The Info List - Emperor Wen Of Han

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Emperor Wen of Han
Emperor Wen of Han
(203 BC – 6 July 157 BC) was the fifth emperor of the Han Dynasty
of ancient China. His personal name was Liu
Heng. Liu
Heng was a son of Emperor Gao of Han and Consort Bo, later empress dowager. When Emperor Gao suppressed the rebellion of Dai, he made Liu Heng Prince of Dai. After Empress Dowager Lü's death, the officials eliminated the powerful Lü clan, and deliberately chose the Prince of Dai
Prince of Dai
as the emperor, since his mother, Consort Bo, had no powerful relatives, and her family was known for its humility and thoughtfulness. His reign brought a much needed political stability that laid the groundwork for prosperity under his grandson Emperor Wu. According to historians, Emperor Wen trusted and consulted with ministers on state affairs; under the influence of his Taoist wife, Empress Dou, the emperor also sought to avoid wasteful expenditures. Historians noted that the tax rates were at a ratio of "1 out of 30" and "1 out of 60", corresponding to 3.33% and 1.67%, respectively. (These rates are not for income taxes, but property taxes, as the only ancient Chinese attempt to levy an income tax would come in the time of Wang Mang.) Warehouses were so full of grain that some of it was left to decay. Emperor Wen was said by Liu
Xiang to have devoted much time to legal cases, and to have been fond of reading Shen Buhai, using Xing-Ming, a form of personnel examination, to control his subordinates. In a move of lasting importance in 165 BC, Wen introduced recruitment to the civil service through examination. Previously, potential officials never sat for any sort of academic examinations. Their names were sent by local officials to the central government based on reputations and abilities, which were sometimes judged subjectively.[1]


1 Life

1.1 Prince of Dai 1.2 Accession 1.3 Early reign 1.4 Middle reign 1.5 Late reign

2 Legacy 3 Era names 4 Family

4.1 Spouses

4.1.1 Princess Consorts 4.1.2 Empresses 4.1.3 Concubines

4.2 Issue

4.2.1 Sons 4.2.2 Daughters

5 Ancestry 6 See also 7 References

7.1 Citations 7.2 Bibliography

Life[edit] Prince of Dai[edit] In 196 BC, after Emperor Gao defeated the Chen Xi rebellion in the Dai region, he made Liu
Heng, his son by Consort Bo, the Prince of Dai. The capital of the principality was at Jinyang (晉陽, modern Taiyuan, Shanxi).[2] Dai was a region on the boundaries with Xiongnu, and Emperor Gao probably created the principality with the mind to use it as a base to defend against Xiongnu
raids. For the first year of the principality's existence, Chen, whose army was defeated but who eluded capture, remained a threat, until Zhou Bo killed him in battle in autumn 195 BC. It is not known whether at this time Prince Heng, who was then seven years old, was already in Dai, but it seems likely, because his brother Liu
Ruyi was the only prince at the time explicitly to have been recorded to be remaining at the capital Chang'an
rather than being sent to his principality. In 181 BC, after Prince Heng's brother, Prince Liu
Hui of Zhao, committed suicide over his marital problems, Grand Empress Dowager Lü, who was then in effective control of the imperial government, offered the more prosperous Principality of Zhao to Prince Heng, but Prince Heng, judging correctly that she was intending to make her nephew Lü Lu prince, politely declined and indicated that he preferred remaining on the border. The grand empress dowager then made Lü Lu Prince of Zhao. During these years, the Principality of Dai did in fact become a key position in the defense against Xiongnu, and Prince Heng became well-acquainted with Xiongnu
customs and military strategies, although the extent of his own participation in military actions was unknown. Accession[edit] In 180 BC, after Grand Empress Dowager Lü
Empress Dowager Lü
died and the officials made a coup d'etat against her clan and slaughtered them (during the Lü Clan Disturbance), after some deliberation, the officials offered the imperial throne to Prince Heng, rather than Prince Liu
Xiang of Qi, the oldest grandson of Emperor Gao. The key to their decision was that Prince Xiang's maternal clan was domineering and might repeat the behaviors of the Lü clan, while the clan of Prince Heng's maternal clan, the Bos, were considered to be kind and humble. After some hesitation, Prince Heng, then 23 years old, accepted the throne as Emperor Wen. His nephew, Emperor Houshao, viewed as a mere puppet of Grand Empress Dowager Lü
Empress Dowager Lü
and suspected of not being actually a son of Emperor Wen's older brother Emperor Hui, was deposed and executed. Early reign[edit]

