In Chinese mythology, Fu Xi (伏羲), mid-2800s B.C.E., was the first of the mythical Three Sovereigns of ancient China. He was a cultural hero, reputed to have taught the Chinese people fishing with nets, hunting with weapons made of iron, cooking, domestication of animals, music, the writing system, sericulture (cultivation of silk worms) and the weaving of threads from silkworm cocoons into textiles. He tamed the waters of the Yellow River by digging dikes, canals and irrigation ditches, offered the first open air sacrifice and standardized marriage contracts. He is also credited with creating the Eight Trigrams, which form the basis for the philosophy of the Book of Changes (I Ching) and are regarded as the origin of calligraphy.
Ancient Chinese matriarchal society revered Fuxi’s predecessor, the female creator goddess Nuwa. When the male role in procreation came to be understood, Fuxi became primary and Nuwa is often depicted as his sister or wife.
Fu Xi was born on the lower-middle reaches of the Yellow River in a place called Chengji (possibly modern Lantian, Shaanxi or Tianshui, Gansu).
The Chinese traditionally believed that Fuxi could assume dragon form. Fuxi supposedly had the body of a serpent, and the first dragon was said to have appeared to him in 2962 B.C.E.
According to legend the land was swept by a great flood and only Fuxi and his sister Nüwa survived. They retired to Kunlun Mountain where they prayed for a sign from the Emperor of Heaven. The divine being approved their union and the siblings set about procreating the human race. Fu Xi then came to rule over his decedents although reports of his long reign vary between sources from 115 years (B.C.E. 2852-2737) to 116 years (B.C.E. 2952-2836).
The author Li Rong (李榮), thought to have lived sometime between 618 and 907 C.E., gives this account in Duyi Zhi (獨异志); vol 3: There was a brother and a sister living on the Kunlun Mountain, and there were no ordinary people at that time. The sister’s name was Nüwa. The brother and sister wished to become husband and wife, but felt shy and guilty about this desire. So the brother took his younger sister to the top of the Kunlun Mounatain and prayed: “If Heaven allows us to be man and wife, please let the smoke before us gather; if not, please let the smoke scatter.” The smoke before them gathered together. So Nüwa came to live with her elder brother. She made a fan with grass to hide her face. (The present custom of women covering their faces with fans originated from this story.)
Fuxi and Nuwa were often depicted as having human bodies and dragon tails that were intertwined, and holding measuring instruments that represent the yang (male) and yin (female) principles that permeate everything in the universe. A stone tablet, dated 160 C.E.shows Fu Hsi with Nüwa.
Fuxi lived for 197 years and died at a place called Chen (modern Huaiyang, Henan) where his mausoleum can still be found.
“Among the three primogenitors of Hua-Xia civilization, Fu Xi in Huaiyang Country ranks first.” (Couplet engraved on column of Fu Xi Temple, Huaiyang Country, Henan Province)
“During the time of his predecessor, the goddess of creation Nüwa (who according to some sources was also his wife and/or sister), society was matriarchal and primitive. Childbirth was seen to be miraculous not requiring the participation of the male and children only knew their mothers. As the reproductive process became better understood ancient Chinese society moved towards a patriarchal system and Fu Xi assumed primary importance.”
“In the beginning there was as yet no moral or social order. Men knew their mothers only, not their fathers. When hungry, they searched for food; when satisfied, they threw away the remnants. They devoured their food hide and hair, drank the blood, and clad themselves in skins and rushes. Then came Fu Hsi and looked upward and contemplated the images in the heavens, and looked downward and contemplated the occurrences on earth. He united man and wife, regulated the five stages of change, and laid down the laws of humanity. He devised the eight trigrams, in order to gain mastery over the world.”
Fu Xi did not directly create human beings, as Nuwa did, but he taught them all the skills necessary to ensure their survival. He brought the Great Waters of the Universe into order by digging dikes, canals and irrigation ditches to tame the Yellow River (Huanghe), whose flood cycles were a constant threat to Chinese farmers. Fuxi taught the Chinese people fishing with nets, hunting with weapons made of iron, cooking, domestication of animals, music, the writing system, sericulture (cultivation of silk worms) and the weaving of threads from silkworm cocoons into textiles. According to legend, in 2852 B.C.E., Fuxi created the Eight Trigrams (bagua or pa kua), a set of marks using long and short lines which are used to divine the future and which form the basis of calligraphy. Fuxi also offered the first open air sacrifices to heaven, standardized contracts for marriage, and invented an early type of calendar. In addition, he invented the measuring instrument that the legendary Emperor Yu used to measure the universe.
According to tradition, Fu Xi had the arrangement of the Eight Trigrams (八卦 bāgùa) of the I Ching (also known as the Yi Jing or Zhou Yi) revealed to him supernaturally while reading the He Map (or the Yellow River Map). Fu Hsi is said to have discovered the arrangement in markings on the back of a mythical dragon-horse (sometimes said to be a turtle) that emerged from the river Luo. This arrangement precedes the compilation of the I Ching during the Zhou dynasty. As the discoverer of the Eight Trigrams, which form the basis for the philosophy in the Book of Changes (I Ching), Fuxi has been revered by Chinese scholars as the originator of the I Ching.
Fu Xi is also credited with the invention of the Guqin (a seven-stringed musical instrument), together with Shennong and Huang Di.
Fu Xi is featured in the “Conversation on Information Technology over 5000 Years” sculptural panels at the Norwalk Community College Center for Information Technology, near New Haven, Connecticut. They were sculpted by the facility’s architect, Barry Svigals.
Tomb of Fuxi
The tomb of Fuxi has been worshipped for thousands of years in Huaiyang county, in central China’s Henan province. The tomb existed there as early as the Spring and Autumn Period, approximately 3,000 years ago. Buildings and plants have been arranged in a giant compound to reflect the Eight Trigrams. Visitors to Fuxi’s tomb never miss the hole. It is an ancient tradition for women worshipers to rub their fingers in a hole in the cornerstone of the Xianren Hall, in hopes of being blessed with a happy marriage and healthy children. According to ancient legends, the tomb is on the site where Fuxi gathered young men and women to decide on their marriage. In 1996, the State Council included the sacred site in its folk culture legacy protection program.