The Jade Emperor is known by many names including Heavenly Grandfather which is used by commoners, the Pure August Jade Emperor, August Personage of Jade , the Xuanling High Sovereign, and his rarely used formal title, ''Peace Absolving, Central August Spirit Exalted, Ancient Buddha, Most Pious and Honorable, His Highness the Jade-Emperor, Xuanling High Sovereign'' .
A crater on Saturn's moon discovered by Voyager 2 spacecraft was named after him.
There are many stories in Chinese mythology involving the Jade Emperor.
It was said that the Jade Emperor was originally the crown prince of the kingdom of Pure Felicity and Majestic Heavenly Lights and Ornaments. At birth he emitted a wondrous light that filled the entire kingdom. When he was young, he was kind, intelligent and wise. He devoted his entire childhood to helping the needy . Furthermore, he showed respect and benevolence to both men and creatures.
After his father died, he ascended the throne. He made sure that everyone in his kingdom found peace and contentment. After that, he told his ministers that he wished to cultivate Tao on the Bright and Fragrant Cliff.
After 1,550 kalpas, each kalpa lasting for 129,600 years, he attained Golden Immortality. After another one hundred million years of cultivation, he finally became the Jade Emperor.
There is a little known myth which tells of how the Jade Emperor became the monarch of all the deities in heaven. It is one of the few myths in which the Jade Emperor really shows his might.
In the beginning of time, the earth was a very difficult place to live; a much harsher place to live in than it is now. Men were having tremendous difficulty coping with existence; not only did men have to deal with harsh conditions, but also with all kinds of monstrous beings. At this time, there were also not many gods or deities to protect men. Furthermore, a lot of powerful, evil demons were defying the immortals of heaven. The Jade Emperor was still at the time an ordinary immortal who roamed earth to help as many people as he could. He was, however, saddened by the fact that his powers were limited and could only ease the sufferings of men. He decided to retreat in a mountain cave and cultivate his Dao. He passed 3,200 trials, each trial lasted for about 3 million years.
Unfortunately, a powerful, evil entity-- a demon of sorts, which dwelt on earth-- had the ambition to conquer the immortals and gods in heaven and proclaim sovereignty over the entire universe. It went into retreat later than the Jade Emperor. This evil entity retreated itself too and went into meditation to expand its power. He passed through 3,000 trials each trial lasting for about 3 million years too. After it passed its final trial, it felt confident that no one could defeat it anymore. It re-entered the world again, and recruited an army of demons with the purpose of attacking heaven.
The immortals being aware of the threat gathered themselves and prepared for war. The gods were unable to stop the powerful demon and all were defeated by it. The Three Pure Ones were leading the celestial beings at the time.
Fortunately, the Jade Emperor finished his cultivation in the midst of this war. He was changing the land to make it more liveable for men and repelling all kinds of monstrous beasts. Suddenly, he saw an evil glow emitting from heaven and knew something was amiss. He ascended and saw that a war was going on, he saw that the demon was too powerful to be stopped by any of the gods present. He went up and challenged the demon, and a battle ensued between them. Mountains shook and rivers and seas toppled; however, the Jade Emperor stood victorious due to his deeper and wiser cultivation, not for might but for benevolence. After defeating the demon, all the other demons were scattered by the gods and immortals.
Because of his noble and benevolent deeds, the gods, immortals and mankind proclaimed the Jade Emperor the supreme sovereign of all.
The world started with according to the Chinese creation myth, Jade Emperor was the head of the pantheon but not responsible to the creation process itself.
According to another version of creation myth, the Jade Emperor fashioned the first humans from clay, but as he left them to harden in the sun, it rained, misshaping some of the figures, thus explaining the origin of sickness and physical abnormalities
The story above is also told as Nüwa who fashions humans out of the mud from the Yellow River by hand. Those she made herself became the richer people of the earth. After getting lazy she used a rope and swung it around. The drops that fell from the rope became the poorer humans.
In The Journey to the West
In the popular novel by Wu Chengen, The Jade Emperor is featured many times in the story.