Ceramic female attendants from the tomb of Empress Dou (d. 135 BC), Western Han
Western Han
dynasty, Shaanxi
History Museum, Xi'an

Emperor Wen quickly showed an aptitude to govern the empire with diligence, and appeared to be genuinely concerned for the people's welfare. Heavily influenced by his wife Empress Dou, who was an adherent of Taoism, Emperor Wen governed the country with the general policies of non-interference with the people and relaxed laws. His personal life was marked by thriftiness and general willingness to forgive. He was initially very deferential to Zhou Bo, Chen Ping, and Guan Ying (灌嬰), who were instrumental in his accession, and they served as successive prime ministers. Examples of Emperor Wen's policies that showed kindness and concern for the people include the following:

In 179 BC, he abolished the law that permitted the arrest and imprisonment of parents, wives, and siblings of criminals, with the exception of the crime of treason. In 179 BC, he created a governmental assistance program for those in need. Loans or tax exemptions were offered to widowers, widows, orphans, and seniors without children. He also ordered that monthly stipends of rice, wine, and meat be given to seniors over 80 years of age, and that additional stipends of cloth and cotton be given to seniors over 90 years of age. In 179 BC, he made peace with Nanyue, whose king Zhao Tuo
Zhao Tuo
Empress Dowager Lü had offended with an economic embargo and which therefore engaged in raids against the Principality of Changsha (modern Hunan) and the Commandery of Nan (modern Hubei). Emperor Wen accomplished this by writing humble yet assertive letters to Zhao offering peace with dignity and by caring for Zhao's relatives remaining in his native town of Zhending (真定, in modern Shijiazhuang, Hebei). In 178 BC, after a solar eclipse (then viewed as a symbol of divine displeasure), he requested that officials give him honest criticism and recommend capable individuals for governmental positions. He also tried to decrease mandatory taxes and hard labor.

