Shennong is said to have helped people transition from a diet of meat, clams, and wild fruits, to one based on grains and vegetables, and for developing herbal medicine.
He stayed on the throne for 140 years and was replaced by Emperor Huangdi, another ancestor of the Chinese race. Shennong was also called emperor Yan (Yandi). Shennong is viewed as their ancestor also by the Vietnamese.
Shennong’s Contributions to Human Civilization
Beside these eight major items, in various legends other aspects of civilization are attributed to Shennong. A legend says that it was Shennong who discovered that drinking water could be made healthier by boiling. Or take, for instance, the invention of tea drinking. In one popular Chinese legend, Shennong was drinking a bowl of boiling water some time around 2737 BC. The wind blew and a few leaves from a nearby tree into his water and the water began to change its color. The ever inquisitive and curious monarch took a sip of the brew and was pleasantly surprised by its flavor and its restorative properties. A variant of the legend tells that the emperor tested the medical properties of various herbs on himself, some of them poisonous, and found tea to work as an antidote to poison.
The best known of the legends surrounding the figure of Shennong is the following. At Shennong's time, grains and weeds grew together, as did useful herbs and wild plants. People could not distinguish edible plants nor differentiate poisonous plants from medicinal herbs. The common people relied on hunting as the main means to obtain food, but as time went by, birds and animals became scarce. Those who could not hunt anything went hungry. If people developed diseases, there were no medicines available to treat them. People had no choice but to let the conditions worsen until they ultimately died.