Emperor Gaozu of Han

Emperor Gaozu of Han (256 – 1 June 195 BCE), born Liu Bang (Chinese: 劉邦; pinyin: Liú Bāng) with courtesy name Ji (季), was the founder and first emperor of the Han dynasty, reigning from 202 – 195 BCE. His temple name was "Taizu" while his posthumous name was Emperor Gao, or Gaodi; "Gaozu of Han", derived from the Records of the Grand Historian, is the common way of referring to this sovereign even though he was not accorded the temple name "Gaozu", which literally means "High Founder".

Emperor Gaozu of Han
A portrait of Emperor Gaozu
Emperor of the Han dynasty
Reign28 February 202 – 1 June 195 BC
SuccessorEmperor Hui
original EmpressEmpress Lu
King of Han (漢王)
ReignMarch 206 – 28 February 202 BCE
Born256 BC[1] or 247 BC[2]
Feng, Pei, State of Chu[3]
Died1 June 195 BC
(aged 61)
Chang'an, Han
ConsortsEmpress Lü
Empress Gao
IssueLiu Fei
Emperor Hui
Liu Ruyi
Emperor Wen
Liu Hui
Liu You
Liu Chang
Liu Jian
Princess Luyuan
Full name
Family name: Liu (劉)
Given name: Bang (邦)
Courtesy name: Ji (季)
Posthumous name
Emperor Gao (高皇帝)
Temple name
Taizu (太祖)
FatherLiu Tuan
MotherWang Hanshi
Emperor Gaozu of Han
Traditional Chinese漢高祖
Simplified Chinese汉高祖
Literal meaning"High Ancestor of Han"
Liu Bang
(personal name)
Traditional Chinese劉邦
Simplified Chinese刘邦

Liu Bang was one of the few dynasty founders in Chinese history who was born into a peasant family.[4] Prior to coming to power, Liu Bang initially served for the Qin dynasty as a minor law enforcement officer in his home town Pei County, within the conquered state of Chu. With the First Emperor's death and the Qin Empire's subsequent political chaos, Liu Bang renounced his civil service position and became an anti-Qin rebel leader. He won the race against fellow rebel leader Xiang Yu to invade the Qin heartland and forced the surrender of the last Qin ruler in 206 BCE.

After the fall of the Qin, Xiang Yu, as the de facto chief of the rebel forces, divided the former Qin Empire into the Eighteen Kingdoms, and Liu Bang was forced to accept the poor and remote Bashu region (present-day Sichuan, Chongqing, and southern Shaanxi) with the title "King of Han". Within the year, Liu Bang broke out with his army and conquered the Three Qins, starting a civil war known as the Chu–Han Contention as various forces battled for supremacy over China.

In 202 BCE, Liu Bang emerged victorious following the Battle of Gaixia, unified most of China under his control, and established the Han dynasty with himself as the founding emperor. During his reign, Liu Bang reduced taxes and corvée, promoted Confucianism, and suppressed revolts by the lords of non-Liu vassal states, among many other actions. He also initiated the policy of heqin to maintain a de jure peace between the Han Empire and the Xiongnu after losing the Battle of Baideng in 200 BCE. He died in 195 BCE and was succeeded by his son, Liu Ying.

Birth and early lifeEdit

In imperial Han myth, Liu Bang was a descendant of the mythical Emperor Yao, who descended from the Yellow Emperor.[5] It was a common practice among many ancient Chinese noble families to claim descent from the mythical Yellow Emperor, in order to proclaim divine ruling legitimacy.[6]

Liu Bang was born to a family from the settlement of Zhongyang (中陽里), in the district of Feng (丰邑), Pei County (沛縣), state of Chu, during the late years of the Warring States period.[3] His parents' names were not recorded in history; they were simply referred to as "Liu Taigong" (劉太公; lit. "Old Sir Liu") and "Liu Ao" (劉媪;[7] lit. "Old Madam Liu"). According to legend, before Liu Bang's birth, his mother was caught in a rainstorm and took shelter under a bridge. At that moment, lightning struck and the sky darkened. Liu Bang's father went to fetch his wife home and saw a dragon hovering above her. She became pregnant and later gave birth to Liu Bang.[8]

It was subsequently recorded that the young Liu Bang was outspoken, charismatic and of great generosity and forbearance. However, he enjoyed loafing, disliked reading, showed no interest in farming and manual labour and frequently ran into trouble with the law, hence his father often called him a "little rascal" for his lazy lifestyle. Liu Bang persisted in his idling ways and depended on his brother's family for food and lodging. When he grew older, he became a good friend and live-in companion of a former retainer of Lord Xinling named Zhang Er (Chinese: 張耳, ? — 202 BCE), who, at the time, was the magistrate of the nearby Waihuang County.