In 179 BC, after some hesitation (during which he, apparently influenced by the theory of chanrang (禪讓), thought that maybe it would be more proper for him to find the wisest person in the empire and offer the throne to him, or that he should consider offering the throne to his uncle Liu
Jiao (劉交), the Prince of Chu; his cousin Liu
Pi (劉濞), the Prince of Wu; or his younger brother Liu
Chang (劉長), the Prince of Huainan), he made his oldest son Liu
Qi the Crown Prince and Prince Qi's mother, Consort Dou, Empress. In addition to Empress Dou, Emperor Wen also favored Consort Shen (慎夫人). Despite her favored state, however, she only wore simple dresses rather than elaborate designs, as a means of savings. Emperor Wen, during the early part of his reign, was often impressed with suggestions tendered by a young official, Jia Yi, but opposed by senior officials, he did not promote Jia to particularly high positions; rather, Jia was put into a rotation as a teacher for various princes. Jia proposed dividing the larger principalities ruled by branch lines of the imperial family, a proposal that Emperor Wen agreed with but hesitated to actually carry out, and he did not actually implement Jia's proposal, which later might have prevented the Rebellion of the Seven States. Middle reign[edit] An incident otherwise uncharacteristic of Emperor Wen occurred in 176 BC. Zhou Bo, who had been instrumental in Emperor Wen's becoming emperor and who had by that point retired to his March of Jiang (絳, in modern Linfen, Shanxi), was falsely accused of treason. Instead of doing initial investigations first, Emperor Wen had Zhou arrested and incarcerated. It was only with the intercession of his mother Empress Dowager Bo and his daughter Princess Changping (昌平公主, Zhou's daughter-in-law) that Zhou was released, and the charges against him dismissed. In 175 BC, over the objections of Jia Yi, Emperor Wen issued an edict permitting any person to mint money (then only in the form of coins) out of copper and tin. The main beneficiaries of this policy were those with access to copper, including the court official Deng Tong (鄧通) (see also below), to whom Emperor Wen had given a major copper mine in Yandao (嚴道, in modern Yaan, Sichuan), and Liu
Pi, the Prince of Wu, whose principality had a major copper mine at Yuzhang (豫章, in modern Nanchang, Jiangxi). In 174 BC, a major incident occurred involving Liu
Chang, the Prince of Chen, who was by then Emperor Wen's only living brother. Emperor Wen had great affection for him and did not punish him for using styles and ceremonies that only emperors were supposed to use. Also, contrary to imperial laws, Prince Chang issued edicts within his own principality and also commissioned his own prime minister. He also carried out executions and made titles for people—two powers that were also reserved to the emperor. Emperor Wen constantly excused him for his indiscretions—which included killing Shen Yiji (審食其), the Marquess of Piyang—but eventually became unhappy. He asked his uncle Bo Zhao (薄昭) to write a letter to Prince Chang to try to change his ways. Instead, Prince Chang was offended and planned a rebellion. When the conspiracy was discovered, Emperor Wen stripped Prince Chang of his title and exiled him to Yandao—with the intent to teach him a lesson and then summoning him back. However, on the way, Prince Chang died—probably by suicide. In 172 BC, Emperor Wen, missing Prince Chang dearly and still lamenting his death, made his sons Liu
An, Liu
Bo (劉勃), Liu
Ci (劉賜), and Liu
Liang (劉良) marquesses, again over Jia Yi's objection. Also in 174 BC, when the Xiongnu's new chanyu Laoshang came to power, Emperor Wen continued the heqin policy by giving him a prince's daughter in marriage. In 170 BC, Emperor Wen's uncle Bo Zhao, who had been instrumental in his administration, killed an imperial messenger. Emperor Wen forced him to commit suicide. This incident drew criticism from later historians, who believed that he should have curbed Bo's powers earlier and saved his life in that manner. In 169 BC, Chao Cuo
Chao Cuo
(晁錯), then a low-level official, offered Emperor Wen a number of suggestions for dealing with the Xiongnu. Emperor Wen was impressed, and made him a member of Crown Prince Qi's household. At Chao's suggestion, in 168 BC, Emperor Wen instituted the policy that if people contributed food for use by the northern defense force against Xiongnu, they could receive titles or have their crimes pardoned. In 167 BC, Emperor Wen banned the corporal punishments of facial tattoo and cutting off the nose or a foot, and replaced them with whipping. These punishments would not be instituted again as a matter of formal legal sentencing for the rest of Chinese history. (However, as was later noted, this actually caused more deaths, and so the amount of whipping was further reduced in 156 BC by Emperor Jing.) Late reign[edit] Later in his reign, Emperor Wen became superstitious and started to search for supernatural events. In 165 BC, at the instigation of the sorcerer Xinyuan Ping (新垣平), he built a temple north of Wei River dedicated to five gods. He then promoted Xinyuan and awarded him with much treasure. At Xinyuan's suggestion, Emperor Wen planned a thorough revision of the governmental system and the building of many temples. In 164 BC, Xinyuan Ping had an associate place a jade cup outside the imperial palace with mysterious writings on them, and also predicted a regression in the path of the sun. (This phenomenon has never been adequately explained, but might have actually been a partial solar eclipse.) In response, Emperor Wen joyously proclaimed an empire-wide festival and also restarted the calendaring for his reign. (Therefore, the years 163 BC and on, for the rest of his reign, were known as the later era of his reign.) However, in winter 164 BC, Xinyuan was exposed to be a fraud, and he and his clan were executed. That ended Emperor Wen's period of supernatural fascination. In 158 BC, when the Xiongnu
made a major incursion into the Commanderies of Shang (上, modern northern Shaanxi) and Yunzhong (雲中, modern western Inner Mongolia, centered on Hohhot), Emperor Wen made a visit to the camps of armies preparing to defend the capital Chang'an
against a potential Xiongnu
attack. It was on this occasion that he became impressed with Zhou Bo's son Zhou Yafu
Zhou Yafu
as a military commander; compared to the other generals, who, upon the emperor's arrival, dropped all things and did what they could to make the emperor feel welcome, Zhou remained on military alert and required the imperial guards to submit to proper military order before he would allow the imperial train to enter. Later, he would leave instructions for Crown Prince Qi that if military emergencies arose, he should make Zhou his commander of armed forces—instructions that were heeded during the Rebellion of the Seven States. Emperor Wen died in summer 157 BC. He was succeeded by Crown Prince Qi. Emperor Wen, in his will, reduced the usual mourning period to three days, contrary to the previous lengthy periods of mourning in which weddings, sacrifices, drinking, and the consumption of meat were disallowed, thus greatly reducing the burden on the people. He also ordered that his concubines be allowed to return home. (Before and after Emperor Wen, generally, imperial concubines without children were required to guard the emperor's tomb for the rest of their lives.) Legacy[edit] Emperor Wen's reign and that of his son Emperor Jing were often collectively known together as the "Rule of Wen and Jing", renowned for general stability and relaxed laws. He was considered one of the most benevolent rulers in Chinese history. His reign was marked by thriftiness and attempts to reduce burdens on the people, with one of the lowest tax rate in Chinese history was recorded. Two years after his death, the tax rate was as low as 3.3% of one's personal income.[3] The benevolent way of ruling of Emperor Wen was influenced by the philosophy of Confucianism. Confucian scholar Jia Yi was the mastermind behind Emperor Wen's policy. He strongly empathized the importance of agriculture as well as the egalitarian way of wealth distribution according to the doctrines of Confucius. [4] Emperor Wen was also noted for his filial piety, and he was listed as one of The Twenty-four Filial Exemplars. According to one story, Emperor Wen's mother fell ill for three years, and Emperor Wen tended her whenever he was available. He also personally tasted all the soups and medicines that were served for his mother's treatment first to make sure they were adequate before serving them to his mother. Era names[edit] These "era names" are not true "era names", but are retrospective, in the sense that the era-name system, as instituted by Emperor Wen's grandson Emperor Wu, had not yet come into effect. Emperor Wen, in accordance with prior imperial calendrical systems, would have simply referred to the number of years in his reign. But he reset the calendar once at the persuasion of the sorcerer Xinyuan Ping (新垣平), thus historians need to refer to the eras before and after the resetting separately.

