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Emperor of China, or ''Huángdì'' (), was the
monarch A monarch is a 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 tha ...
of China during the imperial period of Chinese history. In traditional Chinese political theory, the emperor was considered the
Son of Heaven Son of Heaven, or ''Tianzi'' (), was the sacred monarchical title of the Chinese sovereign The Chinese sovereign was the ruler of a particular regime in History of China#Ancient China, ancient China and History of China#Imperial China, imper ...
and the autocrat of
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 ...
. Under 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
,
Confucianism , Shanxi Shanxi (; ; Chinese postal romanization, formerly romanised as Shansi) is a landlocked Provinces of China, province of the China, People's Republic of China and is part of the North China region. The capital and largest city of th ...
replaced Legalism as the official political theory and succession theoretically followed
agnatic primogeniture Primogeniture ( ) is the right, by law or custom, of the firstborn legitimate child to inheritance, inherit the parent's entire or main estate (law), estate in preference to shared inheritance among all or some children, any illegitimate child o ...
. The succession of emperors in a paternal family 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 200px, The Pitt Building in Cambridge, which us ...
. The absolute authority of the emperor came with a variety of governing duties and moral obligations; failure to uphold these was thought to remove the dynasty's
Mandate of Heaven The Mandate of Heaven () is a Chinese political philosophy that was used in ancient Ancient history is the aggregate of past eventsAztec King Nezahualpiltzintli of Texcoco King is the title given to a male monarch in a variety of cont ...
and to justify its overthrow. In practice, emperors sometimes avoided the strict rules of succession and dynasties' ostensible "failures" were detailed in official histories written by their successful replacements. The power of the emperor was also limited by the
imperial bureaucracy
imperial bureaucracy
, which was staffed by
scholar-officials 220px, A 15th-century portrait of the Ming official egrets on his chest are a "mandarin square">Egret_(bird).html" ;"title="Jiang Shunfu. The decoration of two Egret (bird)">egrets on his chest are a "mandarin square", indicating that he was a c ...
and in some dynasties
eunuchs 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 se ...
. An emperor was also constrained by filial obligations to his ancestors' policies and dynastic traditions, such as those detailed in the
Ming dynasty The Ming dynasty (), officially the Great Ming, was the ruling dynasty of China from 1368 to 1644 following the collapse of the Mongol The Mongols ( mn, Монголчууд, , ''Mongolchuud'', ; russian: Монголы, ) are an eth ...

Ming dynasty
's '' Ancestral Instructions''.