After Qin conquered Chu, Zhang Er went into hiding, and Liu Bang returned to his own home town in Pei County. Contrary to other claims, he did not take any civil service exam as it did not exist yet at that time. Instead, he was later recommended and appointed as the local sheriff (亭長) at Sishui Pavilion (泗水亭) in Pei County, through the aid and supervision of his close friends Xiao He and Cao Shen, who worked at the county office and often helped cover up his delinquent behaviour. He nevertheless forged close relationships with most of the local county bureaucrats, and earned himself a small reputation in the district. Liu Bang was once sent for statute labour in the capital Xianyang, and encountered the First Emperor going on an inspection tour around the nation. Awed by the majestic sight of the royal convoy, he exclaimed, "Alas, this is how a great man should be! (嗟乎,大丈夫當如此也)"

One day, Lü Wen (呂文), a wealthy and influential gentry from Shanfu County, who had recently moved to Pei County, was putting on a feast to host the local elites. Xiao He, who was in charge of helping Lü Wen collect gifts from the visitors, announced that "those who do not offer more than 1,000 coins worth of gifts shall be seated outside the hall". Liu Bang went to the feast without bringing any money but said, "I offer 10,000 coins." Lü Wen saw Liu Bang and was so impressed with him on first sight, that he immediately stood up and welcomed Liu into the hall to sit beside him, despite Xiao He telling him that Liu Bang was not being serious. Lü Wen chatted with Liu Bang, and said, "I used to predict fortunes for many people but I have never before seen someone so exceptional like you." He then offered his daughter Lü Zhi's hand in marriage to Liu Bang. After they were wed, Lü Zhi bore Liu Bang a son Liu Ying (the future Emperor Hui) and a daughter (the future Princess Yuan of Lu).

Insurrection against the Qin dynastyEdit

Uprisings of Qin Dynasty. Liu Bang's campaign is shown in purple.
Liu Bang, in an illustration by Qing-dynasty artist Shangguan Zhou 上官周 (1665–1749)

Liu Bang had been tasked with escorting a group of convicts to Mount Li where they would be put to penal labor to help build the First Emperor's mausoleum. A few prisoners managed to escape during the journey. Liu Bang began to fear for his life as having convicts escape under one's care was, under the laws of the ruling Qin dynasty, a capital offence. Realizing that to keep his life he'd have to flee, Liu Bang decided to release the remaining prisoners in his care. A few of these convicts were so grateful to be set free that they decided to join Liu Bang of their own accord.

According to legend they encountered a gigantic white serpent which killed members of Liu Bang's group with its poisonous breath. It is said that while drunk, Liu Bang slew the serpent that night and later encountered an old woman weeping by the side of the road the next morning. When the men following Liu asked her why she was crying, she replied, "My child, the White Emperor's son, has been slain by the son of the Red Emperor." She then mysteriously disappeared. After hearing the old woman's strange words, Liu Bang's followers believed that he was destined to become a ruler in the future and became even more impressed with him. This event is known as the "Uprising of the Slaying of the White Serpent" (Chinese: 斬白蛇起義).

Liu Bang and his followers took refuge on Mount Mangdang and lived as outlaws in an abandoned stronghold. Liu had maintained secret contact with some of his old friends such as Xiao He and Cao Shen who still lived in Pei County. In 209 BCE, two men named Chen Sheng and Wu Guang began the Dazexiang Uprising to overthrow the Qin dynasty. The magistrate of Pei County considered joining the rebellion as well and acting on the advice of both Xiao He and Cao Shen, he sent Fan Kuai (a relative of Liu Bang) to invite Liu and his followers back to Pei County to support him. However, he later decided against it and ended up denying Liu Bang entry into his lands. He also worried that Liu's friends Xiao He and Cao Shen might decide to open the gates for Liu now that he had been denied entry, so he set a plan in motion to kill them but Xiao and Cao managed to escape before it was put into action and eventually joined up with Liu and his entourage. While in Liu's company, Xiao came up with a plan to gain entry into the county and managed to convince Liu to take his advice. Liu Bang ordered his men to write letters, wrap them around their arrows and fire the arrows over the border and into the neighboring county from which they had been barred. In the letters they urged the local townsfolk to help him. The peasants responded to this call for aid by killing the magistrate and welcoming Liu back into Pei County. Liu Bang decided to style himself the "Duke of Pei" (沛公) after this and became known to others by this title.