Qianyuan (前元 qían yuán) 179 BC-164 BC Houyuan (後元 hòu yúan) 163 BC-157 BC

Family[edit] Spouses[edit] Princess Consorts[edit]

Title Name Born Died Issue Notes

Princess Consort of Dai 代王王后 unknown unknown unknown 4 sons Emperor Wen's first wife Died young


Title Name Born Died Father Mother Issue Notes

Empress Xiaowen 孝文皇后 Dou Yi 窦猗 unknown 135 BC Dou Chong, Marquis of Ancheng 安成侯窦充 Marchioness of Ancheng 安成侯夫人 1. Princess of Guantao 1. Emperor Jing 2. Prince Xiao of Liang Entered the palace to serve Empress Lü
Empress Lü
as Jiaren Zi (家人子) Became Empress in 179 BC Became Empress Dowager (皇太后) in 157 BC Became Grand Empress Dowager (太皇太后) in 141 BC


Title Name Born Died Issue Notes

Madame 夫人 Lady Shen 慎氏 unknown unknown none

Lady Yin 尹氏 unknown unknown none

Issue[edit] Sons[edit]

# Title Name Born Died Mother Notes

unknown unknown unknown Princess Consort of Dai Died young

unknown unknown unknown Died young

unknown unknown unknown Died young

unknown unknown unknown Died young

1 Emperor Jing 景帝 Qi 启 188 BC 9 Mar 141 BC Empress Xiaowen Became Crown Prince (太子) in 180 BC Became Emperor (皇帝) in 157 BC

2 Prince Xiao of Liang 梁孝王 Wu 武 184 BC 144 BC Became Prince of Dai
Prince of Dai
(代王) in 178 BC Title changed to Prince of Huaiyang (淮阳王) in 176 BC Titled changed to Prince of Liang in 169 BC

