Yao (堯) was one of the five legendary sage kings who unified ancient China and served as future role models for building a stable and benevolent system of government. Yao is believed to have lived in the 23rd or 22nd century BC, and is said to assumed power at the age of 20 and voluntarily relinquished it to his successor, Shun (舜), to whom he gave his two daughters in marriage, after seventy years on the throne. According to some sources, he went on live for a further thirty years following his abdication.

Yao is famous for his superior virtue and benevolence, which made him a model ruler. He is also credited with inventing the lunar calendar and the rites to bind the diverse cultures of the nascent state more closely together.

An alternative version of his life suggests that Yao was overthrown by Shun and died alone in prison. Shun then went on to suffer a similar fate when his successor Yu (禹) rebelled and sent him into exile.

Appearances in the Analects of Confucius
Book 6, Chapter XXX
Book 8, Chapter XIX
Book 8, Chapter XX

Book 6
Chapter XXX
Zigong said: “What if far-reaching policies were implemented among the people that benefited the masses? Could that be described as goodness?” Confucius said: “Such an action labeled as goodness could almost be described as perfection. Even Yao and Shun would not be able to match it! Good people help others get on their feet before themselves and empower them to achieve their goals before they achieve their own. When good examples can be followed in your immediate vicinity, it can be said that you are on the right track to goodness.”

Book 8
Chapter XIX
Confucius said: “What a great ruler Yao was! Absolutely majestic! Only Heaven is great, and only Yao was able to emulate it. His virtue was so great that the people could find no words to describe it. How stunning were his achievements, and how marvelous the culture was that he created!”

Chapter XX
Shun ruled his empire with only five ministers. King Wu of Zhou said: “I have ten able ministers to keep everything in order.” Confucius said: “Talented people are hard to find: are they not? The times of Yao and Shun were said to be rich in talent, but King Wu was only able to find nine such men because one of his ministers was a woman. Although the Zhou controlled over two-thirds of the empire, it still served the Shang. You can truly say that the virtue of the Zhou was supreme.”

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