An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Chi You 蚩尤

Jan 23, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald

Chi You 蚩尤 was in Chinese mythology an enemy of the Yellow Emperor, the inventor of war and creator of numerous weapons made of the ores of Mt. Lushan 盧山.

According to the history Lushi 路史, Chi You was a minister or descendant of the Red Emperor (Yan Di 炎帝), but he deposed his superior and usurped the throne. He seems to have been the ancestor deity of the Nine Li Tribes (Jiuli 九黎, or Zhongli 重黎, or Jiu Yi 九夷 the Nine Yi) living in the region of modern Hebei and Henan.His family name was Jiang 姜.

The book Shuyiji 述異記 says that he had a human body, but birds feet, four eyes and six feet, and a horn upon his head. His eighty-eight brothers all had the shape of animals, but with bronze heads and iron-clad fronts, and feeding themselves of stone and sand, as a book quoted in the encyclopaedia Taiping yulan 太平御覽 says. The lost book book Guicang 歸藏, quoted in the encyclopaedia Chuxueji 初學記, said that Chi You had eight arms and eight feet and was killed by the Yellow Emperor at Qingqiu 青丘.

Chi You once occupied territory of the tribe of Gong Gong 共工 who were led by the Red Emperor. Gong Gong thereupon threatened to attack Chi You by force of water, but Chi You won the ensuing battle. He thereupon attacked the Yellow Emperor and engagded him in battle at Zhuolu 涿鹿. With his magical powers, Chi You created fog to dense that the army of the Yellow Emperor lost its way. Only when Feng Hou 風后, Lord of the Winds, created the compass, his troops found back to the battlefield. According to the book Zhilin 志林 (quoted in the Taiping yulan) and the Shanhaijing 山海經, the Yellow Emperor ordered the dragon Ying Long 應龙 to engage in a battle with Chi You at Jizhou 冀州. While the Ying Long planned to disperse the troops of Chi You with the help of water, his enemy stirred up a thunderstorm commanded by Feng Bo 風伯, the Earl of the Winds, and Yu Shi 雨師, the Marshall of the Rains.

The Heavenly maiden Ba 魃, Goddess of Draught (hanshen 旱神), helped the Great Emperor to end the storm and to arrest Chi You. He was executed on Mt. Lishan 黎山, and his weapons thrown into the wilderness, where they transformed into forest. His limbs were scattered all over the empire, so that several tombs of Chi You were to be found in China.

There was, according to the book Mengqi bitan 夢溪筆談, a tomb of Chi You in the district of Shouzhang 萬張, from which red vapour emanated that even coloured the salt of the salk lake of Xiezhou 解州. He seems to have been venerated in the region of modern Shanxi still during the Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE). This proves that Chi You was not only seen as a negative person in ancient times, but also as a hero to which sacrifices were brought.

Huan Dou 驩兜, a tribesleader of the Three Miao Tribes (Sanmiao 三苗), is said to have been a descendant of Chi You.

The war between the kinsmen of the Yellow Emperor and that of the Red Emperor lasted for several generations, and it is told that also Kua Fu 夸父, Xing Tian 刑天 and Gong Gong fought against Chi You.

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Xiong Tieji 熊鐵基, Yang Youli 楊有禮, ed. (1994). Zhongguo diwang zaixiang cidian 中國帝王宰相辭典 (Wuhan: Hubei jiaoyu chubanshe), 6.
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