Emperor Gong of Jin

Emperor Gong of Jin (simplified Chinese: 晋恭帝; traditional Chinese: 晉恭帝; pinyin: Jìn Gōng Dì; Wade–Giles: Chin Kung-ti; 386 – October or November 421[2]), personal name Sima Dewen (Chinese: 司馬德文; pinyin: Sīmǎ Déwén), was the last emperor of the Eastern Jin Dynasty (266–420) in China. He became emperor in 419 after his developmentally disabled brother Emperor An was killed by the regent Liu Yu, and during his brief reign, actual power was in Liu Yu's hands. On 5 July 420,[3] under pressure from Liu Yu, he yielded the throne to Liu Yu, ending Jin's existence. Liu Yu founded Liu Song, and in October or November 421, believing that the former Jin emperor posed a threat to his rule, had him asphyxiated with a blanket.

Emperor Gong of Jin
11th Emperor of the Eastern Jin dynasty
Reign28 Jan 419[1] – 5 July 420
PredecessorEmperor An
DiedOct or Nov 421 (aged 35)
Chongping Mausoleum (沖平陵)
ConsortsEmpress Gongsi
IssuePrincess Haiyan
Princess Fuyang
Family name: Sima (司馬)
Given name: Dewen (德文, déwén)
Posthumous name
Gong (恭, gōng),
literary meaning: "respectful"
FatherEmperor Xiaowu
MotherEmpress Dowager Ande

Early lifeEdit

Sima Dewen was the second son of Emperor Xiaowu of Jin and his concubine Consort Chen Guinü in 386, born four years after Consort Chen had given birth to their oldest son, Sima Dezong. Contrary to his older brother who was described as so developmentally disabled that he was unable to speak, clothe himself, or express whether he was hungry or full, Sima Dewen was described as an intelligent child. From childhood, he became accustomed to care for his brother, especially after their mother's death in 390. Their father did not have any other sons. Despite Sima Dezong's severe developmental disability, he was made crown prince in 387 at the age of five by Emperor Xiaowu. On 27 Dec 392,[4] Emperor Xiaowu bestowed upon Sima Dewen the title of "Prince of Langye" — the second most prestigious title for a prince after "Crown Prince". In 396, Emperor Xiaowu was strangled by his favorite concubine Honoured Lady Zhang after making an offensive remark about her age, and in 397 Sima Dezong succeeded the throne as Emperor An of Jin. Sima Dewen continued to care for his brother after his ascension to the throne.

During Emperor An's reignEdit

Sometime during Emperor An's reign, Sima Dewen married his wife, Chu Lingyuan, who was from an aristocratic family. She bore him two daughters, Sima Maoying, later created the Princess Haiyan, and the later Princess Fuyang.

Throughout Emperor An's early reign, Sima Dewen received increasingly honorific offices, but had little actual power, as the power was initially in the hands of his uncle, the regent Sima Daozi the Prince of Kuaiji, and later in the hands of Sima Daozi's son Sima Yuanxian. The situation continued after Sima Yuanxian was overthrown by the warlord Huan Xuan in 402.

In 403, Huan Xuan forced Emperor An to yield the throne to him, temporarily ending Jin. Huan Xuan established a new state of Chu, and he created Emperor An the Prince of Pinggu (平固王) and Sima Dewen the Duke of Shiyang[5] (石阳县公), but kept them close to him to watch them. In 404, however, a rebellion by the general Liu Yu quickly led to Huan Xuan's destruction and Emperor An's restoration. When, however, later that year Emperor An and Sima Dewen fell into the hands of Huan Xuan's nephew Huan Zhen (桓振), Huan Zhen considered executing Emperor An to avenge Huan Xuan's young son Huan Sheng (桓昇), who was killed by the rebels. It took great pleading on Sima Dewen's part, explaining that neither he nor Emperor An had had anything to do with Huan Sheng's death, for Huan Zhen to spare Emperor An. In early 405, Huan Zhen was defeated, and Emperor An and Sima Dewen returned to the capital Jiankang, but by this point power was in Liu Yu's hands, albeit in a power-sharing agreement with a number of allies whom he had had to recruit in his campaign against Huan Xuan.

As the years went by, Liu Yu gradually concentrated more and more power in his hands, destroying rivals including Liu Yi (劉毅), Zhuge Zhangmin (諸葛長民), and Sima Xiuzhi (司馬休之), while greatly showing his strength in campaigns destroying rival states Southern Yan, Western Shu, and Later Qin. Sima Dewen continued to be largely ceremonially honored but actually powerless during this period. In 416, during Liu Yu's campaign against Later Qin, Sima Dewen asked to undertake a mission in Luoyang, recently captured from Later Qin, to try to restore the imperial tombs of the early Jin emperors, but it is not known what came of the mission. He returned to Jiankang in 418 after Liu Yu destroyed Later Qin.

Late that year, Liu Yu, intending to seize the throne and believing a prophecy stating, "There will be two more emperors after Changming" (Changming, which meant "dawn," was the courtesy name of Emperor Xiaowu), became intent on killing Emperor An and replacing him with Sima Dewen. However, because Sima Dewen continuously attended to his brother, assassins whom Liu Yu sent to poison Emperor An did not have the opportunity to do so. However, around the new year 419, Sima Dewen was ill and had to be at his own house, and Liu Yu's assassin Wang Shaozhi (王韶之) took the opportunity to kill Emperor An. Liu Yu then declared Sima Dewen emperor, as Emperor Gong.


