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The Chinese sovereign was the ruler of a particular regime in
ancient China The earliest known written records of the history of China date from as early as 1250 BC, from the Shang dynasty The Shang dynasty (), also historically known as the Yin dynasty (), was a Chinese dynasty Dynasties in Chinese h ...
and
imperial China The earliest known written records of the history of China date from as early as 1250 BC, from the Shang dynasty The Shang dynasty (), also historically known as the Yin dynasty (), was a Chinese dynasty Dynasties in Chinese h ...
. Sovereigns ruling the same regime, and descended from the same paternal line, constituted a
dynasty A dynasty (, ) is a sequence of rulers from the same family,''Oxford English Dictionary'', "dynasty, ''n''." Oxford University Press Oxford University Press (OUP) is the university press of the University of Oxford. It is the larges ...
. Several titles and naming schemes have been used throughout
Chinese history The earliest known written records of the history of China date from as early as 1250 BC, from the Shang dynasty The Shang dynasty (), also historically known as the Yin dynasty (), was a Chinese dynasty Dynasties in Chinese h ...

Chinese history
.


Sovereign titles


Emperor

The characters ''Huang'' (皇 huáng "august (ruler)") and ''Di'' (帝 dì "divine ruler") had been used separately and never consecutively (see
Three August Ones and Five Emperors The Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors were two groups of mythological rulers or deities in ancient northern China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia. It is the List of countries and dependen ...
). The character was reserved for mythological rulers until the first emperor of Qin (
Qin Shi Huang Qin Shi Huang (, ; 259–210 BCE), or Shihuangdi, was the founder of the Qin dynasty, and first Emperor of China, emperor of a unified China. Rather than maintain the title of "Chinese king, king" ( ''wáng'') borne by the previous Shang dyna ...
), who created a new title ''Huangdi'' (皇帝 in
pinyin ''Hanyu Pinyin'' (), often abbreviated to pinyin, is the official romanization Romanization or romanisation, in linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objecti ...

pinyin
: huáng dì) for himself in 221 BCE, which is commonly translated as ''
Emperor An emperor (from la, imperator The Latin word "imperator" derives from the stem of the verb la, imperare, label=none, meaning 'to order, to command'. It was originally employed as a title roughly equivalent to ''commander'' under the Roma ...
'' in English. This title continued in use until the fall of the
Qing dynasty The Qing dynasty, officially the Great Qing (), was the last dynasty A dynasty (, ) is a sequence of rulers from the same family,''Oxford English Dictionary'', "dynasty, ''n''." Oxford University Press Oxford University Pr ...
in 1912. From the
Han Dynasty#REDIRECT Han dynasty The Han dynasty () was the second Dynasties in Chinese history, imperial dynasty of China (202 BC – 220 AD), established by the rebel leader Liu Bang and ruled by the House of Liu. Preceded by the short-lived Qin dynas ...

Han Dynasty
, the title ''Huangdi'' could also be
abbreviated An abbreviation (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power ...
to ''huang'' or ''di''. The former nobility titles ''Qing'' (卿), ''Daifu'' (大夫) and ''Shi'' (仕) became
synonym A synonym is a word, morpheme A morpheme is the smallest meaningful lexical item in a language. A morpheme is not a word. The difference between a morpheme and a word is that a morpheme bound and free morphemes, sometimes does not stand alone ...
s for court officials. The power of the emperor varied between emperors and dynasties, with some emperors being absolute rulers and others being figureheads with actual power lying in the hands of court factions,
eunuch A eunuch ( ) is a man A man is an adult male Male (♂) is the sex of an organism that produces the gamete known as sperm. A male gamete can fuse with a larger female gamete, or ovum, in the process of fertilization. A male cannot ...

eunuch
s, the bureaucracy or noble families. In principle, the title of emperor was transmitted from father to son via
primogeniture Primogeniture ( ) is the right, by law or custom, of the firstborn legitimate child to inherit Inherit may refer to: * Inheritance, passing on of property after someone's death * Heredity, passing of genetic traits to offspring * Inheritance ( ...
, as endorsed by
Confucianism Confucianism, also known as Ruism, is a system of thought and behavior originating in ancient China The earliest known written records of the history of China date from as early as 1250 BC, from the Shang dynasty (c. 1600–1046 BC ...
. However, there are many exceptions to this rule. For example, because the Emperor usually had many concubines, the first born of the empress (i.e. the chief consort) is usually the
heir apparent An heir apparent is a person who is first in an order of succession An order of succession or right of succession is the line of individuals entitled to hold a high office when it becomes vacated such as head of state A head of state ...
. However, Emperors could elevate another more favoured child or the child of a favourite
concubine Concubinage is an interpersonal The concept of interpersonal relationship involves social associations, connections, or affiliations between two or more people. Interpersonal relationships vary in their degree of intimacy or self-disclo ...
to the status of
Crown Prince A crown prince or hereditary prince is the heir apparent An heir apparent is a person who is first in an order of succession An order of succession or right of succession is the line of individuals entitled to hold a high office when i ...