In 208 BCE, during the reign of Qin Er Shi, the descendants of the former royal families who had ruled over the states of Yan, Zhao, Qi and Wei rebelled against the Qin Empire in the hope of restoring their former kingdoms, all of which had been conquered by the Qin dynasty in a series of wars to unify China under one ruler (the later Qin Emperor) about two decades earlier. In the county of Wu, a commoner named Xiang Liang (whose father had been a general for the state of Chu during the wars of unification) began his own uprising and installed Xiong Xin as "King Huai the Latter" (楚後懷王) on the throne of the former Chu state. Liu Bang decided to join Xiang Liang's rebellion and served in Chu for some time. After Xiang Liang was killed in action at the Battle of Dingtao, King Huai II sent Xiang Liang's nephew Xiang Yu and minister Song Yi to lead an army to reinforce the Zhao state, which was under attack by Qin forces.

Liu Bang was later granted the title "Marquis of Wu'an" (武安侯) by the king and tasked with leading an army which was to attack Guanzhong, the Qin heartland. The king then promised that whoever entered Guanzhong first would receive the title "King of Guanzhong" and become its rightful ruler. In 206 BCE, Liu Bang managed to beat Xiang Yu in the race to invade Guanzhong and arrived outside of the Qin capital Xianyang. The last ruler of Qin dynasty, Ziying, surrendered the city, allowing Liu Bang's forces to enter Xianyang peacefully. Reminded by Fan Kuai and Zhang Liang, Liu Bang issued strict orders to his troops, forbidding them from harming any innocent civilians or pillaging the city, and publicly abolished all the previously harsh Qin laws except promising strict punishments for murder, robbery and burglary. Thanks to this, peace and stability were quickly restored in Xianyang while Liu Bang's forces were stationed there, and he had won over the hearts of the Guanzhong locals. Liu's friend and confidante Xiao He ordered the collection of all the legal documents in the Qin palace and government facilities so they could be preserved and safely transported away.

King of HanEdit

Feast at Hong GateEdit

A late Eastern Han (25–220 AD) Chinese tomb mural showing lively scenes of a banquet (yanyin 宴飲), dance and music (wuyue 舞樂), acrobatics (baixi 百戏), and wrestling (xiangbu 相扑), from the Dahuting Tomb (Chinese: 打虎亭漢墓, Pinyin: Dahuting Han mu), on the southern bank of the Suihe River in Zhengzhou, Henan province, China (just west of Xi County)
Left: A jade-carved wine cup with relief decorations, Western Han (202 BCE – 9 CE)
Right: a gilded bronze wine warmer with animalistic relief decorations, 26 BCE, Western Han period
A Western Han female dancer in silk robes, 2nd century BC, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Xiang Zhuang intended to assassinate Liu Bang by pretending to do a sword dance

Xiang Yu was dissatisfied that Liu Bang had beat him in the race to Guanzhong. Instigated by his advisor Fan Zeng and Cao Wushang (曹無傷), an informer from Liu Bang's camp, he decided to set a trap to kill Liu Bang. He pretended to invite Liu Bang to a banquet, while secretly planning to assassinate Liu during the feast. However, Xiang Yu's uncle, Xiang Bo, was a close friend of Liu Bang's strategist Zhang Liang, and managed to persuade his nephew to not personally order Liu Bang's execution on the feast. Frustrated by Xiang Yu's indecisiveness, Fan Zeng then ordered Xiang Yu's cousin Xiang Zhuang to pretend performing a sword dance and use the opportunity to kill Liu Bang, but Xiang Bo volunteered to join the dance and blocked his nephew every time he thrust his sword towards Liu Bang.

Seeing Liu Bang was in mortal danger, Zhang Liang sneaked outside and summoned Liu Bang's brother-in-law and personal bodyguard Fan Kuai, who then crashed the party clad in full armor and scolded Xiang Yu for the sinister plot. Embarrassed by Fan Kuai's accusation, Xiang Yu ordered the sword dance to stop and rewarded Fan Kuai for his bravery. Liu Bang then pretended to go to the latrine and used the chance to escape Xiang Yu's camp unannounced. He and his forces then evacuated from Xianyang and retreated west. Xiang Yu led his forces into Xianyang, where they sacked the city and burnt down the Epang Palace.

