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炎帝神農傳說 Legend of Shennong
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Inscribed list: National List, Second Batch
Inventory no.: I-49
Nominating unit(s): Hubei Province, Suizhou City, Shennongjialin Forestry Reserve
神農氏亦有很多傳説，其他關於神農氏的傳説講述了他的女兒 — 女娃。在《山海經》中，它記載了女娃在東海游泳時不幸遇溺的故事。她死後，靈魂化為一隻名為精衛的鳥兒，並用碎石、嫩枝和樹枝填滿東海。
The legend of the Flame Emperor (Yandi) who is known as Shennong, are a series of myths about this Chinese deity, who is venerated as a mythical sage ruler of prehistoric China.
His name Shennong means “Divine Farmer” or “Agriculture God.” Popular folklore depict him as a legendary figure with a pair of bull’s horns upon his head, a stomach as transparent as a crystal, which revealed all his internal organs of his body. He is attributed as the inventor of various important tools and ideas related to agriculture, such as the hoe, irrigation, and the Chinese calendar whose 24 solar terms revolves around agricultural activity. Equally as significant, he is also considered to have taught the Chinese about Chinese medicinal plants. It is said he travelled around the forest and the mountains, picking herbs and plants to test their properties, ingesting it himself. His transparent stomach allowed him to see the effects of the plant, and after that, he would record their beneficial or poisonous properties. As recorded in Huainanzi (), there was a time when Shennong ingested up to 70 poisonous plants in a day.
According to Records of the Grand Historian and Sou Shen Ji, Shennong also possessed a crimson whip for beating the plants, which somehow enabled him to identify toxic ones and to understand their properties. The contents in the first Chinese pharmacopoeia, Shennong Ben Cao Jing, is attributed to Shennong’s research on herbs. However, the earliest record of this work dates to the Western Han dynasty, therefore it was compiled long after Shennong’s death.
One time, when he ingested a small leaf, he noticed that it seemed to move around in his stomach and intestines, seemingly like on an inspection, so he named the plant “cha” (查), which means “to patrol” in Chinese. The plant then became known as “cha” (茶), a homophone. In another version of the story, a tea bush caught fire, and the wind carried some of the burning leaves through the air and into Shenong’s cauldron of boiling water. Thus Shennong is credited for discovery tea, and tea was viewed by him as an effective antidote to many poisons.
Unfortunately, legend has it that Shennong gave up his life in the name of research, as he died after ingesting a type of plant known as Gelsemium elegans, known in Chinese literally as “the intestine-breaking herb.”
There are other legends about this mythic figure. Another well-known legend is about his daughter, whose name was Nuwa (). In the literature Shan Hai Jing, it recounts a story, in which Nuwa tragically drowned at the East Sea while swimming. Her spirit was later transformed into a bird named Jing Wei (), and it used the stones, twigs and branches from the west to fill the East Sea up.
The Shennongjialin Reserve in Hubei is alleged to be the place where Shennong found and tasted over a thousand herbs for his medicinal studies, as the area is rich in plant species, in the forest and on the cliffs. Shennongjia, meaning Shennong’s ladder, earned its name when Shennong supposedly constructed a ladder to climb up the steep slopes. Today, it is still the home of a vibrant ecosystem with a wide variety of animal species such as monkeys, snakes, and deer, while people still hike up the cliffs to pick rare and precious herbs. Several monuments and heritage sites related to Shennong have been constructed in Shennongjialin.