Crown Prince
. Disputes over succession occurred regularly and have led to a number of civil wars. In the
Qing dynasty The Qing dynasty, officially the Great Qing (), was the last dynasty A dynasty (, ) is a sequence of rulers from the same family,''Oxford English Dictionary'', "dynasty, ''n''." Oxford University Press Oxford University Pr ...
, primogeniture was abandoned altogether, with the designated heir kept secret until after the Emperor's death. Of the
San Huang Wu Di The Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors were two groups of Chinese mythology, mythological rulers or deities in ancient northern China. The Three Sovereigns lived before The Five Emperors, who have been assigned dates in a period from circa 2852 B ...
, the three first of them were called 皇 (huang, "august (ruler)") and the five last were called 帝 (di, "divine ruler"), which can translate as either emperor, demigod, divine ancestor, or superhuman. This title may have been used in the Shang and Xia dynasties, though oracle bones were found from the Shang Dynasty showing the title 王 (wáng, "king").


King

The king (王, ''wáng'') was the
Chinese Chinese can refer to: * Something related to China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia. It is the List of countries and dependencies by population, world's most populous country, with a populat ...

Chinese
head of state A head of state (or chief of state) is the public persona A persona (plural personae or personas), depending on the context, can refer to either the public image of one's personality, or the social role that one adopts, or a fictional ch ...
during the
Zhou Dynasty The Zhou dynasty ( ; Old Chinese Old Chinese, also called Archaic Chinese in older works, is the oldest attested stage of Chinese Chinese can refer to: * Something related to China China, officially the People's Republic of China ...
. Its use during the
Xia Xia (Hsia in Wade–Giles) may refer to: Chinese history * Xia dynasty (夏) (c. 2070 – c. 1600 BC) * Xia (Sixteen Kingdoms) (夏) (407–431), a Xiongnu state * Xia (夏) (617–621), a state founded by Dou Jiande near the end of the Sui dynast ...

Xia
and
Shang The Shang dynasty (), also historically known as the Yin dynasty (), was a Chinese dynasty Dynasties in Chinese history, or Chinese dynasties, were Hereditary monarchy, hereditary Monarchy, monarchical regimes that ruled over China dur ...

Shang
is uncertain but possible: the character has been found upon
oracle bone Oracle bones () are pieces of ox scapula In anatomy, the scapula (plural scapulae or scapulas), also known as the shoulder bone, shoulder blade, wing bone, speal bone or blade bone, is the bone that connects the humerus (upper arm bone) with t ...

oracle bone
s. It was abolished under the
QinQin may refer to: Dynasties and states * Qin (state) (秦), a major state during the Zhou Dynasty of ancient China * Qin dynasty (秦), founded by the Qin state in 221 BC and ended in 206 BC * Daqin (大秦), ancient Chinese name for the Roman Empi ...

Qin
and, after that, the same term was used for (and translated as) royal princes. The title was commonly given to members of the Emperor's family and could be inherited. A poem from about 2,500 years ago said "普天之下,莫非王土.率土之賓,莫非王臣" which roughly translates as "Under the sky, nothing isn't the king's land; the people who lead the lands, no one isn't the king's subjects."


Son of Heaven

The Son of Heaven was a title of the Emperor based on the
Mandate of Heaven The Mandate of Heaven () is a Chinese political philosophy that was used in ancient Ancient history is the aggregate of past eventstianxia ''Tianxia'' (), literally meaning "(all) under Heaven Heaven or the heavens, is a common religious cosmological or transcendent supernatural The supernatural encompasses supposed phenomena or entities that are not subject to the ...
comprising "all under heaven". The title was not interpreted literally. The monarch is a mortal chosen by Heaven, not its actual descendant. The title comes from the Mandate of Heaven, created by the monarchs of the
Zhou dynasty The Zhou dynasty ( ; Old Chinese Old Chinese, also called Archaic Chinese in older works, is the oldest attested stage of Chinese Chinese can refer to: * Something related to China China, officially the People's Republic of China ...
to justify deposing the
Shang dynasty The Shang dynasty (), also historically known as the Yin dynasty (), was a Chinese dynasty Dynasties in Chinese history, or Chinese dynasties, were hereditary monarchical regimes that ruled over China during much of its history. From ...