Origin and history

left, A painting of Qin Shi Huangdi, who was the first Emperor of China and introduced the title ''huangdi'' for emperorship 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 ( ...
(c. 1046 BC – 256 BC), Chinese feudal rulers with power over their particular fiefdoms were called ''
gong A gongFrom Indonesian language, Indonesian and ms, gong; jv, ꦒꦺꦴꦁ ; zh, c=鑼, p=luó; ja, , dora; km, គង ; th, ฆ้อง ; vi, cồng chiêng; as, কাঁহ is a percussion instrument originating in East Asia, East ...
'' () but, as the power of the
Shang 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
and
ZhouZhou may refer to: Chinese history * King Zhou of Shang () (1105 BC–1046 BC), the last king of the Shang dynasty * Predynastic Zhou (), 11th-century BC precursor to the Zhou dynasty * Zhou dynasty () (1046 BC–256 BC), a dynasty of China ** Weste ...
king King is the title given to a male monarch in a variety of contexts. The female equivalent is queen regnant, queen, which title is also given to the queen consort, consort of a king. *In the context of prehistory, antiquity and contempora ...
s (,Baxter, William & al.
Baxter–Sagart Old Chinese Reconstruction
''. 2011. Accessed 22 Dec 2013.
mod. ''wang'') waned, the dukes began to usurp that title for themselves. In 221 BCE, after the then-king of
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 ...
completed the conquest of the various kingdoms of the
Warring States period The Warring States period () was an era in ancient Chinese history characterized by warfare, as well as bureaucratic and military reforms and consolidation. It followed the Spring and Autumn period The Spring and Autumn period was a period i ...
, he adopted a new title to reflect his prestige as a ruler greater than the rulers before him. He called himself ''
Shi Huangdi Qin Shi Huang (, ; 18 February 25910 September 210) was the founder of the Qin dynasty and the first Emperor of China, emperor of a unified China. From 247 to 221 BC he was Zheng, King of Qin (, ''Qín Wáng Zhèng'', personal name 嬴政 ''Y ...
'', the First Emperor. Before this, ''Huang'' () and ''Di'' () were the nominal "titles" of eight rulers of
Chinese mythology Chinese mythology () is mythology Myth is a folklore genre Folklore is the expressive body of culture shared by a particular group of people; it encompasses the traditions common to that culture, subculture or group. This includes oral ...
or
prehistory Prehistory, also known as pre-literary history, is the period of human history Human history, or world history, is the narrative of Human, humanity's past. It is understood through archaeology, anthropology, genetics, and linguistics, ...
: The three '' Huang'' (, "august, sovereign") were godly rulers credited with feats like ordering the
sky The sky is the panorama obtained from observing the universe The universe ( la, universus) is all of space and time and their contents, including planets, stars, galaxy, galaxies, and all other forms of matter and energy. The Big Bang th ...
and forming the first humans out of clay; the five '' Di'' (, , also often translated as "emperor" but also meaning "the
God In monotheism, monotheistic thought, God is conceived of as the supreme being, creator deity, creator, and principal object of Faith#Religious views, faith.Richard Swinburne, Swinburne, R.G. "God" in Ted Honderich, Honderich, Ted. (ed)''The Oxfo ...

God
of
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 . This term is attributed to , such as s, s, , and . It also ...

Heaven
") were
cultural hero A culture hero is a mythological Myth is a folklore genre Folklore is the expressive body of culture shared by a particular group of people; it encompasses the traditions common to that culture, subculture or group. These include oral trad ...
es credited with the invention of
agriculture Agriculture is the science, art and practice of cultivating plants and livestock. Agriculture was the key development in the rise of sedentary Image:Family watching television 1958.jpg, Exercise trends, Increases in sedentary behaviors su ...
,
clothing Clothing (also known as clothes, apparel, and attire) are items worn on the body. Typically, clothing is made of fabrics or textile A textile is a flexible material made by creating an interlocking bundle of yarn Yarn is a long ...
,
astrology Astrology is a pseudoscience that claims to divination, divine information about human affairs and terrestrial events by studying the movements and relative positions of Celestial objects in astrology, celestial objects. Astrology has be ...
,
music Music is the of arranging s in time through the of melody, harmony, rhythm, and timbre. It is one of the aspects of all human societies. General include common elements such as (which governs and ), (and its associated concepts , , and ...
, etc. In the 3rd century BCE, the two titles had not previously been used together. Because of the god-like powers of the ''Huang'', the folk worship of the ''Di'', and the latter's use in the name of the God of Heaven
Shangdi Shangdi (), also written simply, "Emperor An emperor (from la, imperator, via fro, empereor) is a monarch, and usually the sovereignty, sovereign ruler of an empire or another type of imperial realm. Empress, the female equivalent, may in ...