Enfeoffment at HanzhongEdit

After occupying Xianyang, Xiang Yu proclaimed himself the "Hegemon-King of Western Chu" and split the former Qin Empire into the Eighteen Kingdoms. The Guanzhong area, which was rightfully Liu Bang's per King Huai II's earlier promise, was instead given by Xiang Yu to three former Qin generalsZhang Han, Sima Xin and Dong Yi. Liu Bang was instead given the isolated Bashu region (Sichuan Basin and upper Han River valley), then a place used for exiling prisoners, as Xiang Yu claimed that Bashu was "part of Guanzhong" somehow. However, Zhang Liang[disambiguation needed], who was leaving to serve his native Han state, managed to bribe through Xiang Bo and negotiate on Liu Bang's behalf the addition of Nanzheng and the surrounding rift valley region around the (then) middle Han River into Liu Bang's fief.

Xiang Yu agreed to the arrangement and assigned Liu Bang the title "King of Han", and then had a detachment of his army "escorting" the journey of Liu Bang's forces across the Qinling Mountains. Under Xiao He's advice, Liu Bang had the gallery roads burned behind him after his men had finished crossing the mountain, in order to prevent potential attack by Xiang Yu's forces and to reassure Xiang Yu that he would not come back out again.

Chu-Han contentionEdit

From 206–202 BCE, Liu Bang engaged Xiang Yu in a power struggle – historically known as the Chu–Han contention – for supremacy over China, while simultaneously attacking and subjugating the other kingdoms.

Conquest of the Three QinEdit

Liu Bang's migration into Nanzheng was far from pleasant — his followers were mostly from the Wu and Chu flatland regions and adapted poorly in the mountainous Bashu lands, and deserters grew on a daily basis. Liu Bang also grew temperamental, as he was very unhappy with his own predicament. One night, rumor arrived that Xiao He also disappeared, and Liu Bang almost had a nervous breakdown. When Xiao He returned the following morning, Liu Bang furiously confronted him and demanded an explanation. Xiao He revealed that he was in a rush chasing back an extremely talented military strategist named Han Xin, who was then merely a low-ranking officer only recently recruited into Liu Bang's army. Xiao He then introduced Liu Bang to Han Xin, who laid out his strategic plan to conquer the states. Impressed and convinced, Liu Bang formally assigned Han Xin as the supreme commander of his army.

Meanwhile, Xiang Yu's overbearing and arbitrary handling over the enfeoffments created much anger among the rebel leaders. Merely four months after Liu Bang's departure into Bashu, a rebellion broke out in the Qi kingdom in late 206 BCE, and Xiang Yu left Western Chu to suppress the revolt. Under Han Xin's advise, Liu Bang sent men to pretend trying to repair the previously burnt gallery roads, drawing away the attention of the Three Qins. At the same time, Han Xin used the distraction to invade Guanzhong unexpectedly via Chencang, and quickly defeated Zhang Han in a surprise attack. Following that, Sima Xin and Dong Yi both surrendered to Liu Bang, and by 205 BC the Three Qins became part of Liu's Kingdom of Han.

Defeat at PengchengEdit

With Xiang Yu occupied to the east, Liu Bang collected a force of 560,000 troops from his subordinate lands, and marched east to attack Western Chu. En route, he encountered Peng Yue, who joined his cause upon promise of a fiefdom in Wei. As opposed to combining forces, Liu Bang sent Peng Yue's 30,000 troops to pacify the surrounding area. Liu Bang's army entered Xiang Yu's capital of Pengcheng apparently unopposed, looting its valuables and taking its women, but discipline had become lax and each day found the Han troops deeper in their cups.

Hearing of the fall of Pengcheng, Xiang Yu ordered the bulk of his forces to maintain the attack on Qi, while he personally led 30,000 crack troops to retake the capital. He encamped about ten miles from a city in present-day Xiao County, Anhui, and launched an attack on Pengcheng at dawn, and by noon had routed the unprepared Han army, driving them into the nearby Gu and Si Rivers, where over 100,000 men drowned or were killed by Chu soldiers. The remaining Han troops fled south to high ground, but were cornered by Chu forces by the Sui River, where another 100,000 drowned, their corpses damming up the river.