3 Prince Xiao of Dai 代孝王 Can 参 unknown 162 BC unknown Became Prince of Dai
Prince of Dai
in 176 BC

4 Prince Huai of Liang 梁怀王 Yi 揖 unknown 169 BC unknown Became Prince of Liang in 178 BC


# Title Name Born Died Mother Spouses Issue Notes

1 Princess of Guantao 馆陶公主 Piao 嫖 unknown 116 BC Empress Xiaowen Chen Wu, Marquis Yi of Tangyi (堂邑夷侯陈午) Chen Xu, Marquis of Tangyi (堂邑侯陈须) Chen Jiao, Marquis of Longlü (隆虑侯陈蟜) Chen Ajiao, Empress of Emperor Wu

2 Princess of Changping 昌平公主 unknown unknown unknown unknown Zhou Shengzhi (周胜之)


Ancestors of Emperor Wen of Han

Tuan, Retired Emperor 太上皇刘煓 d. 197 BC

3rd son: Liu
Bang, Gaozu 高祖刘邦 256 BC–195 BC

Wife: Wang Hanshi, Empress Zhaoling 昭灵皇后王含始

4th son: Liu
Heng, Emperor Wen 文帝刘恒 203 BC–157 BC

Bao Weng, Marquis of Lingwen 灵文侯薄翁

Concubine: Lady Bao, Empress Gao 高皇后薄氏 d. 155 BC

Lady Wei, Madame of Lingwen 灵文夫人魏氏

See also[edit]

Family tree of the Han Dynasty Rule of Wen and Jing

References[edit] Citations[edit]

^ Creel 1970, What Is Taoism?, 87 ^ Johnston (2017), p. 171. ^ Book of Han.vol.24.后十三岁,孝景二年,令民半出田租,三十而税一也。 ^ Book of Han.vol.24.民不足而可治者,自古及今,未之尝闻。古之人曰:“一夫不耕,或受之饥;一女不织,或受之寒。”生之有时,而用之亡度,则物力必屈。古之治天下,至孅至悉也,故其畜积足恃。今背本而趋末,食者甚众,是天下之大残也。


Book of Han, vol. 4. (in Chinese) Gu Yanwu
Gu Yanwu
(2017), Johnston, Ian, ed., Record of Daily Knowledge and Collected Poems and Essays, Translations from the Asian Classics, New York: Columbia University Press . Sima Qian; et al., Records of the Grand Historian, Vol. 10 . (in Chinese) Zizhi Tongjian, vols. 12, 13, 14, 15. (in Chinese)

Emperor Wen of Han House of Liu Born: 202 BC Died: 157 BC

Regnal titles

Preceded by Emperor Houshao of Han Emperor of China Western Han 179–157 BC Succeeded by Emperor Jing of Han

v t e

Emperors of the Han dynasty

Western Han

Gaozu Hui Qianshao Houshao Wen Jing Wu Zhao Liu
He Xuan Yuan Cheng Ai Ping Ruzi

(Xin dynasty)

(Wang Mang)

& Chimei

Gengshi Liu

Eastern Han

Guangwu Ming Zhang He Shang An Marquess of Beixiang Shun Chong Zhi Huan Ling Liu
Bian Xian

Xia → Shang → Zhou → Qin → Han → 3 Kingdoms → Jìn / 16 Kingdoms → S. Dynasties / N. Dynasties → Sui → Tang → 5 Dynasties & 10 Kingdoms → Liao / Song / W. Xia / Jīn → Yuan → Ming → Qing → ROC / PRC

v t e

The Twenty-four Filial Exemplars

Emperor Shun Emperor Wen of Han Zengzi Min Sun Zhong You Tan Zi Laolaizi Dong Yong Guo Ju Jiang Shi Cai Shun Ding Lan Lu Ji Jiang Ge Huang Xiang Wang Pou Wu Meng Wang Xiang Yang Xiang Meng Zong Yu Qianlou Lady Tang Zhu Shouchang Huang Tingjian

Authority control

WorldCat Identities VIAF: 36393329