Shun the Great

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  • Chinese/Japanese: 舜 (Shùn / Shun)

Shun the Great was one of the legendary Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors of China.

In accordance with a practice of "succession by invitation," he was chosen by Emperor Yao to succeed him, instead of Yao's son Danzhu. Shun, in turn, selected Yu the Great rather than his own son Yi to succeed him, after Yu played a significant role in controlling a great flood. Succeeding Shun as ruler, Yu then established the Xia Dynasty, the first of the legendary dynasties of China.

Shun is one of the most oft-cited examples of a legendary Confucian sage-king, and is said to have exemplified as well the Taoist notion of wu wei (non-action). According to these references, his virtue was so great that he exerted a moral force purely through his virtue and accord with Heaven (and with the Tao). Rather than ruling through action, he merely faced south, metaphorically facing the entire realm & all his subjects, and thus, simply through his great virtue, effected an orderly and flourishing state.

Preceded by
Emperor Yao
Legendary ruler of China
c. 2200 BCE?
Succeeded by
Yu the Great of Xia


  • K.C. Chang, Art, Myth, and Ritual, Harvard University Press (1983), 120.
  • Albert Craig, The Heritage of Chinese Civilization, Third Edition, Prentice Hall (2011), 21.