do you call the Yellow Emperor the “first human ancestor”?

Zhaofujie: the so-called “first ancestor of humanity” means that the Yellow Emperor is the founder of the material civilization, institutional civilization and spiritual civilization of the Chinese nation. He opened the precedent of the splendid civilization of the Chinese nation and played a foundational role in the history of casting the Chinese civilization. Since ancient times, people’s admiration for the Yellow Emperor is to fully affirm the position of the Yellow Emperor era in the founding history of Chinese civilization. Therefore, the Yellow Emperor is called the “first ancestor of humanity”.

Liuzhiqin: according to ancient history, there were no clothes and houses before the Yellow Emperor. From the beginning of the Yellow Emperor, there were clothes, houses, boats and cars, farming and steaming grain for rice, collecting medicine for medicine, and creating words for literature. This shows that the Yellow Emperor is not only the ancestor of the Chinese nation, but also the founder of Chinese civilization and way of life. Although these legends are half empty and half real, they are the reflection of human survival process. “The first ancestor of humanity” accurately expresses the primitive consciousness that ancestors are with life and that culture and life coexist.

Host: How did the title of “the first ancestor of Humanities” come from? What does it really mean?

Liuzhiqin: the word “the first ancestor of Humanities” was found in the inscription of Cheng Qian, a Kuomintang veteran and calligrapher, in Huangling in 1938. This concept was clearly used in the announcement of the first large-scale sacrifice to the Yellow Emperor in 1980. The stamp “the hall of the first ancestor of Humanities” issued by the Ministry of Posts and telecommunications in 1983 made this inscription spread throughout the country. “Humanities” and “Chuzu”, as words, have existed since ancient times, but they have not been combined into phrases. “The first ancestor of the Yellow Emperor” has been recorded in the unearthed inscriptions of the Eastern Han Dynasty, and the humanities began in the book of changes: “observing the astronomy to observe the changes of time, observing the humanities to become the world.” Combining the two to create a new concept of “the first ancestor of humanity” is not a simple addition of two words, but a combination of modern spirit and traditional ideas. This combination is natural, because the Chinese nation has highlighted a strong sense of life and life since its first ancestor, the Yellow Emperor.

Zhaofujie: as the ancestor image of the Chinese nation, the Yellow Emperor is both the “national ancestor” and the “human ancestor”. Although many achievements of civilization creation in the era of the Yellow Emperor recorded in history can neither be accomplished in one era nor attributed to the Yellow Emperor alone, calling the Yellow Emperor “the first ancestor of humanity” expresses the Chinese nation’s admiration for civilization creation, for civilization creators and for civilization creation spirit. The essence of the so-called “view the humanities to become the world” is to create civilization. The Yellow Emperor not only laid the foundation of Chinese civilization, but also cultivated the humanistic spirit of Chinese civilization. Just as Mr. Yu Youren praised in his poem of paying a visit to the mausoleum of the Yellow Emperor in 1918: “the original civilization opens up ignorance, and the sun and the moon hang high to know the face of the sky.” The Yellow Emperor is used as a pronoun of the Chinese nation in many documents. The sentence “I recommend Xuanyuan with my blood” in Lu Xun’s self titled portrait actually refers to the deep love for the Chinese nation by respecting Xuanyuan.

The Yellow Emperor culture contains rich national spirit

Host: the “yellow emperor culture” which has experienced five thousand years is an important part of Chinese culture. What national spirit does the Yellow Emperor culture mainly contain?

Zhaofujie: first of all, it is a kind of moral spirit of “nurturing the nature and loving the people”. The Yellow Emperor is not only the founder of the great Chinese civilization, but also a model of noble morality. He not only had noble personal morality, but also made great efforts to implement the rule of virtue and “cultivate morality and comfort the people”, thus forming a good moral trend in the society. Therefore, the purpose of remembering our ancestors is not only the identification of blood relationship, but also to learn and inherit the noble morality of our ancestors, so as to optimize the moral habits of the people. Second, there is a social ideal spirit of pursuing unity and harmony. In the historical records and myths and legends about the Yellow Emperor, there are many Chinese people’s pursuit and yearning for a better society. The myth that the Yellow Emperor sleepwalked in Huaxu fully expresses people’s yearning for a better life with simple folk customs, no love or hate, no intimacy or estrangement, no conflict of interest, no struggle or killing, great governance of the world, and peace and prosperity of the country and the people. Although these documents and myths and legends are somewhat idealized and exaggerated by later generations, they contain the Chinese nation’s ideal of pursuing political clarity and harmony in the world.

