Stories from Ancient China: Yi Yin, Great Prime Minister of the Shang Dynasty

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Yi Yin was the first prime minister of the Shang Dynasty, serving for about 50 years. He was known for his kindness, good knowledge of ruling, and great cooking skill.

There was a big flood when Yi Yin was born. He was rescued and adopted by the chef of the king of the Xin Kingdom. While learning cooking from his father, Yi Yin learned many other things. He was very hard-working and became a very talented young man. He soon became the tutor for the princess of the Xin Kingdom.

Yi Yin, great prime minister of Shang Dynasty. (Illustrated by Yeuan Fang/The Epoch Times)

When the princess of the Xin Kingdom married Tang, the king of the Shang Kingdom, Yi Yin was sent to follow the princess to the Shang Kingdom.

Tang soon discovered Yi Yin’s talents and kindness, and asked him to assist Tang in ruling the kingdom. With help of Yi Yin, Tang founded the Shang Dynasty and Yi Yin became its first prime minister.

Shang Tang consulted Yi Yin’s opinions on many important national affairs. Sometimes Yi Yin gave suggestions derived from his cooking techniques.

He advised Shang Tang: “Ruling a dynasty is just like cooking. It won’t be good if you put too much salt or too little salt. The seasoning you add should be modest. Ruling a dynasty, you cannot be too fast nor too slow. Only by grasping the sequence of order for everything can you manage all things in order. In this way you will be a good king, ruling well and warmly welcomed by your people.” Shang Tang was very impressed by Yi Yin’s advice.

Yi Yin was also the inventor of the decoction of traditional Chinese medicine, which was to add a variety of Chinese herbs to boiling water. The decoction was very flexible and could take many kinds of Chinese herbs.

He emphasized the allocation of herbs and the sequence of boiling. Which herb was the first one to be added to water? Should the fire be big or small? How much time is needed to boil the medicine?

His method influenced the cooking techniques of Chinese food. It was a great contribution to the combined combination of cooking and medical techniques.

Yi Yin died at the age of a hundred years old and was buried beside the tomb of the Emperor Tang of the Shang Dynasty to honor his great contribution to the Shang Dynasty.

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