Liu Bang escaped the city with a handful of mounted bodyguards, heading to nearby Pei to collect his family. Xiang Yu also dispatched troops to Pei in an attempt to capture Liu Bang's family. His family had all fled, but Liu Bang encountered on the road his eldest daughter and second eldest son Liu Ying. The Chu army coerced a local into leading them to capture two of Liu Bang's family as hostages: his father Liu Taigong and wife Lü Zhi. One account states Liu Bang's mother was also captured. The Records of the Grand Historian recounts an event during this conflict, an event omitted from Liu Bang's own biography but present in the biography of Xiang Yu, where Liu Bang pushed his own children out of his carriage three times to lighten it in a desperate attempt to escape Xiang Yu's men, and it is only the repeated intervention of Xiahou Ying that secures the children's escape.[9]

Battle of JingsuoEdit

After the disastrous defeat at Pengcheng, the strength of the Han forces decreased drastically. Many of the kings who had surrendered to Liu Bang earlier had also defected to Xiang Yu's side. Moreover, the Qi and Zhao kingdoms, which were previously at war with Chu, also requested to make peace with Chu.

Upon reaching Xiayi (下邑; east of present-day Dangshan County, Suzhou, Anhui), which was defended by his brother-in-law, Liu Bang reorganised his troops for a retreat. When he arrived at Yu (虞; present-day Yucheng County, Shangqiu, Henan), he sent an envoy to meet Ying Bu (King of Jiujiang) to appeal for support. Ying Bu, who held a grudge over Xiang Yu's unfair enfeoffment over the Eighteen Kingdoms, agreed to join Liu Bang and rebelled against Western Chu. Xiang Yu responded by sending Long Ju to attack Ying Bu.

In 205 BCE, Liu Bang named his son Liu Ying as his crown prince and ordered him to defend Yueyang. Shortly after, Han forces conquered Feiqiu (廢丘; present-day Xingping, Shaanxi), which was guarded by Zhang Han, who committed suicide after his defeat. On another front, Ying Bu was unable to defeat Long Ju so he gave up on Jiujiang and went to join Liu Bang. Liu Bang reorganised his army, which now included reinforcements from Guanzhong (sent by Xiao He) and Han Xin's troops, and attacked Chu at Jing County (京縣; around present-day Xingyang, Zhengzhou, Henan) and Suoting (索亭; near present-day Xingyang, Henan). He emerged victorious, and drove Xiang Yu's forces east of Xingyang.

Battle of Chenggao and Treaty of Hong CanalEdit

In 204 BC, after sustaining losses from Chu attacks on the newly built supply routes from Xingyang, the Han army was running short of supplies. Liu Bang negotiated for an armistice with Xiang Yu and agreed to cede the lands east of Xingyang to Western Chu. Xiang Yu wanted to accept Liu Bang's offer, but Fan Zeng advised him to reject it and use the opportunity to destroy Liu Bang. Xiang Yu changed his mind, pressed the attack on Xingyang and besieged Liu Bang's forces inside the city. Liu Bang heeded Chen Ping's suggestion to bribe Xiang Yu's men with 40,000 catties of gold for them to spread rumours that Fan Zeng had the intention of betraying Xiang Yu. Xiang Yu fell for the ruse and dismissed Fan Zeng.

Later that year, while Xiang Yu was away suppressing the rebellion in the Qi kingdom, Li Yiji advised Liu Bang to use the opportunity to attack Western Chu. Han forces conquered Chenggao and defeated the Chu army led by Cao Jiu near the Si River. Liu Bang's forces advanced further until they reached Guangwu (廣武). Chu forces led by Zhongli Mo were trapped by the Han army at the east of Xingyang. Following Han Xin's victory in the Battle of Wei River, the Chu army's morale fell and it ran short of supplies months later. Xiang Yu had no choice but to request to make peace with Liu Bang and released Liu's family members, who were held hostage by him. Chu and Han agreed to a ceasefire at the Treaty of Hong Canal (鴻溝和約), which divided China into east and west under their respective domains.

Battle of GaixiaEdit

In 203 BC, while Xiang Yu was retreating eastward, Liu Bang, acting on the advice of Zhang Liang and Chen Ping, renounced the Treaty of Hong Canal and ordered an attack on Western Chu. He also requested assistance from Han Xin and Peng Yue to attack Xiang Yu simultaneously from three directions. However, Han Xin and Peng Yue did not mobilise their troops and Liu Bang was defeated by Xiang Yu at Guling (固陵; south of present-day Taikang County, Zhoukou, Henan), and was forced to retreat and reinforce his defences. At the same time, he sent messengers to meet Han Xin and Peng Yue again, and promised to give them land and titles if they joined him in attacking Xiang Yu, and they finally agreed.