The rich spiritual connotations contained in the “yellow emperor culture”, such as advocating morality, pursuing harmony and revitalizing China, are the values commonly recognized by the Chinese nation. Thus, they have become the spiritual link to unite the Chinese nation, the spiritual strength to unite the Chinese nation, and the spiritual power to inspire the Chinese nation. Therefore, it is also a valuable resource for us to build the common spiritual home of the Chinese nation today.

Striving to revitalize the Chinese national spirit is the core orientation of the culture of the Yellow Emperor, especially the culture of sacrifice

Host: before and after the Qingming Festival, some places hold ancestor worship activities in different forms and scales. How to view these sacrificial activities from a historical perspective?

Zhaofujie: offering sacrifices to and commemorating the Yellow Emperor has a long history. According to research, Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty offered sacrifices to the tomb of the Yellow Emperor at Qiaoshan mountain in Yangzhou (a place name of the Han Dynasty) in Northern Shaanxi, which is the earliest record of the emperor paying homage to the tomb of the Yellow Emperor. In the Yuan Dynasty, the sacrifice to the Yellow Emperor entered a new stage. The Yellow Emperor gradually evolved from the “first ancestor” of the ancient nationality to the “common ancestor” of more nationalities. In particular, the establishment of the yuan and Qing Dynasties marked the gradual formation of the recognition that the Yellow Emperor was the “first human ancestor” of the Chinese nation. The fundamental significance of our sacrifice to and commemoration of the Yellow Emperor lies in exploring and drawing valuable national spiritual resources from the Yellow Emperor culture and striving to continue these spiritual veins.

Liuzhiqin: since the 20th century, there have been three climaxes of offering sacrifices to the Yellow Emperor. The first one was on the eve of the 1911 Revolution in 1908, the predecessor League of the Kuomintang held a memorial ceremony to the Yellow Emperor in Huangling, Shaanxi. Those who participated in the public sacrifice felt the loss of China and Kyushu Lu Chen. Everyone was in tears, and some were crying. The sacrifice to Huang actually became an anti Manchu vow meeting, and the sacrifice was also known as the “oath to the tomb”. However, some of these racist biases are not conducive to the ideal of establishing a Democratic Republic. Therefore, as soon as Sun Yat Sen took office as the interim president after the overthrow of the rule of the Qing Dynasty, he announced that he would treat compatriots of Han, Manchu, Mongolian, Hui and Tibetan Nationalities equally, and replaced anti Manchu with a Republic of five ethnic groups. He established the “Great Harmony Society of the Chinese nation” and included “all ethnic groups in China are equal” in the provisional constitution of the Republic of China, Constitutionally, we should unite the people of all ethnic groups to accomplish the great cause of fighting imperialism and feudalism. The second climax was during the war of resistance against Japan, when the Kuomintang and the Communist Party held public offerings to the mausoleum of the Yellow Emperor six times. The Communist Party twice published the text of offering sacrifices to the mausoleum of the Yellow Emperor, which Comrade Mao Zedong personally drafted, stressing that “thousands of miles are rugged and serve the country”, “why should the Xiongnu be home before it is destroyed”, “all parties and all walks of life should be solidly united, regardless of the military and the people, regardless of wealth or wealth, the national front, a good prescription to save the country, and 40000 people should resolutely resist.” The third climax was after the reform and opening up. Unlike the previous two, the scale of offering sacrifices to Huang was unprecedented, attracting a large number of overseas Chinese. Overseas Chinese from all over the world send groups to return home every year. Obviously, the main body of sacrifice has expanded from the Chinese nation to Chinese Americans all over the world, which fully shows that the Yellow Emperor, as a common ancestor, has been believed by Chinese people all over the world. This is the largest cultural identity beyond different social systems and the most cohesive spiritual force to unite Chinese people.

