The Jade Emperor is a significant character in Journey to the West, in which Sun Wukong challenges his rule over the universe for no real reason other than because he wanted recognition. He’s more or less the head of the Chinese pantheon, but this pantheon does not appear to have ever been organized as well as, say, the Greco-Roman. The Emperor originated in folk religion, but came to be officially worshipped by the state around the eleventh century. Chosen to be ruler of the heavens because of his beneficent nature, he spent millions of years cultivating the Tao before taking his throne. Some myths say that his father was Emperor of Heaven before him, while others claim that he was an earthly ruler who was elevated to godhood. One famous story has it that he defeated a monster that was ravaging the heavens because, although they had both cultivated great wisdom and knowledge, the Emperor’s motives were altruistic. It would be nice if battles actually worked that way here on Earth.
His birthday is celebrated on the ninth day of the first month of the Chinese lunar calendar, and the Qixi Festival on the seventh day of the seventh month is said to be the one day of the year when his daughter Zhinü is allowed to reunite with her human lover Niu Lang. Interestingly, there’s a parallel with the selkie legend in this story, in that Niu Lang steals Zhinü’s imperial robe so that she is unable to return to Heaven. The lovers are associated with the stars Vega and Altair, which are separated by the Milky Way.
The Jade Emperor already has a chosen successor, who is known as the Heavenly Master of the Dawn of Jade of the Golden Door, who’s presumably achieved sufficient merit simply by remembering his entire title.
The common idea is that the Jade Emperor’s court mirrors that of a mortal Chinese emperor, being quite bureaucratic and full of officials who were elevated to their positions. Humans can gain positions among the gods through good deeds or mastery of the Way, which is pretty tempting, although I’m not sure all of us would want to live in Heaven that’s so full of paperwork. I wonder if they’ve managed to transfer any of this to celestial computers, and I hope that hasn’t put the minor gods out of business. Then again, maybe imperial layoffs are the reason why Journey to the West was so full of immortals coming down to Earth to stir up trouble. And since I like to bring Oz into just about everything, the court of Tititi-Hoochoo in Tik-Tok of Oz might well have been inspired by that of the Jade Emperor, although the jade one probably doesn’t have the title of Private Citizen.