The princess and the cowherd
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In another story, popular throughout Asia and with many differing versions, the Jade Emperor has a daughter named Chih'nü . She is most often represented as responsible for weaving colorful clouds in the heaven, in some versions she is instead a seamstress who works for the Jade Emperor. Everyday Chih'nü descended to earth with the aid of a magical robe to bathe. One day, a lowly cowherd named Niu Lang spotted Chih'nü as she bathed in a stream. Niu Lang fell instantly in love with her and stole her magic robe which she had left on the bank of the stream, leaving her unable to escape back to Heaven. When Chih'nü emerged from the water, Niu Lang grabbed her and carried her back to his home.
When the Jade Emperor heard of this matter, he was furious but unable to intercede, since in the meantime his daughter had fallen in love and married the cowherd. As time passed, Chih'nü grew homesick and began to miss her father. One day, she came across a box containing her magic robe which her husband had hidden. She decided to visit her father back in Heaven, but once she returned, the Jade Emperor summoned a river to flow across the sky , which Chih'nü was unable to cross to return to her husband. The Emperor took pity on the young lovers, and so once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar, he allows them to meet on a bridge over the river.
The story refers to constellations in the night sky. Chih'nü is the star Vega in the constellation of Lyra east of the Milky Way, and Niu Lang is the star Altair in the constellation of west of the Milky Way. Under the first quarter moon of the seventh lunar month , the lighting condition in the sky causes the Milky Way to appear dimmer, hence the story that the two lovers are no longer separated in that one particular day each year.
The seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar is a holiday in China called Qi Xi, which is a day for young lovers much like Valentine's Day in the ; in Japan, it is called Tanabata , and in Korea, it is called Chilseok. If it rains on that day, it is said to be Chih'nü crying tears at being reunited with her husband.
There are several stories as to how the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac were chosen. In one, the Jade Emperor, although having ruled Heaven and Earth justly and wisely for many years, had never had the time to actually visit the Earth personally. He grew curious as to what the creatures looked like. Thus, he asked all the animals to visit him in heaven. The cat, being the most handsome of all animals, asked his friend the rat to wake him on the day they were to go to Heaven so he wouldn't oversleep. The rat, however, was worried that he would seem ugly compared to the cat, so he didn't wake the cat. Consequently, the cat missed the meeting with the Jade Emperor and was replaced by the . The Jade Emperor was delighted with the animals and so decided to divide the years up amongst them. When the cat learned of what had happened, he was furious with the rat and that, according to the story, is why cats and rats are enemies to this day.
His predecessor and successor
The Jade Emperor was originally the assistant of the Divine Master of the
Heavenly Origin, Yuan-shi tian-zun. Yuan-shi tian-zun is said to be the supreme beginning, the limitless and eternal creator of Heaven and Earth, who picked Yu-huang, or the Jade Emperor, as his personal successor. The Jade Emperor will eventually be succeeded by the Heavenly Master of the Dawn of Jade of the Golden Door. The characters for both are stamped on the front of the arms of his throne.
Worship and festivals
The Jade Emperor's Birthday is said to be the ninth day of the first lunar month. On this day Daoist temples hold a Jade Emperor ritual at which priests and laymen prostrate themselves, burn incense, and make food offerings.
Chinese New Year's Eve is also a day of worship as it is said to be the day the Jade Emperor makes his annual inspection of the deeds of mortals and rewards or punishes them accordingly. On this day incense is burned in the home and offerings are made to the Jade Emperor and also to Zao Jun, the god of kitchen who reports to the Emperor on each family.
A temple in Hong Kong is located at A Kung Ngam and is also called "Yuk Wong Po Tin" . In the mid 19th century, people from Huizhou and Chaozhou mined stones in the hill for the development of the central urban area. They set up a shrine to worship Yuk Wong. At the beginning of the 20th century, the shrine was developed into a small temple and was renovated many times. The latest renovation was in 1992.
In popular culture
In the television series ''Stargate SG-1'', the Goa'uld System Lord is presumably based on the Jade Emperor, though whether Lord Yu is supposed to be the originator of the related myth, or merely impersonated the deity among the ancient Chinese is unclear.
Akito Sohma, the antagonist of the anime and manga ''Fruits Basket'', is based on the Jade Emperor.
In the manga ''Fushigi Yūgi'', the identity of Tai Yi-Jun , the oracle who created the Universe of the Four Gods, is eventually revealed to be the Jade Emperor.
In the 2008 film ''The Forbidden Kingdom'' the Jade Emperor is one of the minor characters.