Yu the Great was a famous leader of China known for his flood control technique and establishing the Xia Dynasty. He was one of the few leaders in China honored with the title “the Great” putting him in line with Han Wu the Great and Kangxi the Great. He was also a member of the Three Sage Kings and Five Virtuous Emperors. He is located on the Biblical Timeline with world history around 2000 BC
There was little-recorded history during the era when Yu ruled in China. Most of the facts collected and preserved about the personal life and career of Yu came from the collection of oral tradition and stories shared from generation to generation. Until the recent excavations of palaces, mausoleum, and bronze that showed evidence about the existence of the Xia Dynasty we had only those oral traditions.
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He was believed to be a descendant of the Yellow Emperor and born in the Year of the Tiger at Mount Wen, presently located in Beichuan County, Sichuan Province. His parents were a woman who was a descendant of the Youxin clan and a man named Gun. He was married to a woman who dwelt in Mount Tu, and they became the parents of a son they named Qi.
Emperor Shun was so impressed with the result of Yu’s flood control technique and his attitude towards work that he chose Yu to be the successor to the throne after him. Yu was hesitant to accept the crown at first but with the encouragement of the local leaders and people he finally decided to accept the position. He reigned as China’s emperor at age 53.
Yu on Flood Control
Yu was usually identified by how he was able to control the floods along the lakes and rivers in China. He did it through channeling and dredging. Learning from the mistakes of his father Gun who was executed by Emperor Shun because of his unsuccessful methods, he abandoned the techniques of using large blockades and dams.
With the help and support of the locals, he dug canals on the usually flooded areas and dredged the rivers with outlets leading to the sea. For 13 years, he dedicated his time and strength to this project without going home even when his wife gave birth to their son Qi. For this, he was admired and became the epitome determination and perseverance among the future Chinese leaders. (One of the world’s first workaholics.)
To further avoid casualties among the inhabitants; he divided the Han Chinese territory into nine provinces, and the people into nine groups, then designated each group to live in one of the nine provinces.
Yu: the founder of Xia Dynasty
Emperor Yu started China’s dynastic period by establishing the Xia Dynasty. He built the heartland of his kingdom at Yangcheng, presently located at Dengfeng, Henan Province. Xia Dynasty was said to have lasted for more than 400 years. It only ended with the defeat of its last emperor, the cruel tyrant Jie to Shang Tang, who then started the Shang Dynasty.
One account stated that to strengthen his power over the title, Yu killed Fangfeng, a tribal leader from the north. After overseeing the success of his flood control technique and winning the cooperation of the local groups, he abdicated the throne and passed it to his son, Qi. Emperor Qi was the one who founded the slave-owning state, Xia.
Before Qi, all the rulers of China were chosen by abdication system, a system based on one’s ability and nobility to become a leader. It was Qi who started the hereditary succession and marked the clan control on the throne.
Yu the Great reigned for about 45 years and were said to have died because of an illness while hunting at Kuaiji Mountain. He was also buried on that site.
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