Three months later in 202 BC, Han forces led by Liu Bang, Han Xin and Peng Yue attacked Western Chu from three directions. The Chu army was running low on supplies and Xiang Yu was trapped in Gaixia. Han Xin ordered his troops to sing Chu folk songs to create a false impression that the Chu homeland had fallen to Han forces. The Chu army's morale plummeted and many soldiers deserted. Xiang Yu attempted to break out the siege, and after fighting out of repeated traps was left with only 28 men when he reached the northern bank of the Wu River (near present-day He County, Chaohu City, Anhui). He made a last stand and managed to slay several Han soldiers before eventually committing suicide.

Establishment of the Han dynastyEdit

A portrait painting of Emperor Gao of Han (Liu Bang), from an 18th-century Qing Dynasty album of Chinese emperors' portraits.

In 202 BCE, Liu Bang was enthroned as the emperor with support from his subjects even though he expressed reluctance to take the throne. He named his dynasty "Han", and was historically known as "Emperor Gaozu" (or "Emperor Gao"). He established the capital in Luoyang (later moved to Chang'an) and instated his official spouse Lü Zhi as the empress and their son Liu Ying as the crown prince.

The following year, Emperor Gaozu wanted to reward his subjects who had contributed to the founding of the Han Empire, but the process dragged on for a year because they could not agree on the distribution of the rewards. The emperor thought that Xiao He's contributions were the greatest, so he awarded Xiao the title "Marquis of Zan" and gave him the largest amount of food stores. Some of the others expressed objections because they thought that Xiao was not directly involved in battle so his contributions should not be considered the greatest. Emperor Gaozu replied that Xiao He should receive the highest credit because he planned their overall strategy in the war against Xiang Yu. He named Cao Shen as the person who made the greatest contributions in battle and rewarded him and the others accordingly.


Reducing taxes and corvéeEdit

Emperor Gaozu disbanded his armies and allowed the soldiers to return home. He gave an order stating that the people who remained in Guanzhong were exempted from taxes and corvée for 12 years while those who returned to their respective native territories were exempted for six years and that the central government would provide for them for a year. He also granted freedom to those who had sold themselves into slavery to avoid hunger during the wars. In 195 BCE, the emperor issued two decrees: the first officialised the lowering of taxes and corvée; the second set the amount of tribute to be paid by the vassal kings to the imperial court in the 10th month of every year. The land tax on agricultural production was reduced to a rate of 1/15 of crop yield. He also privatised the coinage.

Emphasis on ConfucianismEdit

In his early days, Emperor Gaozu disliked reading and scorned Confucianism. After becoming the emperor, he still held the same attitudes towards Confucianism as he did before until he encountered the scholar Lu Jia (or Lu Gu). Lu Gu wrote a 12-volume book, Xinyu (新語), which espoused the benefits of governing by moral virtue as opposed to using harsh and punitive laws (as it was under the Qin dynasty). Lu Gu read each volume to the emperor after he finished writing it. The emperor was deeply impressed. Under Emperor Gaozu's reign, Confucianism flourished and gradually replaced Legalism (of Qin times) as the state ideology. Confucian scholars, including Lu Gu, were recruited to serve in the government. The emperor also reformed the legal system by relaxing some laws inherited from the Qin regime and reducing the severity of certain penalties. In 196 BCE, after suppressing a rebellion by Ying Bu, he passed by Shandong, the birthplace of Confucius, and personally prepared for a ceremony to pay respect to the philosopher.

Dispute over the successionEdit

In his later years, Emperor Gaozu favoured Concubine Qi and neglected Empress Lü Zhi. He thought that Liu Ying, his heir apparent (born to the empress), was too weak to be a ruler. Thus, he had the intention of replacing Liu Ying with another son, Liu Ruyi, who was born to Concubine Qi. Lü Zhi became worried, so she asked Zhang Liang to help her son maintain his position. Zhang Liang recommended four reclusive wise men, the Four Whiteheads of Mount Shang, to help Liu Ying.