Shang dynasty
. They declared that Heaven had revoked the mandate from the Shang and given it to the Zhou in retaliation for their corruption and misrule. Heaven bestowed the mandate to whoever was best fit to rule. The title held the emperor responsible for the prosperity and security of his people through the threat of losing the mandate. Unlike the
Japanese emperor The Emperor of Japan is the head of state A head of state (or chief of state) is the public persona who officially embodies a state (polity), state#Foakes, Foakes, pp. 110–11 " he head of statebeing an embodiment of the State itself o ...
for example, Chinese political theory allowed for a change of dynasty as imperial families could be replaced. This is based on the concept of "
Mandate of Heaven The Mandate of Heaven () is a Chinese political philosophy that was used in ancient Ancient history is the aggregate of past eventsSon of Heaven Son of Heaven, or ''Tianzi'' (), was the sacred monarchical title of the Chinese sovereign. It originated with the ancient Zhou dynasty and was founded on the political and spiritual doctrine of the Mandate of Heaven. Since the Qin dynasty, th ...
". As the only legitimate ruler, his authority extended to "
All under heaven ''Tianxia'' () is a Chinese term for an ancient Chinese cultural concept that denoted either the entire geographical world or the metaphysical realm of mortals, and later became associated with political sovereignty. In ancient China ...
" and had neighbors only in a geographical sense. He holds a mandate to which he had a valid claim to rule over (or to lead) everyone else in the world as long as he served the people well. If the ruler became immoral, then rebellion is justified and heaven would take away that mandate and give it to another. This single most important concept legitimized the dynastic cycle or the change of dynasties regardless of social or ethnic background. This principle made it possible for dynasties founded by families of non-noble origins such as the
Han dynasty#REDIRECT Han dynasty The Han dynasty () was the second Dynasties in Chinese history, imperial dynasty of China (202 BC – 220 AD), established by the rebel leader Liu Bang and ruled by the House of Liu. Preceded by the short-lived Qin dynas ...

Han dynasty
and the
Ming dynasty The Ming dynasty (), officially the Great Ming, was the Dynasties in Chinese history, ruling dynasty of China from 1368 to 1644 following the collapse of the Mongol Empire, Mongol-led Yuan dynasty. The Ming dynasty was the last imperial dynas ...

Ming dynasty
or non-ethnic Han dynasties such as the
Mongol The Mongols ( mn, Монголчууд, , ''Mongolchuud'', ; russian: Монголы, ) are an East Asian East Asia is the eastern region In geography Geography (from Greek: , ''geographia'', literally "earth description") ...

Mongol
-led
Yuan dynasty The Yuan dynasty (), officially the Great Yuan (; xng, , , literally "Great Yuan State"), was a successor state Successor is someone who, or something which succeeds or comes after (see success and succession) Film and TV * ''The Succ ...
and the
Manchu The Manchu (; ) are an officially recognized ethnic minority in China and the people from whom Manchuria Manchuria is an exonym and endonym, exonym for a historical and geographic region of Russia and China in Northeast Asia (mostly in ...
-led
Qing dynasty The Qing dynasty, officially the Great Qing (), was the last dynasty A dynasty (, ) is a sequence of rulers from the same family,''Oxford English Dictionary'', "dynasty, ''n''." Oxford University Press Oxford University Pr ...
. It was moral integrity and benevolent leadership that determined the holder of the "Mandate of Heaven." Every dynasty that self-consciously adopted this administrative practice powerfully reinforced this
Sinocentric Sinocentrism refers to the worldview that China is the cultural, political or economic center of the world. It may be considered analogous to Eurocentrism Eurocentrism (also Eurocentricity or Western-centrism) is a worldview that is centered ...
concept throughout the history of imperial China. Historians noted that this was one of the key reasons why imperial China in many ways had the most efficient system of government in ancient times. Finally, it was generally not possible for a woman to succeed to the throne and in the history of China there has only been one reigning Empress,
Wu Zetian Wu Zhao, commonly known as Wu Zetian (17 February 624 – 26 November 705), alternatively Wu Hou, and during the later Tang dynasty The Tang dynasty (, ; ), or Tang Empire, was an imperial dynasty of China that ruled from 618 to 907, ...
(624–705 CE), who usurped the throne of the
Tang dynasty The Tang dynasty (, ; ), or Tang Empire, was an imperial dynasty of China that ruled from 618 to 907, with an interregnum An interregnum (plural interregna or interregnums) is a period of discontinuity or "gap" in a government, organiza ...
.


