A 19th century ivory statuette of Shennong. As here, he is usually portrayed wearing a robe decorated with leaves from medicinal plants.
Shennong (the Divine Farmer) was one of the mythological bearers of culture at the beginning of civilization. Han historians and mythmakers desscribe his most fundemantal task as having led humanity out of a state of hunting and savagery, away from eating raw flesh, drinking blood, and wearing skins, toward an argrarian utopia. One second century BCE source (The King of Huanan) reads:
"In ancient times people ate grasses and drank from rivers; they picked fruit from trees and ate molluscs and beetles. At that time there was much suffereing from illness and poisoning. So the Divine Farmer taught the people for the first time how to sow and cultivate the five grains."
From China: The Land of the Heavenly Dragon edited by Professor Edward L. Shaughnessy