In 195 BCE as Emperor Gaozu's health started to worsen, he desired even more to replace Liu Ying with Liu Ruyi as the crown prince. Zhang Liang tried to dissuade him but was ignored, so he retired on the excuse that he was ill. Shusun Tong (the crown prince's tutor) and Zhou Chang also strongly objected to the emperor's decision to replace Liu Ying with Liu Ruyi. Zhou Chang said, "I am not good in arguing, but I know this is not right. If Your Majesty deposes the Crown Prince, I won't follow your orders any more."[10] Zhou Chang was outspoken and had a stutter, which to some made his speech very amusing. The emperor laughed. After that, the Four Whiteheads of Mount Shang (also known as the Four Haos of Mount Shang) showed up in the court. Emperor Gaozu was surprised to see them because they had previously declined to join the civil service when he invited them. The four men promised to help Liu Ying in the future if he were to remain as the crown prince. The emperor was pleased to see that Liu Ying had their support so he dismissed the idea of changing his heir apparent.[11]

Military campaignsEdit

After establishing the Han dynasty, Emperor Gaozu appointed princes and vassal kings to help him govern the Han Empire and gave each of them a piece of land. There were seven vassal kings who were not related to the imperial clan: Zang Tu, the King of Yan; Hán Xin, the King of Hán; Han Xin, the King of Chu; Peng Yue, the King of Liang; Ying Bu, the King of Huainan; Zhang Er, the King of Zhao; Wu Rui, the King of Changsha. However, later, the emperor became worried that the vassal kings might rebel against him because they, after all, had no blood relations with him. Han Xin and Peng Yue were (falsely) accused of treason, arrested and executed along with their families. Ying Bu and Zang Tu rebelled against him but were defeated and killed. Only Wu Rui and Zhang Er were left.

The Xiongnu in the north had been a threat since the Qin dynasty. Qin Shi Huang had sent the general Meng Tian to oversee the defences on the Qin Empire's northern border and the construction of the Great Wall to repel the invaders. Meng Tian achieved success in deterring the Xiongnu from advancing beyond the border. However, after the Qin dynasty collapsed, the Xiongnu seized the opportunity to move south and raid the border again. In 201 BCE, Hán Xin (King of Hán) defected to the Xiongnu leader, Modu. In the following year, Emperor Gaozu led an army to attack the Xiongnu but was besieged and trapped by the enemy at the Battle of Baideng. Acting on Chen Ping's advice, he bribed Modu's wife with gifts and got her to ask her husband to withdraw his forces. Modu did so. After returning to the capital, Emperor Gaozu initiated the policy of heqin, which involved sending noble ladies to marry the Xiongnu leaders and paying annual tribute to the Xiongnu in exchange for peace between the Han Empire and the Xiongnu.


Changling (長陵), the tomb of Emperor Gaozu in Xianyang, Shaanxi.

Emperor Gaozu was wounded by a stray arrow during the campaign against Ying Bu. He became seriously ill and remained in his inner chambers for a long period of time and ordered his guards to deny entry to everyone who tried to visit him. After several days, Fan Kuai barged into the chambers to see the emperor and the other subjects followed behind him. They saw Emperor Gaozu lying on his bed and attended to by a eunuch. Fan Kuai said, "How glorious it was when Your Majesty first led us to conquer the empire and how weary we are now. Your subjects are worried when they learn that Your Majesty is ill, but Your Majesty refuses to see us and prefers the company of a eunuch instead. Has Your Majesty forgotten the incident about Zhao Gao?" The emperor laughed and got out of bed to meet his subjects.

Emperor Gaozu's health deteriorated later so Empress Lü Zhi hired a famous physician to heal him. When Emperor Gaozu enquired about his condition, the physician told him that his illness could be cured, but the emperor was displeased and he scolded the physician, "Isn't it Heaven's will that I managed to conquer this empire in simple clothing and with nothing but a sword? My life is determined by Heaven. It is useless even if Bian Que is here!" He refused to continue with the treatment and sent the physician away. Before his death, he said that Cao Shen could succeed Xiao He as the chancellor after Xiao died, and that Wang Ling could succeed Cao Shen. He also said that Wang Ling might be too young to perform his duties so Chen Ping could assist Wang, but Chen was also qualified to assume the responsibilities of a chancellor all by himself. He also named Zhou Bo as a possible candidate for the role of Grand Commandant. He died in Changle Palace (長樂宮), Chang'an, on 1 June 195 BCE and was succeeded by Liu Ying, who became historically known as Emperor Hui.

Song of the Great WindEdit

The Song of the Great Wind was a song composed by Liu Bang in 195 BCE when he visited his hometown in Pei County after suppressing Ying Bu's rebellion. He prepared a banquet and invited all his old friends and townsfolk to join him. After some drinks, Liu Bang played the guqin and sang the Song of the Great Wind.[12]


Song of the Great Wind


A great wind came forth,
the clouds rose on high.