How to read the titles of a Chinese sovereign

All sovereigns are denoted by a string of
Chinese characters Chinese characters, also called ''hanzi'' (), are logogram In a written language A written language is the representation of a spoken or gestural language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, ...
. Examples in Standard Mandarin: # Hàn Gāo Zǔ ''Liú Bāng'' (漢 高祖 ''劉邦'') # Táng Tài Zōng ''Lǐ Shì Mín'' (唐 太宗 ''李世民'') # Hòu Hàn Gāo Zǔ ''Liú Zhī Yuǎn'' (後漢 高祖 ''劉知遠'') # Hàn Guāng Wǔ Dì ''Liú Xiù'' (漢 光武帝 ''劉秀'') The first character(s) are the name of the dynasty or kingdom. e.g. Hàn, Táng, Wèi and Hòu Hàn. Then come the characters of how the sovereign is commonly called, in most cases the posthumous names or the temple names. e.g. Gāo Zǔ, Tài Zōng, Wǔ Dì, Guāng Wǔ Dì. Then follow the characters of their family and given names. e.g. ''Liú Bāng'', ''Lǐ Shì Mín'', ''Cáo Cāo'', ''Liú Zhī Yuǎn'' and ''Liú Xiù''. In contemporary historical texts, the string including the name of dynasty and temple or posthumous names is sufficient as a clear reference to a particular sovereign. e.g. Hàn Gāo Zǔ Note that Wèi Wǔ Dì ''Cáo Cāo'' was never a sovereign in his own right but his son was. Thus his imperial style of Wǔ Dì was added only after his son had ascended to the throne. Such cases were common in Chinese history, i.e., the first emperor of a new dynasty often accorded posthumous imperial titles to his father or sometimes even further paternal ancestors.


Tang Dynasty naming conventions

All sovereigns starting from the
Tang Dynasty The Tang dynasty (, ; ), or Tang Empire, was an imperial dynasty of China that ruled from 618 to 907, with an interregnum An interregnum (plural interregna or interregnums) is a period of discontinuity or "gap" in a government, organiza ...
are contemporarily referred to using the temple names. They also had posthumous names that were less used, except in traditional historical texts. The situation was reversed before Tang as posthumous names were contemporarily used. e.g. The posthumous name of Táng Tài Zōng ''Lǐ Shì Mín'' was Wén Dì (文帝) If sovereigns since Tang were referenced using posthumous names, they were the last ones of their sovereignties or their reigns were short and unpopular. e.g. Táng Āi Dì ''Lǐ Zhù'' (唐哀帝 ''李柷''), also known as Táng Zhāo Xuān Dì (唐昭宣帝), was last emperor of the
Tang Dynasty The Tang dynasty (, ; ), or Tang Empire, was an imperial dynasty of China that ruled from 618 to 907, with an interregnum An interregnum (plural interregna or interregnums) is a period of discontinuity or "gap" in a government, organiza ...
reigning from 904 to 907. Hàn Guāng Wǔ Dì is equivalent to Dōng Hàn Guāng Wǔ Dì since he was the founder of the Eastern (dōng)
Han Dynasty#REDIRECT Han dynasty The Han dynasty () was the second Dynasties in Chinese history, imperial dynasty of China (202 BC – 220 AD), established by the rebel leader Liu Bang and ruled by the House of Liu. Preceded by the short-lived Qin dynas ...

Han Dynasty
. All dōng (east)-xī (west), nán (south)-běi (north), qián (former)-hòu (later) conventions were invented only by past or present historiographers for denoting a new era of a dynasty. They were never used during that era.


Self-made titles

Xiang Yu Xiang Yu (, –202 BC), born Xiang Ji (), was the Hegemon-King (Chinese: 霸王, ''Bà Wáng'') of Western Chu Chu (, Hanyu Pinyin: Chǔ, Old Chinese: ''*s-r̥aʔ'') was a Zhou dynasty ancient Chinese states, vassal state. Their fir ...