Shangdi
, however, the First Emperor's title would have been understood as implying "The August Ancestor", "The Holy Ruler", or "The Divine Lord". On that account, some modern scholars translate the title as "
thearch Theocracy is a form of government in which a deity A deity or god is a supernatural being considered divinity, divine or sacred. The ''Oxford Dictionary of English'' defines deity as "a God (male deity), god or goddess (in a polytheistic relig ...
".Nadeau, Randall L. ''The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Chinese Religions''
pp. 54 ff.
John Wiley & Sons (Chichester), 2012. Accessed 22 December 2013.
On occasion, the father of the ascended emperor was still alive. Such an emperor was titled the ''
Taishang Huang In Chinese history, a Taishang Huang or Taishang Huangdi is an honorific and institution of retired emperorship. The former emperor had, at least in name, abdicated in favor of someone else. Although technically no longer the reigning sovereign, ...
'' (), the "Grand Imperial Sire". The practice was initiated by the First Emperor, who gave the title as a
posthumous name A posthumous name is an honorary name given to royalty, nobles, and sometimes others, in East Asia East Asia is the eastern region of Asia Asia () is Earth's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the Eastern He ...
to his own father.
Liu Bang Emperor Gaozu of Han (256 – 1 June 195 BC), born Liu Bang () with courtesy name Ji (季), was the founder and first emperor of the Han dynasty, reigning in 202–195 BC. His temple name was "Taizu" while his posthumous name was Emper ...

Liu Bang
, who established 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
, was the first to become emperor while his father yet lived. It was said he granted the title during his father's life because he would not be bowed to by his own father, a commoner. Owing to political fragmentation, over the centuries, it has not been uncommon to have numerous claimants to the title of "Emperor of All China". The Chinese political concept of 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 eventsAztec King Nezahualpiltzintli of Texcoco King is the title given to a male monarch in a variety of cont ...
essentially legitimized those claimants who emerged victorious. The proper list was considered those made by the official dynastic histories; the compilation of a history of the preceding dynasty was considered one of the hallmarks of legitimacy, along with symbols such as the Nine Ding or the
Heirloom Seal of the Realm The Heirloom Seal of the Realm (), also known in English as the Imperial Seal of China, is a Chinese Chinese can refer to: * Something related to China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia. ...
. As with the First Emperor, it was very common also to retroactively grant posthumous titles to the ancestors of the victors; even in Chinese historiography, however, such grants were not considered to elevate emperors prior to the successful declaration of a new dynasty. The Yuan and
Qing The Qing dynasty, officially the Great Qing (), was the last imperial dynasty A dynasty (, ) is a sequence of rulers from the same family,''Oxford English Dictionary'', "dynasty, ''n.''" Oxford University Press Oxford Univers ...
dynasties A dynasty (, ) is a sequence of rulers from the same family In human society, family (from la, familia) is a group of people related either by consanguinity (by recognized birth) or affinity (by marriage or other relationship). Th ...
were founded by successful invaders; as part of their rule over
China China (), officially the People's Republic of China (PRC; ), is a country in East Asia East Asia is the eastern region of Asia Asia () is Earth's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the Eastern Hemisphere ...

China
, however, they also went through the rituals of formally declaring a new dynasty and taking on the Chinese title of ''Huangdi'', in addition to the titles of their respective people. Thus,
Kublai Khan Kublai (; also spelled Qubilai or Kübilai; mn, Хубилай, Khubilai ; ; 23 September  1215 – 18 February 1294), also known by his temple name as Emperor Shizu of Yuan, was the fifth khagan-Emperor of China, emperor of the Mongol Empir ...

Kublai Khan
was simultaneously
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 ...
of the
Mongols The Mongols ( mn, Монголчууд, , ''Mongolchuud'', ; russian: Монголы, ) are an East Asian people, East Asian ethnic group indigenous peoples, native to the Inner Mongolia, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of China, Mongolia an ...

Mongols
and Emperor of China.


End of the emperors

In 1911, the title of
Prime Minister of the Imperial Cabinet The Prime Minister of the Imperial Cabinet was the office of the Prime Minister created on 8 May 1911 in the late Qing dynasty, as part of the imperial government's unsuccessful attempts at creating a constitutional monarchy A constit ...
was created to rule alongside the Emperor, as part of an attempt to turn China into a
constitutional monarchy A constitutional monarchy, parliamentary monarchy, or democratic monarchy is a form of monarchy in which the monarch exercises his authority in accordance with a constitution and is not alone in deciding. Constitutional monarchies differ from ...
. The
Xuantong Emperor Puyi (; February 7, 1906 – October 17, 1967), courtesy name Yaozhi (曜之), was the last emperor of China as the eleventh and final Qing dynasty emperor, Qing dynasty ruler. He became the Xuantong Emperor (then spelled as Hsuan Tung Emper ...
(Puyi) of the Qing dynasty was the de jure last Emperor of China, abdicated on 12 February 1912, thus ending the imperial tradition after more than 2,100 years.
Yuan Shikai Yuan Shikai (; 16 September 1859 – 6 June 1916) was a Chinese military and government official who rose to power during the late Qing dynasty, becoming the Emperor of the Empire of China (1915–1916). He tried to save the dynasty with a numb ...

