Shennong (神农), also known as the Emperor of the Five Grains, was a ruler of China and cultural hero who lived some 5,000 years ago and who taught the ancient Chinese the practices of agriculture. Appropriately, his name means "the Divine Farmer". Considered to be the father of Chinese agriculture, Shennong taught his people how to cultivate grain as food, so as to avoid killing animals.
Shennong can also refer to what is referred to as his people, above. The Chinese for this social group is Shennong Shi (神农氏). The term Shi refers to what may be translated as clan, tribe, family, or house. It can also mean maiden name. In any case, Shennong as as a protohistorical ethnic group should not be confused with Shennong the eponymous, traditional "ancestor" of this social group. However, since Shi can also mean an honorific term for a male, such as mister, the ambiguity is perpetuated: Shennong Shi, or plain Shennong, is also used to refer to the individual, and/or referred to the title of an individual.
In Chinese mythology, Shennong, besides having taught humans the plow and basic agriculture, and been a god of the burning wind, was sometimes said to be an progenitor or minister of Chi You; and. like him, ox-headed, sharp-horned, bronze-foreheaded, and iron-skulled. One difference between mythology and science is exemplified in Chinese mythology: Shennong and Huangdi were supposedly friends and fellow scholars, despite the 500 year or seventeen or eight generations between the first Shennong and Huangdi (the Yellow Emperor), and that together they shared the alchemical secrets of medicine, immortality, and making gold.
According to Sima Zhen's commentary to the Shiji, he is a kinsman of the Yellow Emperor and is said to be a patriarch of the Chinese. The Han Chinese regarded them both as their joint ancestors.
Shennong is said to have tasted hundreds of herbs to test their medical value. The most well-known work attributed to Shennong is The Divine Farmer's Herb-Root Classic (神农本草经)–first compiled some time during the end of the Western Han Dynasty, several thousand years after Shennong existed–which lists the various medical herbs such as lingzhi which were discovered by Shennong and given grade and rarity ratings. This work is considered to be the earliest Chinese pharmacopoeia. It includes 365 medicines derived from minerals, plants, and animals. Shennong is credited with identifying hundreds of medical (and poisonous) herbs by personally testing their properties, which was crucial to the development of Traditional Chinese medicine. Legend has it that Shennong had a transparent body and thus could see the effects of different plants and herbs on himself. Tea, which acts as an antidote against the poisonous effects of some seventy herbs, is also said to be his discovery. This discovery is in 2737 B.C, according to which Shennong first tasted tea from tea leaves on burning tea twigs, which were carried up from the fire by the hot air, and landed in his cauldron of boiling water. Shennong is venerated as the Father of Chinese medicine. He is also believed to have introduced the technique of acupuncture.
Shennong is said to have played a part in the creation of the Guqin, together with Fuxi and the Yellow Emperor. Scholarly works mention that the paternal family of famous Song Dynasty General Yue Fei traced their origins back to Shennong.