Yu Shun was one of the Five Emperors of China in ancient times. His family name was Yao, and his given name was Chonghua. He was from the area of the present day Zhucheng City, Shandong Province. Emperor Shun was very talented and noble. Even at a very young age, he had become well known for his filial piety.
Shun was born into a poor family. Even though he was a descendant of Emperor Zhuan Xu, for five generations, his family had been in the lowest class in that society. Shun’s father, Gu Sou, was blind, and his mother died when he was little. Gu Sou married again and the stepmother gave birth to a boy named Xiang. “Father is stubborn, mother is overbearing, and Xiang is arrogant.” They conspired together many times to try to kill Shun. Yet Shun never failed to pay filial respect to his parents and obeyed them unconditionally. He never ignored his responsibility as an older brother and was kind and caring toward Xiang. Not just for a day or two, but for years and years, Shun treated his family this way always. When his family planned to kill him, Shun ran away just in time, and as soon as the situation got a little bit better, he returned and tried his best to help them. It was said that, “The family couldn’t kill Shun when they wanted to, yet when they needed him he was always around.” In such a bad family, Shun tempered himself and further improved his moral character.
According to legend, Yu Shun had also made tremendous contributions to the development of Chinese pottery. In order to make a living, Shun worked as a potter in Zhufeng Village by the Yellow River. History reports that “Shun made quality pots and earthenware, beautifully done with no flaws.” Shun’s workmanship and technique were remarkable. The pots that he made were skillfully crafted, beautiful, reasonably priced, and durable. When making pots, Shun paid extra attention to the material used, was very specific about the firing temperature, and took his time to knead the clay and prepare it the right way. Thus, many people loved Shun’s pots. Many potters wanted to learn Shun’s techniques, which he was very willing to share. Because Shun was such a great potter, many people traveled afar to buy pots from him, and his products were in high demand. Yet Shun remained meticulous about his products from the beginning to the end. He would not even raise the price and only sought a 10 percent profit.
Shun’s technique of using a potter’s wheel spread all over the area near the Yellow River. However, in an area near Dongyi, the supply of earthenware could not meet demand. The potters started to cut corners on labor and material for the sake of profits. They did not prepare the clay well enough and shortened the time of firing the earthenware in the kiln. As a result, the earthenware became fragile and broke after being used for only a short time. The potters were making huge profits because they saved on labor, time, and material.
After hearing about this, Shun went to a place called Wei to open a pottery business in order to guide the potters and to benefit the people of that area. While he was there, Shun meticulously studied the techniques and skills of making unfinished clay pots and finished earthenware. Shun used advanced firing technology and strove to produce strong and durable pots. He also added beautiful decorations and ornaments to his products and shrunk the openings of the pots. Everybody loved his earthenware, and people poured in to buy Shun’s pots.