An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Hou Ji 后稷, the Lord of Millet

Jan 23, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald

Hou Ji 后稷, the "Lord of Millet", was the ancestor deity of the Zhou dynasty 周 (11th cent.-221 BCE). His actual name was Qi 弃. Mythology says that once his mother Jiang Yuan 姜原 stepped upon the footprints of a giant and gave birth to a miraculous boy. She threw the baby away because she considered this event as a bad omen, yet oxen and horses did not tread on the child, and when she threw it into the water, birds rescued it. Jiang Yuan finally decided to raise the child.

The child loved work on the fields and professed in the business of planting and tilling. The fruits of his field proved to be the best all around. He decided to spread the five sorts of grain among the people and is so considered the inventor of agriculture. Emperor Yao 堯 therefore made him *Director of Grains (houji 后稷), a term which is actually a designation of office and not a personal name.

Yao's successor, Emperor Shun 舜, gave Hou Ji the title of Lord of Tai 有邰氏. Hou Ji was buried in the wilderness of Duguang 都廣.

King Wu 周武王 of the Zhou dynasty decided to raise him to the highest position in the state altars (sheji 社稷) of the Zhou and bestowed him the title of Highest Ancestor (shangdi 上帝). There is still an altar of Hou Ji, the Shejitan 社稷壇, in Wugong 武功, Shaanxi.

The oldest known deity of grain was Zhu 柱, a person venerated by the Xia dynasty 夏 (17th-15th cent. BCE).

Li Jianping 李劍平, ed. (1998). Zhongguo shenhua renwu cidian 中國神話人物辭典 (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe), 247.