Xiang Yu
styled himself, Xīchǔ Bàwáng (“西楚霸王,” lit. Hegemon-King of Western Chu).


Non-Han titles taken by Chinese rulers

Emperor Taizong of Tang Emperor Taizong of Tang (28January 59810July 649), previously Prince of Qin, personal name Li Shimin, was the second emperor of the Tang dynasty The Tang dynasty (, ; ), or Tang Empire, was an imperial dynasty of China that ruled fr ...
was crowned
Tian Kehan Khan of Heaven or Tian Kehan, Celestial Kha(ga)n, Heavenly Kha(ga)n, Tengri Kha(ga)n () was a title addressed to the Emperor Taizong of Tang by various Turkic nomads. It was first mentioned in accounts on May 20, 630 and again on October 24, 646, sh ...
天可汗, or "
heavenly Heavenly may refer to: * Pertaining to Heaven Music Bands * Heavenly (British band), an English pop band * Heavenly (French band), a French heavy metal band Albums * Heavenly (Johnny Mathis album), ''Heavenly'' (Johnny Mathis album), 1959 * H ...

heavenly
Khagan Khagan or Qaghan ( otk, 𐰴𐰍𐰣, Kaɣan, mn, Xаан or ᠬᠠᠭᠠᠨ, Khaan, ota, خواقين, Ḫākan, or خان ''Ḫān'', tr, Kağan or ''Hakan'', ug, قاغان, Qaghan) ''Khāqān'', alternatively spelled Kağan, Kagan, Kh ...
", after defeating the Gokturks, ( Tujue).''
Zizhi Tongjian ''Zizhi Tongjian'' () is a pioneering reference work in Chinese historiography, published in 1084 AD during the Song dynasty in the form of a chronicle recording Chinese history from 403 BC to 959 AD, covering 16 dynasties and spanning almost 1 ...
'', vol. 249.


Common naming conventions

Here is a quick guide of the most common style of reference (but not a thorough explanation) in contemporary use. Using an emperor's different titles or styles is nevertheless considered correct but not as common. # Emperors before the Tang dynasty: use dynasty name + posthumous names. e.g. Han Wu Di # Emperors between Tang dynasty and Ming dynasty: use dynasty name + temple names e.g. Tang Tai Zong # Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties: use Nian hao, era names (reign names) because most emperors had only one distinctive era name during their reign, e.g. the Kangxi Emperor (康熙 kāng xī) of Qing. The exceptions are the first two emperors of the Qing Dynasty, and the Yīngzōng Emperor (英宗) of Ming, who had two era names. #:However, the use of era names makes many mistake these for the names of the emperors themselves, and many scholars therefore encourage a reversed wording for Ming and Qing emperors, e.g., the Kangxi Emperor, the Qianlong Emperor, et cetera. To be more precise, and clear in English, one could use: the Kangxi era Emperor, etc. # Overrides rules 1 to 3: If there is a more common convention than using posthumous, temple or era names, then use it. Examples include
Wu Zetian Wu Zhao, commonly known as Wu Zetian (17 February 624 – 26 November 705), alternatively Wu Hou, and during the later Tang dynasty The Tang dynasty (, ; ), or Tang Empire, was an imperial dynasty of China that ruled from 618 to 907, ...
(the only female empress regnant in the Chinese history). # Since all legitimate rulers of China after
Qin Shi Huang Qin Shi Huang (, ; 259–210 BCE), or Shihuangdi, was the founder of the Qin dynasty, and first Emperor of China, emperor of a unified China. Rather than maintain the title of "Chinese king, king" ( ''wáng'') borne by the previous Shang dyna ...
can be titled Emperor of China, in English they can be referred to by "Emperor of" and the name of his respective dynasty after the temple or posthumous name. e.g. #:Han Wudi = Emperor Wu of Han Dynasty #:Tang Taizong = Emperor Taizong of Tang Dynasty # Some scholars prefer using the Wade-Giles romanization instead of the Pinyin but the above formats still hold. e.g. Han Wu Di = Wu-ti Emperor of Han Dynasty.


See also


References


Citations


Sources

* Yap, Joseph P. (2009). "Official Titles and Institutional Terms - Qin and Han" pp612–620 and Chapter 1. pp 38–39 in "Wars With The Xiongnu - A Translation From Zizhi tongjian" . AuthorHouse. * * {{refend Political history of China Heads of state Chinese emperors, * Chinese government officials