Yuan Shikai
, former
President of the Republic of China The president of the Republic of China, usually referred to as the president of Taiwan, is the head of state A head of state (or chief of state) is the public persona A persona (plural personae or personas), depending on the conte ...
, attempted to restore a monarchy with himself as the Hongxian Emperor, however his reign as Emperor ended on 22 March 1916. Puyi was briefly restored for almost two weeks during a coup in 1917 but was overthrown again shortly after. He later became the emperor of
Manchukuo Manchukuo, officially the State of Manchuria prior to 1934 and the Empire of (Great) Manchuria after 1934, was a puppet state of the Empire of Japan in Northeast China and Inner Mongolia from 1932 until 1945. It was founded as a republic in 19 ...
, a
Japanese Japanese may refer to: * Something from or related to Japan Japan ( ja, 日本, or , and formally ) is an island country An island country or an island nation is a country A country is a distinct territory, territorial body or ...

Japanese
puppet state, and was captured by the
Red Army The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army,) frequently shortened to Red Army, was the army and air force of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic The Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (Russian SFSR or RSFSR; rus, links= ...
as a prisoner of war after
World War II World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a global war A world war is "a war War is an intense armed conflict between states State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literatur ...
and held in Chita,
Soviet Union The Soviet Union,. officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. (USSR),. was a that spanned during its existence from 1922 to 1991. It was nominally a of multiple national ; in practice and were highly until its final years. The ...
. He was returned to China and rehabilitated in Fushun War Criminals Management Centre, and after he was released lived until 1967.


Number of Emperors

Confucian historiography holds that there can only be one legitimate Son of Heaven at any given time. However, identifying the "legitimate" emperor during times of division is not always uncontroversial, and therefore the exact number of legitimate emperors depends on where one stands on a number of succession disputes. The two most notable such controversies are whether Wei or Shu was the legitimate dynasty during the Three Kingdoms, and at what point the Song dynasty ceased to be the legitimate dynasty in favor of the Yuan dynasty. The Qing view, reported to Europe by the Jesuits, was that there had been 150 emperors from the First Emperor to the Kangxi Emperor. Adding the eight uncontroversial emperors that followed the Kangxi Emperor would give a grand total of 158 emperors from the First Emperor to Puyi. By one count, from the
Qin dynasty The Qin dynasty, or Ch'in dynasty in Wade–Giles Wade–Giles () is a romanization Romanization or romanisation, in linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of ever ...

Qin dynasty
to 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 ...
, there were a total 557 individuals who at one point or another claimed the title "emperor", several of them simultaneously. Some, such as
Li Zicheng Li Zicheng (22 September 1606 – 1645), born Li Hongji, also known by the nickname, Dashing King, was a Chinese peasant rebel leader who overthrew the Ming dynasty The Ming dynasty (), officially the Great Ming, was the ruling dynasty ...
,
Huang Chao Huang Chao (835 – July 13, 884) was a Chinese smuggler, soldier, and rebel, and is most well known for being the leader of a major rebellion that severely weakened the Tang dynasty. Huang was a Salt in Chinese history, salt smuggler before j ...

Huang Chao
, and
Yuan Shu Yuan Shu () (died 199), courtesy name Gonglu, was a Chinese military general, politician, and warlord who lived during the late Eastern Han dynasty. He rose to prominence following the collapse of the Han central government in 189. He declared h ...

