The Jade Emperor (Chinese: 玉皇; pinyin: Yù Huáng or 玉帝, Yù Dì) in Chinese culture, traditional religions and myth is one of the representations of the first god. In Daoist theology he is the assistant of Yuanshi Tianzun, who is one of the Three Pure Ones, the three primordial emanations of the Tao. He is also the 'Cao Đài' ("Highest Power") of Caodaism known as Ngọc Hoàng Thượng đế. In Buddhist cosmology he is identified with Śakra. In Korean mythology he is known as Haneullim.
The Jade Emperor is known by many names, including Heavenly Grandfather, which originally meant "Heavenly Duke", which is used by commoners; the Jade Lord; the Highest Emperor; Great Emperor of Jade.
The Jade Emperor’s name consists of the Chinese characters yù (玉), meaning “jade,” and dì (皇), meaning “emperor.” However, the Jade Emperor has many other names and titles as well. His full title, written as yǜ huáng shàng dì ( 玉皇上帝), means the “Pure August Emperor on High,” though this is seldom used. The Jade Emperor is more commonly referred to as tiān gōng (天公), or “heavenly grandfather.”
In art and cinema, the Jade Emperor is usually depicted as a middle-aged man sporting a thin mustache and a long, sagely goatee. He typically appears wearing long, flowing robes and sitting on a royal throne, though he is also sometimes depicted wearing full battle armor and wielding a large sword.
In some versions of his origin story, the Jade Emperor came into existence when the universe was created by Pangu (盤古). In most popular myths, he is commonly described as having been a mortal man prior to becoming a god.
It was said that the Jade Emperor was originally the crown prince of the kingdom of Pure Felicity and Majestic Heavenly Lights and Ornaments. At birth, he emitted a wondrous light that filled the entire kingdom. When he was young, he was kind, intelligent and wise. He devoted his entire childhood to helping the needy (the poor and suffering, the deserted and single, the hungry and disabled). Furthermore, he showed respect and benevolence to both men and creatures. After his father died, he ascended the throne. He made sure that everyone in his kingdom found peace and contentment. After that, he told his ministers that he wished to cultivate Tao on the Bright and Fragrant Cliff.
After 1,750 eons, each eon lasting for 129,600 years (3602 years), he attained Golden Immortality. After another one hundred million years of cultivation, he finally became the Jade Emperor (using the given figures, this period before his becoming the Jade Emperor lasted for a total of about 326,800,000 years.)
Seamstress and the Cowherd
The story of the seamstress and the cowherd is one of the most famous Chinese folktales ever told and remains very popular to this day. Once upon a time, the Jade Emperor’s daughter, a talented weaver, and a humble cowherd fell in love. Enraged that his daughter would leave heaven to marry a human, the Jade Emperor banished the couple to live on opposite sides of the milky way. After seeing how unhappy his daughter was, however, he allowed them to see each other once a year. “Chinese Valentine’s Day” is celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar—the day when the two lovers are said to reunite each year.
Journey to the West
One of the most popular myths in the Chinese canon, Journey to the West is the story of a humble Buddhist monk named Tang Sanzang who journeys from Southern China to India in order to bring back holy texts and help enlighten his countrymen.
The Jade Emperor’s role in the story revolves around the Monkey King, Sun Wukong (孫悟空). Wukong was once a member of the Jade Emperor’s court but was thrown out of heaven and pinned underneath a mountain for 500 years for defying the Emperor’s authority. Whereas Wukong is the epitome of jealousy, impatience, and bitterness, the Jade Emperor is a model example of kindness, compassion, and wisdom. After repenting and serving as Sanzang’s disciple, Wukong achieves Buddhahood and is accepted back into the Jade Emperor’s court.
The Jade Emperor is one of the most important and popular deities in Chinese folk religion. There are hundreds of temples dedicated to the Jade Emperor throughout Asia, and nearly every temple has at least one shrine devoted to him.
The Jade Emperor’s birthday celebration is held on the ninth day of the Lunar calendar, and this day of worship is an integral part of celebrating Chinese New Year. During the New Year, everyone’s deeds are told to the Jade Emperor by the Stove God, Zao Jun (灶神), who lives in the kitchen and bears witness to everything that happens within the house. The Jade Emperor then decides if that family should be rewarded or punished in the coming year based off their behavior in the previous one. People will often give candy to Zao Jun either to sweeten him up or to make his mouth so sticky that he won’t be able to speak.