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Jade Emperor

The Jade Emperor (玉皇 Pinyin: Y Hung or 玉帝 Y D), known informally by children and commoners as Grandpa Heaven (天公 Tiān Gōng) and known formally as the Pure August Jade Emperor or August Personage of Jade (玉皇上帝 Yu Huang Shangdi or 玉皇大帝 Yu Huang Dadi), is the ruler of Heaven and among the most important gods of the Chinese Daoist pantheon.

From the ninth century, he was also the patron deity of the Chinese imperial family. The Jade Emperor rules over Heaven and Earth just as the earthly emperors once ruled over China. He and his court are at the center of an divine bureaucracy (mirroring that of ancient China) ruling over every aspect of human and animal life.

Table of contents
1 Chinese mythology
2 Worship and festivals

Chinese mythology

There are many stories in Chinese mythology involving the Jade Emperor.

Creation myth

According to one 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 most common alternative Chinese creation myth states that human beings were once fleas on the body of Pangu.)

The princess and the cowherd

Main article: Cowherd and Weaver Girl

In another story which is popular throughout Asia and has many differing versions, the Jade Emperor has a daughter (in some versions, she is instead a seamstress who works for the Jade Emperor) named Zhi'n who everyday descended to earth to bathe with the aid of a magical robe. One day a lowly cowherd named Niu Lang spotted Zhi'n as she bathed in a stream. Falling instantly in love with her, he stole her magic robe which she had left on the bank of the stream, leaving her unable to escape back to Heaven. When Zhi'n 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, as in the meantime his daughter had fallen in love and married the cowherd. However, as time passed, she grew homesick and began to miss her father. One day, she came across a box in which she found the 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 (the Milky Way), which Zhi'n was unable to cross to return to her husband. However, 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. Zhi'n 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 Aquila west of the Milky Way. During August, the two stars appear to move closer to each other over the Milky Way, hence the story. The seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar is a holiday in China called Chihsi or Qi Qiao Jie, which is a day for young lovers much like Valentine's Day in the West; in Japan, it is called Tanabata (star day). If it rains on that day, it is said to be Zhi'n crying tears at being reunited with her husband.

The zodiac

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 of the earth looked like. To this end, he charged his chief advisor with selecting the twelve most interesting animals and bringing them to Heaven to satisfy his curiosity.

The Emperor's advisor sent invitations to the rat, the cat, the ox, the tiger, the rabbit, the dragon, the snake, the horse, the ram, the monkey, the chicken, and the dog. The cat, 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 pig. The Jade Emperor was delighted with the animals and so decided to divide the year 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.

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 (拜天公 bi tiān gōng, literally "heaven worship") 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 the home who reports to the Emperor on each family.

See also: Chinese mythology, jade