Yuan Shu
, declared themselves the Emperors,
Son of Heaven Son of Heaven, or ''Tianzi'' (), was the sacred monarchical title of the Chinese sovereign The Chinese sovereign was the ruler of a particular regime in History of China#Ancient China, ancient China and History of China#Imperial China, imper ...
and founded their own empires as a rival government to challenge the legitimacy of and overthrow the existing Emperor. Among the most famous emperors were
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 ...
of the
Qin dynasty The Qin dynasty, or Ch'in dynasty in Wade–Giles Wade–Giles () is a romanization Romanization or romanisation, in linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of ever ...

Qin dynasty
, the Emperors
Gaozu
Gaozu
and
Wu
Wu
of 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
, Emperor Taizong of the Tang dynasty,
Kublai Khan Kublai (; also spelled Qubilai or Kübilai; mn, Хубилай, Khubilai ; ; 23 September  1215 – 18 February 1294), also known by his temple name as Emperor Shizu of Yuan, was the fifth khagan-Emperor of China, emperor of the Mongol Empir ...

Kublai Khan
of the Yuan dynasty, the
Hongwu Emperor The Hongwu Emperor (21 October 1328 – 24 June 1398), personal name Zhu Yuanzhang (), was the founding emperor of the Ming dynasty The Ming dynasty (), officially the Great Ming, was the ruling dynasty of China from 1368 to 1644 ...
of the Ming dynasty, and the
Kangxi Emperor The Kangxi Emperor (Xuanye; 4 May 1654– 20 December 1722) was the third Emperor of the Qing dynasty, and the second Qing emperor to rule over China proper China proper, Inner China or the Eighteen Provinces was a term used by Wester ...

Kangxi Emperor
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 ...
."看版圖學中國歷史", p.5, Publisher: Chung Hwa Book Company, Year: 2006, Author: 陸運高, .


Power

The Emperor's words were considered sacred edicts () and his written proclamations "directives from above" (). In theory, the Emperor's orders were to be obeyed immediately. He was elevated above all commoners, nobility and members of the Imperial family. Addresses to the Emperor were always to be formal and self-deprecatory, even by the closest of family members. In practice, however, the power of the emperor varied between different emperors and different
dynasties A dynasty (, ) is a sequence of rulers from the same family In human society, family (from la, familia) is a group of people related either by consanguinity (by recognized birth) or affinity (by marriage or other relationship). Th ...
. Generally, in the Chinese
dynastic cycle Dynastic cycle () is an important political theory Political philosophy is the philosophical study of government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a State (polity), state. I ...
, emperors founding a dynasty usually consolidated the empire through
absolute rule Absolute monarchy (or absolutism as doctrine) is a form of monarchy in which the monarch holds supreme autocracy, autocratic authority, principally not being restricted by written laws, legislature, or customs. These are often hereditary monarc ...
: examples include
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 ...
of 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
,
Emperor Gaozu of Han Emperor Gaozu of Han (256 – 1 June 195 BC), born Liu Bang () with courtesy name Ji (季), was the founder and first emperor of the Han dynasty, reigning in 202–195 BC. His temple name was "Taizu" while his posthumous name was Emper ...

Emperor Gaozu of Han
,
Emperor Guangwu of Han The Emperor Guangwu of Han (15 January 5 BC – 29 March AD 57), born Liu Xiu (), courtesy name A courtesy name (), also known as a style name, is a name bestowed upon one at adulthood in addition to one's given name. This practice is a t ...
, Emperor Taizong of the Tang,
Kublai Khan Kublai (; also spelled Qubilai or Kübilai; mn, Хубилай, Khubilai ; ; 23 September  1215 – 18 February 1294), also known by his temple name as Emperor Shizu of Yuan, was the fifth khagan-Emperor of China, emperor of the Mongol Empir ...

Kublai Khan
of the Yuan, and the
Kangxi Emperor The Kangxi Emperor (Xuanye; 4 May 1654– 20 December 1722) was the third Emperor of the Qing dynasty, and the second Qing emperor to rule over China proper China proper, Inner China or the Eighteen Provinces was a term used by Wester ...