Zhaofujie: in the long historical process, a large number of sacrificial words, texts, poems and words of praise have been formed. On the one hand, they recount the great historical achievements of the Yellow Emperor and praise the noble personality of the Yellow Emperor. On the other hand, they express the value pursuit of the worshippers and people at that time, and reflect the national spirit that people at that time drew from the culture of the Yellow Emperor. Because people in different periods have different historical conditions and different historical themes and tasks, the values and spiritual orientation expressed in sacrifice change with the changes of the times. But from the overall content point of view, the spiritual theme embodied and promoted in the sacrifice to the Yellow Emperor is the national spirit of prospering the motherland and rejuvenating China, which is particularly prominent in modern times. “The pattern of pluralism and integration” has laid the cornerstone of collective identity for the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation today

Moderator: to a large extent, such activities of offering sacrifices to ancestors are also a process of national identity and cultural identity. How to view the Yellow Emperor culture from the perspective of national identity?

Han Zhen: in the long process of China’s historical development, the people of all ethnic groups have closely communicated, blended and depended on each other, forming a “pluralistic integration” cultural pattern of sharing weal and woe. This pattern not only laid the foundation for China’s glorious history in ancient times, but also established the cornerstone of collective identity for the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation today. Due to geographical, economic and cultural reasons, the Chinese nation has formed a strong cultural centripetal force. The Han nationality, with the largest number of people in China, is the product of continuous ethnic integration driven by this centripetal force. For example, the legend of the Yan Emperor and the Yellow Emperor is a symbol of the integration of different tribes. In history, various ethnic groups absorbed each other and gradually formed the “Han nationality” through conquest, mixed living, intermarriage, migration and integration. The cultural commonness of the Han nationality should surpass the commonness of its blood relationship. This kind of power that integrates pluralism into one has created the main body of the Chinese nation. Obviously, many ethnic blood lines have been absorbed in the Han nationality.

At the same time, as long as there is more contact between different ethnic groups, there must be cultural integration. The more cultural integration, the greater the overlap between cultural identity and national identity. Other ethnic minorities also have strong identification with the unified country, which is mainly the result of cultural integration and cultural identification, which has played a good role in maintaining the stability of the frontier. The multi-ethnic cultural pattern is the historical basis of China’s national identity.

The Chinese nation is a concept of pluralism and integration. Among them, different ethnic groups have their own unique cultures, but since any ethnic group is an equal member of China and the Chinese nation, the cultural commonality among all different ethnic groups should be greater than the differences. Unifying the nation within the country has common interests and common political system. Therefore, on the one hand, we should recognize and respect differences, and on the other hand, we should establish commonality among all ethnic groups within the country. In China, this value community is the Chinese nation composed of 56 ethnic groups. Now, within the framework of unifying the country, it is the task before us to further increase the common cultural foundation and shape the Chinese national characteristics that are clearly different from other countries.

Carrying forward the new concept of the first ancestor of humanity is an important resource for building the spiritual homeland of the Chinese nation

Host: how to treat the practical significance of remembering the Yellow Emperor from today’s perspective?

Liuzhiqin: “the first ancestor of Humanities” highlights the concept of “people”. What is “man”? Man is the unity of naturalness and sociality. The 21st century is the century of human beings and the century of advocating humanistic spirit, which is the mainstream of the sustainable development of human society. Only by following the demand of “people-oriented”, can the activity of tracing ancestors reach a new height. The current reform and opening up is in a new stage of the third ideological emancipation. “People oriented” is the clarion call for the third ideological emancipation, which is a powerful driving force for the transformation of government functions. It needs to explore and mobilize all historical ideological materials conducive to the national economy and the people’s livelihood. To cherish the memory of the Yellow Emperor, we should focus on carrying forward the new concept of the first ancestor of humanity and highlighting the theme of cherishing life and valuing life during the founding period of the Chinese nation, which is an important resource for building the spiritual homeland of the Chinese nation.

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