Is the Emperor a God?

Lina and Cindy sum up the last few days and compare Mao and the Yellow Emperor:


“Hi! My name is Lina. I’m a citizen of the Republic of Singapore, where I’ve lived for about 9 years. I moved to China around 3rd grade and have been living here ever since. I’ve participated in NHD since my freshman year of high school and I plan to continue participating this year (senior year).

We visited the Mausoleum of the Yellow Emperor today. The Yellow Emperor is thought to have ruled about 5000 years ago, and is viewed as one of the greatest emperors in Chinese history. Legend has it that he taught important silk weaving and crop harvesting techniques to the Chinese people, elevating them from poverty to prosperity. People today still aren’t sure if he actually existed, and his tomb remains devoid of his remains, but he continues to be extremely revered as a historical and cultural figure. In fact, Chinese Communist Party officials still make annual visits to his tomb during the Qing Ming (Tomb Sweeping) Festival to pay their respects to the person they view as the founding father of Chinese civilization.

It was raining today, and the mausoleum is open-air, so we were exposed to abuse by the elements. Still, the dismal weather did not dampen our desire to learn about the Yellow Emperor’s relevance to Chinese history and culture. We studied many stone tablets around the mausoleum, which were erected during various points of time by Chinese leaders such as Jiang Jie Shi (Chiang Kai Shek), Sun Zhong Shan (Sun Yat Sen), Chairman Mao, and even the emperors. There was even an old cypress tree planted by a Han dynasty emperor who visited the Mausoleum thousands of years ago.

From this, we can see that Chinese leaders across all eras revered the Yellow Emperor, no matter their political background. Even current Communist Party officials, who frown upon religion, treat the Yellow Emperor with an almost spiritual kind of respect, as he was the founding father of Chinese civilization.

The concept of civilization has always been central to Chinese culture, as we learned from the TED Talk video we watched on the bus ride to the cave hotel. According to TED speaker Martin Jacques, China does not function as a typical nation-state, but as a civilization-state, due to its unique history and its strong focus on unity throughout that history. Because of this focus, Chinese leaders from a wide range of political backgrounds can comfortably pay their respects to the Yellow Emperor, the alleged creator of Chinese civilization. I highly recommend watching this TED Talk to learn more about the nature of China today, which is different from what most Westerners think it is. As Martin Jacques put it, the West has been so dominant in the world for the last 200 years that it has not needed to learn about other cultures to survive and prosper. The other places, however, have needed to learn about the West, and as a result, these places, including China, now know more about the West than the West knows about them. Since China is a rising power, it is important to get out of the inaccurate mindset of viewing China through Western lenses and start viewing China as what it actually is.”  — Lina


“Hi, my name is Cindy (Korean citizen). I am a sophomore in Concordia International School Shanghai. Last year, as a senior division group dramatic performance participant, I took part in Shanghai History Day. Eventually, our group won the second place in the competition, so I could be involved in NHD held in Washington D.C.  I look forward to the next competition in May, and I really hope that I could join NHD once again.

During the first couple of days of our trip, we visited Zhang Jia Jie, a National Forest Park in Hunan. The mountains are made of thin layers of sands and rocks, which make Zhang Jia Jie a marvelous and a mysterious mountain. Afterward, we stayed in Changsha to visit the Hunan First Normal School where Mao Ze Dong studied during his youth. I met a good, intelligent friend named Conch. I interviewed her and other local students about what they think of Mao’s Revolution and their thoughts about the politics of Modern China.  (Editor’s note:  many Chinese take an “English name” which makes it easier for foreigners.  Some take common names such as Howard, William, Ann; others are more creative:  Conch, Metal, Fisher.)

We visited Mao Ze Dong’s old house where he was born and grew up. Nearby, there is a memorial of Mao called the Bronze Statue Park, where a huge statue of Mao is standing facing the North. There were many people who came to the Park to see the statue and worship Mao. I saw people bowing twice to the statue with sincere attitude, which shows that they honor and respect Mao.

After visiting several historical sites related to Mao Ze Dong in Hunan, we continued our trip in Yan’ an. We flew from Hunan to Xi’ an, and on our way to Yan’ an, we visited the Tomb of Yellow Emperor. Yellow Emperor is considered the founding father of China, with its history beginning approximately 5000 years ago. In China, it is believed that Yellow Emperor taught people the every basics of living, from using fire to reading and writing. Although there isn’t any historical evidence of the Yellow Emperor except mythical writings and books about him, many people believe in his existence and that he went back to the heaven after teaching the necessities of life. Most Chinese people who visit the mausoleum consider the Yellow Emperor a religious figure. There were also some people burning incense to send signals to the Emperor, making wishes at the same time. It was very interesting to see people worship figures such as Mao and the Yellow Emperor, because the Communist Party of China rejects religion in China. Today’s visit to the mausoleum of Yellow Emperor was very special since it was not specifically focused on Mao but on the fundamental idea of the Chinese culture in relation to Modern China.” — Cindy



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3 responses to “Is the Emperor a God?

  1. Hi Cathy! It’s so cool to read these posts because I’m reminded how history brings us all together . . . especially NHD! The competition, especially Nationals, is unlike any other – the camaraderie is so unique and the relationships formed are so special!

  2. Cindy & Lina draw interesting connections from the ancient (mythical?) Yellow Emperor to Mao’s leadership in the 20th century. Studying Chinese history you tend to see the shift from one dynasty or leadership form to another being the point at which the past is looked back on and analyzed critically. Examples include the Qin dynasty criticism of what had come before it, and the subsequent Han renunciation of the Qin policies. In the west we tend to have a shorter cycle of critical analysis of the past. I agree with Lina about Martin Jacques’ TED Talk as an aid to help understand China today. I find his comments intriguing, thought-provoking, challenging, & enlightening. Find it on iTunes or at

  3. Eileen Bach

    Hmmm… I know the term “nation-state” but “civilization-state” is a new concept for me. So many rich spin-offs come from a trip such as this one!

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