Surnamed Yao, Shun was the designated throne successor to Emperor Yao, who set great store by Shun's moral integrity and unusual talent. Shun was also known for his filial piety.
Legend has it that Shun was born in a humble family. Although the family was descended from Emperor Zhuanxu, they were commoners for five generations, living at the lowest social stratum. Shun was frequently mistreated by the family, but he remained filial to his parents. When choosing a successor, Emperor Yao married his two daughters off to Shun in an attempt to test Shun's morals and capabilities. Shun not only made his two wives live in harmony with the whole family, but also demonstrated exceptional talent and moral integrity in every aspect of life.
After ascending the throne, Shun made revisions to calendar systems and held various sacrificial rituals. Meanwhile, he attached great importance to connections with local authorities by calling in vassals and local officials on a regular basis as a way of strengthening the control over those areas.
According to legend, one of Shun's state-ruling policies was "exhibiting (to the people) the statutory punishments and enacting banishment as a mitigation of the five (severe) penalties". The five penalties were depicted on vessels as a warning and cruel penalties were replaced with banishment as a sign of leniency.
For officials, Shun stipulated that their political achievements should be assessed every three years and their promotion or demotion would be determined according to the results of three times' assessment.
In his old age, Shun abdicated the throne in favor of Yu, who had both ability and integrity. It is said that Shun was buried in Jiuyi Mountain in the south of the Yangtze River after his death. The tomb was known as "Ling Mausoleum".