Jiang Yuan (Chinese: 姜嫄) is an important figure in Chinese mythology and history. She is recorded as having lived during the ancient times of Chinese culture and history. Jiang Yuan was the mother of Houji, who is a culture hero and revered as the God of Millet.
Women of her era did not have personal names recorded (and may not even have possessed them); instead, Jiang is her clan name. The Jiang clan are possibly related to the Qiang people, a group believed to have been Tibeto-Burman in origin. However, the American scholar Christopher I. Beckwith has recently proposed that they were of Indo-European origins instead. Based on this assumption Beckwith suggests that Jiang Yuan belonged to a clan of Indo-European origin. Yuan does not seem to be a lineage name: instead, it is a word meaning "origin" or "source", in reference to her role as the mother of the royal Ji family of the Zhou dynasty.
Jiang Yuan was the mother of Qi (also known as Houji), credited in Chinese mythology with founding the Ji clan who went on to establish the Zhou dynasty. She was a consort of Emperor Ku, but some versions – such as that found in the Zhou hymn "Birth of Our People" – credit Qi with a miraculous birth after Jiang Yuan stepped into a footprint or toeprint left by the supreme deity Shangdi. The hymn records her as attempting to abandon him three times (his name Qi means "the Abandoned One").
In Sima Qian's rationalistic account in the Records of the Grand Historian, she is simply the first consort of Emperor Ku and Qi is one of his children. However, in his account, he credits the success of Zhou as being due primarily to the two women Jiang Yuan and Tai Ren. It is possible he meant this to credit the virtue and success of their children; but it is also possible that they represented important marriage alliances. The Jiang were closely involved with the Ji before and after their rise to empire and Tai Ren likewise represented an important connection to the Shang dynasty.
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