Kangxi Emperor
of the Qing. These emperors ruled as
absolute monarch Absolute monarchy (or absolutism as doctrine) is a form of monarchy A monarchy is a form of government in which a person, the monarch A monarch is a head of stateWebster's II New College DictionarMonarch Houghton Mifflin. Boston. ...
s throughout their reign, maintaining a centralized grip on the country. During the Song dynasty, the emperor's power was significantly overshadowed by the power of the
chancellor Chancellor ( la, links=no, cancellarius) is a title of various official positions in the governments of many nations. The original chancellors were the ''cancellarii Cancelli are lattice-work, placed before a window, a door-way, the tribunal o ...
. The emperor's position, unless deposed in a rebellion, was always hereditary, usually by
agnatic primogeniture Primogeniture ( ) is the right, by law or custom, of the firstborn legitimate child to inheritance, inherit the parent's entire or main estate (law), estate in preference to shared inheritance among all or some children, any illegitimate child o ...
. As a result, many emperors ascended the throne while still children. During these minorities, the
Empress Dowager Empress dowager (also dowager empress or empress mother) () is the translation of the title given to the or of an East Asian (, , , and ) emperor. The title was also given occasionally to another of the same generation, while a woman from t ...
(i.e., the emperor's mother) would possess significant power. In fact, the vast majority of female rulers throughout Chinese Imperial history came to power by ruling as
regent A regent (from the Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Repu ...
s on behalf of their sons; prominent examples include the
Empress Lü Empress (Dowager) Lü Zhi (241–18 August 180 BC), commonly known as Empress Lü () and formally Empress Gao of Han (), was the empress consort of Emperor Gaozu of Han, Gaozu, the founding emperor of the Han dynasty. They had two known children ...
of 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
, as well as
Empress Dowager Cixi Empress Dowager Cixi ( ; mnc, Tsysi taiheo; formerly romanised Romanization or romanisation, in linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well a ...

Empress Dowager Cixi
and
Empress Dowager Ci'an Empress Xiaozhenxian (12 August 1837 – 8 April 1881), of 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 his ...
of the Qing dynasty, who for a time ruled jointly as co-regents. Where Empresses Dowager were too weak to assume power, court officials often seized control. Court
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 ...
s had a significant role in the power structure, as emperors often relied on a few of them as confidants, which gave them access to many court documents. In a few places, eunuchs wielded vast power; one of the most powerful eunuchs in Chinese history was
Wei Zhongxian Wei Zhongxian (1568 – December 12, 1627) was a Chinese court 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 large ...

Wei Zhongxian
during the
Ming dynasty The Ming dynasty (), officially the Great Ming, was the ruling dynasty of China from 1368 to 1644 following the collapse of the Mongol The Mongols ( mn, Монголчууд, , ''Mongolchuud'', ; russian: Монголы, ) are an eth ...

Ming dynasty
. Occasionally, other nobles seized power as
regent A regent (from the Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Repu ...
s. The actual area ruled by the Emperor of China varied from dynasty to dynasty. In some cases, such as during the
Southern Song dynasty The Song dynasty (; ; 960–1279) was an imperial dynasty of China that began in 960 and lasted until 1279. The dynasty was founded by Emperor Taizu of Song Emperor Taizu of Song (21 March 927 – 14 November 976), personal name Zhao Kua ...
, political power in East Asia was effectively split among several governments; nonetheless, the
political fiction Image:Edward Bellamy - photograph c.1889.jpg, 85px, Edward Bellamy Political fiction employs narrative to Political commentary, comment on political events, systems and theories. Works of political fiction, such as politica ...
that there was but one ruler was maintained.