Emperor Gong's reign was a brief and powerless one. He created his wife Princess Chu empress in spring 419. He also promoted Liu Yu, then carrying the title Duke of Song, to the Prince of Song, which Liu Yu initially declined but accepted in fall 419. In spring 420, Liu Yu, then at Shouyang sent his assistant Fu Liang to Jiankang to pressure Emperor Gong to yield the throne. Emperor Gong responded by summoning Liu Yu back to the capital in summer 419, and Fu then offered him a draft of an abdication edict, requesting that he write it personally. Sima Dewen did so, and then left the palace and went to his old house while he was Prince of Langya. Five[6] days later, Liu Yu took the throne and established Liu Song, ending Jin.

After abdicationEdit

Liu Yu created Sima Dewen the Prince of Lingling and built a palace for him near Jiankang. He had the general Liu Zunkao (劉遵考), a distant cousin, lead a group of guards, ostensibly to protect the prince but instead to keep him under watch.

Soon, Liu Yu, still believing Sima Dewen to be a threat, sent Sima Dewen's former attendant Zhang Wei (張偉) a bottle of poisoned wine, ordering him to poison Sima Dewen. Zhang, not wanting to carry out the order, drank the wine himself and died. Meanwhile, however, in order to prevent any likelihood that Sima Dewen would have a male heir, Liu Yu ordered Princess Chu's brothers Chu Xiuzhi (褚秀之) and Chu Danzhi (褚淡之) to poison any male children whom Princess Chu or Sima Dewen's concubines would bear. Sima Dewen himself feared death greatly, and he and Princess Chu remained in the same house, cooking their own meals, with Princess Chu paying for the material herself. Assassins whom Liu Yu sent initially could find no chance to kill the former emperor.

In fall 421, Liu Yu sent Chu Danzhi and his brother Chu Yuzhi[7] (褚裕之) to visit their sister. As Princess Chu came out to meet her brothers in a different house, soldiers sent by Liu Yu intruded into Sima Dewen's house and ordered him to take poison. He refused, stating that Buddhist doctrines prohibit suicide and that those who commit suicide could not be reborn as humans in their next lives. The assassins therefore used a blanket to cover his head and asphyxiated him. He was buried with imperial honors.

Era nameEdit

  • Yuanxi (元熙 Yuánxī) 11 February 419 – 10 July 420


Consorts and Issue:

  • Empress Gongsi, of the Chu clan of Henan (恭思皇后 河南褚氏; 384–436), personal name Lingyuan (靈媛)
    • Princess Haiyan (海鹽公主; 403–439), personal name Maoying (茂英)
    • Princess Fuyang (富陽公主)


Sima Jin (256–290)
Emperor Yuan of Jin (276–323)
Xiahou Guangji (d. 307)
Emperor Jianwen of Jin (320–372)
Zheng Kai
Empress Dowager Jianwenxuan (d. 326)
Lady Wu of Puyang
Emperor Xiaowu of Jin (362–396)
Empress Dowager Xiaowuwen (351–400)
Emperor Gong of Jin (386–421)
Chen Guang
Empress Dowager Ande (362–390)


  1. ^ According to Sima Dewen's biography in Book of Jin, he ascended the throne on the same day as his brother's death, which took place on 28 Jan 419. (安帝崩....是日,即帝位) Jin Shu, vol.10
  2. ^ According to Sima Dewen's biography in Book of Jin, he was killed aged 36 (by East Asian reckoning) on the dingchou day of the 9th month of the 2nd year of the Yongchu era of Liu Yu's reign. However, there is no dingchou day in the month; the month corresponds to 12 Oct to 10 Nov 421 in the Julian calendar. (宋永初二年九月丁丑...有间,兵人逾垣而入,弑帝于内房。时年三十六。) Jin Shu vol. 10. Thus by calculation, his birth year should be 386.
  3. ^ According to Sima Dewen's biography in Book of Jin, he renounced the throne on the renxu day of the 6th month of the 2nd year of the Yuanxi era of his reign. This corresponds to 5 Jul 420 in the Julian calendar. [(元熙)二年夏六月壬戌,刘裕至于京师。傅亮承裕密旨,讽帝禅位,草诏,请帝书之。帝欣然谓左右曰:“晋氏久已失之,今复何恨。”乃书赤纸为诏] Jin Shu, vol.10
  4. ^ According to Sima Yao's biography in Book of Jin, Sima Dewen was made Prince of Langye on the gengyin day of the 11th month of the 17th year of the Taiyuan era of Yao's reign. This corresponds to 27 Dec 392 in the Julian calendar. ([太元十七年十一月]庚寅,...,封皇子德文为琅邪王。) Jin Shu vol. 09.
  5. ^ Zhang Senkai (張森楷), a late-Qing era commentator to Song Shu, commented in his "Xiao Kan Ji" that in his opinion, Sima Dewen's daughter Maoying was likely to be 36-37 years old (by East Asian reckoning) when she died in 439. (《校勘记》云:“按少帝死年十九,则妃于时亦当二十左右。后十六七年至元嘉十六年卒,应年三十六七,不应四十七,疑有误。”) By this theory, Maoying should be born during her father's tenure as Duke of Shiyang.
  6. ^ 10 July 420 on the Julian calendar
  7. ^ In Chu Yuzhi's biography in Book of Song, he is addressed by his courtesy name Shudu (叔度) as his "Yu" is the same character as Liu Yu's name, as acknowledged in the biography ((叔度名与高祖同,故以字行.) Song Shu, vol. 52.); volume 28 of Nan Shi records his name as "裕之".
Emperor Gong of Jin
Born: 386 Died: 421
Regnal titles
Preceded by Emperor of China
Eastern Jin
with Liu Yu (419–420)
Succeeded by
Chinese royalty
Last known title holder:
Liu Gao
Prince of Lingling
Next known title holder:
Li Jun