Monday, June 26, 2006

Fu Hsi (Glossary)

Fu Hsi (also Fu Xi) is mentioned in Chinese legendary history where he is said to have ruled before the advent of writing.

However, this ancient sage is credited with the origin of the trigrams used for divination and knotted cord records both of which lead eventually, in Chinese tradition, to the written script.

Traditional dates vary for Fu Hsi's period, but they tend to cluster around the late 4th millennium and early 3rd millennium BCE.

Fu Shi hailed according to prevalent traditions from around present-day Jining in Shandong province. It was in Shandong and neighboring Henan that the Dongyi peoples were based. Fu Hsi is called the leader of the Dongyi, usually referred to in such capacity by one of his other names, Taihao.

Fu Hsi is often credited with inventing or introducing the qin, a horizontal stringed instrument. The image showing the stringing of a qin comes from the Sung dynasty text Xinkan Taiyin Daquanji

The "Hsi" part of Fu Hsi's name is indicated with the character meaning "a sacrificer." The same meaning is given by Fu Hsi's alternate name Pao Hsi. The "Fu" character combines glyphs meaning "dog" (quan) and "man" (ren).

So, "Fu Hsi" symbolically could mean something like "a dog-man who sacrifices" or "one who sacrifices a dog." Fu Hsi was said to have instituted the great royal sacrifice on Mount Tai in Shandong.

There may be some allusion here to the cosmic being Pangu who some believe may be related to the Hmong-Mien culture hero and dog-human Panhu. Besides the similarity of the names which are identical among many southern peoples, Pangu is said to have existed originally in a "cosmic egg" that resembled a 'dog without eyes or ears.'

Fu Hsi's surname was Feng meaning "Phoenix" indicating probably totemic or clan lineage.

Another of Fu Hsi cultural gifts was the establishment of an early form of kingship. He was said to have established his capital at Chen, near modern Kaifeng in Henan province. His successor Shen Nong also had his capital in Chen but latter moved to Qufu in Shandong.

Given that Fu Hsi appears to predate agriculture, or at least plow agriculture which is usually credited to Shen Nong, the former's kingship was certainly of the most primordial kind. Fu Hsi is linked with the establishment of fishing, hunting and animal husbandry.

However, the royal institutions he is credited with introducing continued to provide the root model for China's kingship system through much of history. His was originally a priest king, or shaman/sage king model. One of his legendary successors Shun, was said to have ruled properly simply by maintaining good conduct and facing his throne and palace toward the South like the Pole Star.

Nu Gua, Fu Hsi's wife, is said to have sacrificed a turtle and used its legs to prop up the sky. This reminds us of the turtle(s) said to carry Penglai, the legendary isle of the blessed, on their backs. Indeed, Fu Hsi's sacrifice on Mount Tai might relate ultimately to Mount Penglai in the immortal paradise.

Feng sacrifice

Followed by 72 kings starting with Fu Hsi, the Taishan sacrifice had as one of its goals, the immortality of the emperor, something likely transferred from Mount Penglai.

The location of Penglai has been the subject of much debate. Most Chinese traditions locate it off the southeast coast and thus theories have connected it with the Penghu islands (Pescadores) off southwest Taiwan.

The Shiyi Ji states that "Penghu" is another name for "Penglai" and uses the name Penghu for the mountain of Penglai. Penghu means the "Pot of Peng" and in ancient texts Penglai and the other blessed isles are described as pot-shaped.

However the early text Shi Ji locates Penglai in or east of the Bohai sea. A late Zhou writer thought the paradise peak was Mount Fuji in Japan.

Whatever the case, during Fu Hsi's period we have suggested that the Nusantao trade network had established itself in locations like Shandong and Japan, following some of the theories put forth by Shun-Sheng Ling and Wilhelm Solheim. The presence of these trading peoples can help explain the Malayo-Polynesian adstrate in the Japanese language.

Nusantao would then have made up an important component of the Dongyi people linked with Fu Hsi. The Dongyi were the eastern component of the "Yi" peoples known to the ancient Chinese. The Yi were often termed "Niao Yi" or "Bird Foreigners" in reference possibly to the use of the bird totem. Eventually Niao-Yi and the related word Dao-Yi "Island Yi" became general names for people in southern China and from foreign island nations.

Knot records

The introduction of knot records by Fu Hsi might also relate to these early Nusantao trader/voyagers. The widespread use of this method even in the Pacific would suggest that the Lapita explorers already used knotted cords for recording and tallying at an early date.

Some scholars believe the trigrams arose from knot records, while others attribute them to counting rods/sticks. Either way both items were widely used in the Asia Pacific region for numerical calculation and record-keeping, as well as for divination.

The trigrams and the figures made by knots eventually became the basis for the early ideographic and pictographic Chinese script.

Paul Kekai Manansala


Bonnefoy, Yves. Asian Mythologies, University of Chicago Press, 1993, p. 253.

Ching, Julia. Mysticism and Kingship in China: The Heart of Chinese Wisdom, Oxford University Press, p. 51.

Soothil, William Edward. The Hall of Light: A Study of Early Chinese Kingship, James Clarke & Co., 2002, p. 133.