Heredity and succession

The title of ''emperor'' was hereditary, traditionally passed on from father to son in each dynasty. There are also instances where the throne is assumed by a younger brother, should the deceased Emperor have no male offspring. By convention in most dynasties, the eldest son born to the
Empress An emperor (from la, imperator The Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning ...
() succeeded to the throne. In some cases when the empress did not bear any children, the emperor would have a child with another of his many wives (all children of the emperor were said also to be the children of the empress, regardless of birth mother). In some dynasties the succession of the empress' eldest son was disputed, and because many emperors had large numbers of progeny, there were wars of succession between rival sons. In an attempt to resolve after-death disputes, the emperor, while still living, often designated a
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
(). Even such a clear designation, however, was often thwarted by jealousy and distrust, whether it was the crown prince plotting against the emperor, or brothers plotting against each other. Some emperors, like the
Yongzheng Emperor The Yongzheng Emperor (Yinzhen; 13 December 1678 – 8 October 1735) was the fourth List of emperors of the Qing dynasty, Emperor of the Qing dynasty, and the third Qing emperor to rule over China proper. He reigned from 1722 to 1735. A hard-wor ...
, after abolishing the position of Crown Prince, placed the succession papers in a sealed box, only to be opened and announced after his death. Unlike, for example, the Japanese monarchy, Chinese political theory allowed for a change in the ruling house. This was based on the concept of 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 eventsAztec King Nezahualpiltzintli of Texcoco King is the title given to a male monarch in a variety of cont ...
". The theory behind this was that the Chinese emperor acted as the "Son of Heaven" and held a mandate to rule over everyone else in the world; but only as long as he served the people well. If the quality of rule became questionable because of repeated natural disasters such as flood or famine, or for other reasons, then rebellion was justified. This important concept legitimized the dynastic cycle or the change of dynasties. This principle made it possible even for peasants to found new dynasties, as happened with the
Han Han may refer to: Ethnic groups * Han Chinese The Han Chinese,
. Huayuqiao.org. Retrieved on ...

Han
and
Ming The Ming dynasty (), officially the Great Ming, was the ruling dynasty of China from 1368 to 1644 following the collapse of the Mongol The Mongols ( mn, Монголчууд, , ''Mongolchuud'', ; russian: Монголы, ) are an eth ...

Ming
dynasties, and for the establishment of conquest dynasties such as the 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 Manchu-led Qing dynasty. It was moral integrity and benevolent leadership that determined the holder of the "Mandate of Heaven". There has been only one lawful female reigning Emperor in China, Empress Zetian, who briefly replaced 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 ...
with her own
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 ...
. Many women, however, did become ''
de facto ''De facto'' ( ; , "in fact") describes practices that exist in reality, even though they are not officially recognized by laws. It is commonly used to refer to what happens in practice, in contrast with ''de jure'' ("by law"), which refers to th ...
'' leaders, usually as
Empress Dowager Empress dowager (also dowager empress or empress mother) () is the translation of the title given to the or of an East Asian (, , , and ) emperor. The title was also given occasionally to another of the same generation, while a woman from t ...
. Prominent examples include
Empress Dowager Lü An emperor (from la, imperator, via fro, empereor) is a monarch A monarch is a head of stateWebster's II New College DictionarMonarch Houghton Mifflin. Boston. 2001. p. 707. Life tenure, for life or until abdication, and therefore the he ...
of 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
, Empress Dowager Liu of the
Sung dynasty The Song dynasty (; ; 960–1279) was an Dynasties in Chinese history, imperial dynasty of China that began in 960 and lasted until 1279. The dynasty was founded by Emperor Taizu of Song following his usurpation of the throne of the Later Zhou, ...
and
Empress Dowager Cixi Empress Dowager Cixi ( ; mnc, Tsysi taiheo; formerly romanised Romanization or romanisation, in linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well a ...

Empress Dowager Cixi
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 ...
.


Styles, names and forms of address

:''To see naming conventions in detail, please refer to
Chinese sovereign 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 historical ...
'' As the emperor had, by law, an absolute position not to be challenged by anyone else, his or her subjects were to show the utmost respect in his or her presence, whether in direct conversation or otherwise. When approaching the Imperial
throne A throne is the seat of state of a potentate or dignitary {{Short pages monitor