Chinese Emperor Shun in 2200 BC

Emperor Shun of China looking to the sky.

Emperor Shun of China looking to the sky.

Let’s take a look at another legend and aviation… let’s go to China.

Way back in 2200 BC (?!) the story goes that the legendary leader of ancient China, Shun  (or Di Shun) did some flying by flying out of a burning barn, and at a later date flying again over his lands and peoples.

But here’s the kicker… he did so using two large reed hats.

Let’s examine the story:

Shun (舜) was sometimes known as Di Shun (帝舜) and even as Chonghua was a 23rd-22nd BC legendary leader of ancient China, among the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors.

His mother died while he was very young, and he was brought up by his blind father and his new stepmother, and soon Shun had a new stepbrother and stepsister.

Now, the stepmother and stepbrother were reportedly right royal bastards to Shun, giving him all the hard work, poorest food and clothing and blaming him every time something went wrong. Dad? Meow-Crack!

Once he was old enough to leave as an adult… which in ancient China might have been when he was 12 or 13, his stepmother kicked him out of the house.

So… poor and out on his own, Shun was left to his two main skills – compassion and wisdom, and everywhere he went, people seemed to like him, as he showed his skill with pottery, and wisdom to resolve disputes between people, telling them how to share and save and be happy, and soon turned the whole village into a prosperous place.

Growing old, the Emperor of Japan, Yao, was worried because he had nine lazy ass sons who preferred wine and song (and hopefully sex) to any sort of administrative work, and so he sought out a possible successor to his rule.

Having heard about the exploits of young Shun, Yao decided to test him by giving him a small area to govern, two of his daughters Ehuang (Fairy Radiance) and Nüying (Maiden Bloom) to marry (Really?!!), and a dowry consisting of a new house and some money.

What Yao learned, was that Shun did not abuse his position, and lived humbly, tilling his own fields – wearing those neat Chinese conical reed hats – and convinced his two princess brides to go and work with the regular townspeople.
Everybody loves Shun, right?


A less conical, but still round hat on a drawing of Shun. But see below for more on the hats…

Well, enter the dragon mother.

Shun’s stepmother and stepbrother Xiang had noted his success and were sorely jealous and thought it a good idea to kill him thereby stopping these feelings.

So one day when Shun was working in a barn, Xiang set the barn on fire and convinced Shun to climb onto the roof to put out the blaze.

Trustingly, Shun did so and Xiang removed the ladder trapping him up on the roof with no means of escape.

But, using his conical reed hat and some cloth, he managed to drift down safely from the roof in what, if this were a real story, be the first ever successful parachute attempt.

As it is, the hot air from the flames probably helped keep him aloft a bit longer or provided him with less of an urgent landing.

If this was to work, of course, perhaps the cloth acted as the pulleys, while the hat acted as the parachute grabbing the air. Perhaps.

But perhaps, in reality, he would have still fallen quite hard, and only survived because he was lucky… or good… whichever is better.

Another time, the two villains plotted to get Shun drunk and then toss him into a dry well… but his stepsister heard of this, and not approving of their behavior, told Shun of the plan.

Shun pretended to get drunk, and when they threw him down the well, he climbed through a tunnel he had dug out earlier, to safety.

Apparently there were more such evil plans, but Shun survived them all and still never hated his stepbrother or stepmother. What a guy.

Eventually, the villains saw the error of their ways. In time, Xiang was given a position within the government, and Shun had managed to convince Emperor Yao’s nice shiftless sons to work hard.

For his successes, the Emperor named Shun his heir to the throne, the capital of which is presently in the Shaanxi province.

Shun succeeded Yan when he was 53 years old and ruled until his death at around 100. Shun is said not to have had enough faith in his own shiftless son, Shangjun, and picked his own choice, Yu… the tamer of floods. Damn.

There is another tale, whereby Shun supposedly used a pair of conical reed hats to fly over his kingdom to see his lands and subjects… well… that just sounds made up 🙂

It sounds like the hot air of another storyteller. He might have been up high in his palace and jumped off the roof using two hats… and in those few seconds it took for him to  crash to the Earth, a scribe/writer or even a blogger could have romanticized the attempt into Shun having soared high into the sky.

As for Shun… two more paragraphs, okay? On a tour of the country, he died of old age near the Xiang River. Coincidence? Same name as his stepbrother. His distraught wives rushed there and cried by the river for days… tears of blood…their tears supposedly splashed onto some reeds near the river, and that’s why there are – to this day – red spotted bamboo in that area of China. The two princess babes eventually became so distraught over Shun’s death the they committed suicide by drowning themselves in that same river.

Spotted Bamboo

Spotted bamboo

And what of the hats that helped Shun in his aerial ‘successes’?

Well, these round and conical woven reed hats are still worn throughout many parts of Asia: China, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, for example, and some are indeed quite wide… like three-feet (1-meter) across to keep the sun off them as the labor in the fields or other low-level tasks.

Looking less plausible now...

Looking less plausible now…

In mainland China and Taiwan, these conical hats are dǒulì (斗笠), and fly off the shelf when tourists are around.

About mreman47

Andrew was born in London, UK, raised in Toronto, Canada, and cavorted in Ohtawara, Japan for three years. He is married, has a son and a cat. He has over 35,000 comic books and a plethora of pioneer aviation-related tobacco and sports cards and likes to build LEGO dioramas. He has written and been an editor for various industrial magazines, has scripted comic books, ghost-written blogs for business sectors galore, and hates writing in the 3rd person. He also hates having to write this crap that no one will ever read. He works on his Pioneers Of Aviation - a cool blog on early fliers - even though it takes him so much time to do. He also wants to do more writing - for money, though. Help him out so he can stop talking in the 3rd person.
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