Now that my might rules all within the seas,
I have returned to my old village.


Where will I find brave men
to guard the four corners of my land?



  • Parents:
    • Liu Tuan, honored as Taishang Huang (太上皇帝 劉煓; 271–197 BC)
    • Empress Zhaoling, of the Wang clan (昭靈皇后 王氏), personal name Hanshi (含始)
  • Consorts and Issue:
    • Empress Gao, of the Lü clan (高後 呂氏; 241–180 BC), personal name Zhi ()
    • Empress Gao, of the Bo clan (高皇后 薄氏; d. 155 BC)
      • Liu Heng, Emperor Xiaowen (孝文皇帝 劉恆; 203–157 BC), fourth son
    • Furen, of the Cao clan (夫人 曹氏)
      • Liu Fei, King Daohui of Qi (齊悼惠王 劉肥; 221–189 BC), first son
    • Furen, of the Qi clan (夫人 戚氏; 224–194 BC), personal name Yi ()
      • Liu Ruyi, King Yin of Zhao (趙隱王 劉如意; 208–194 BC), third son
    • Lady, of the Zhao clan (趙氏; d. 198 BC)
      • Liu Chang, King Li of Huainan (淮南厲王 劉長; 199–174 BC), seventh son
    • Unknown
      • Liu Hui, King Gong of Zhao (趙共王 劉恢; d. 181 BC), fifth son
      • Liu You, King You of Zhao (趙幽王 劉友; d. 181 BC), sixth son
      • Liu Jian, King Ling of Yan (燕靈王 劉建; d. 181 BC), eighth son

Modern referencesEdit

Liu Bang is one of the 32 historical figures who appear as special characters in the video game Romance of the Three Kingdoms XI by Koei. His life story has also been dramatized in numerous TV series and films (See Chu–Han Contention#Cultural references).

See alsoEdit

  1. Family tree of the Han Dynasty
  2. Chu-Han contention
  3. Lü Clan Disturbance


  1. ^ This is the birth year reported by Huangfu Mi (皇甫謐) (215 – 282 AD).
  2. ^ This is the birth year reported by Chen Zan (臣瓚) in around 270 AD in his comments in the Book of Han.
  3. ^ a b 李祖德 (2012). "刘邦祭祖考——兼论春秋战国以来的社会变革". 中国史研究 [Journal of Chinese Historical Studies]. CNKI. 34 (3): 11–58.
  4. ^ "Gaozu Emperor of Han Dynasty". Encyclopædia Britannica.
  5. ^ Patricia Buckley Ebrey (2003). Women and the family in Chinese history. Volume 2 of Critical Asian scholarship (illustrated ed.). Psychology Press. p. 171. ISBN 0-415-28823-1.
  6. ^ Fabrizio Pregadio (2008). Fabrizio Pregadio (ed.). The encyclopedia of Taoism, Volume 1 (ill ustrated ed.). Psychology Press. p. 505. ISBN 978-0-7007-1200-7.
  7. ^ Note that the Chinese character "媪" (ǎo) was not the personal name of Liu's mother. It was used as a formal way of addressing an old woman at the time. See the definition of 媪.
  8. ^ Translation of Sima Qian's Shiji.
  9. ^ Watson (1958), pp. 95–98.
  10. ^ (臣口不能言,然臣期期知其不可。陛下雖欲廢太子,臣期期不奉詔。)
  11. ^ Chi-yen Ch'en (14 July 2014). Hsun Yueh and the Mind of Late Han China: A Translation of the SHEN-CHIEN. Princeton University Press. pp. 171–. ISBN 978-1-4008-5348-9.
  12. ^ (in Chinese) 大风歌
  13. ^ John Minford; Joseph S. M. Lau (2000). Minford, John (ed.). An Anthology of Translations Classical Chinese Literature Volume I: From Antiquity to the Tang Dynasty. Columbia University Press. p. 415. ISBN 978-0-231-09676-8.
Emperor Gaozu of Han
Born: 256 BCE Died: 1 June 195 BCE
Regnal titles
New title King of Han
206 BCE – 202 BCE
Merged in the Crown
Preceded by
Last held by
Qin Er Shi or Emperor Yi of Chu
Emperor of China
Western Han
202 BCE – 195 BCE
Succeeded by
Emperor Hui of Han