Taishang Huang


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 that ruled in the middle and ...

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, there are instances where the retired emperor continued to exert considerable power, if not more than the reigning emperor.



The title ''Taishang Huangdi'' was first used when
Qin 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 ...
posthumously bestowed it upon his deceased father, King Zhuangxiang.


Emperor Gaozu
Emperor Gaozu
of Han had also bestowed the title ''Taishang Huangdi'' on his then-living father
Liu Taigong Liu Taigong (), personal name Liu Tuan (), was the father of Emperor Gaozu of Han, Liu Bang (Emperor Gaozu of Han). Biography Not much is recorded about Taigong historically. He was born and likely lived his early life in present-day Feng County, ...
. He bestowed it onto his father to express
filial piety In Confucian ethics, Confucian, Chinese Buddhist ethics, Buddhist and Taoism, Taoist ethics, filial piety (, ''xiào'') is a virtue of respect for one's parents, elders, and ancestors. The Confucian ''Classic of Filial Piety'', thought to be wri ...
. It was also intended to preserve the
social hierarchy Social stratification refers to a society's categorization Categorization is the ability and activity to recognize shared features or similarities between the elements of the experience of the world (such as Object (philosophy), objects, eve ...
between father and son, as the former was a commoner and the latter was a dynastic founder. In 301, during the
War of the Eight Princes The War of the Eight Princes, Rebellion of the Eight Kings, or Rebellion of the Eight Princes () was a series of civil wars among kings/princes (Chinese: ''wáng'' 王) of the Chinese Jin dynasty from 291 to 306 AD. The key point of contention in t ...

War of the Eight Princes
Sima Lun Sima Lun (Simplified Chinese character, sim. ch. 司马伦, Traditional Chinese character, trad. ch. 司馬倫, Pinyin, py. sī mǎ lún, Wade-Giles, wg. Ssu-ma Lun) (poisoned June 5, 301), courtesy name Ziyi (子彛), was titled the Prince of Pr ...
became the emperor by forcing his puppet Emperor Hui of Jin to become the ''Taishang Huang''. The title had strictly served as an honorific before, but it had become a tool of political infighting over the course of this incident. Another significant occurrence of development was in 399, when Lü Guang of Later Liang abdicated. Lü Guang was old and had become mortally ill, but he wished to secure the transition of imperial power to Lü Shao, his designated heir (the eldest son from his main consort) in the presence of Lü Zuan, another son who was older and posed a threat to the legitimate succession. Even though Lü Guang failed in his efforts, this incident was the earliest example where imperial retirement served as a method to secure succession. During the Northern and Southern dynasties, this institution was employed by non-Han regimes in the north as a strategy to cast away from the tradition of the horizontal succession in favor of the Han tradition of a male primogenitor pattern of succession. In contrast, due to their Han heritage, the southern regimes had no need to make use and never employed the institution as a means to stabilize successions. In 617, Emperor Gaozu of Tang, Li Yuan (later Emperor Gaozu of Tang) bestowed the title ''Taishang Huang'' upon Emperor Yang of Sui, Emperor Yang of Sui in absentia. Here, Li Yuan used the honorific as a legitimating cover for his seizure of power, in which the newly-installed Yang You served as his puppet emperor. In 626 during the Xuanwu Gate Incident, Prince Li Shimin of Tang led his armed men in a coup for the throne. During the course of the coup, he succeeded in killing his rival brothers, Crown Prince Li Jiancheng and Prince Li Yuanji. Within three days, Emperor Gaozu created Li Shimin as his heir. On the ninth day of the eight month, Emperor Gaozu abdicated in favor for his son Li Shimin (who became Emperor Taizong). He remained as ''Taishang Huang'' until his death in 635.

Modern usage

In modern Chinese history after 1949, Deng Xiaoping has been called ''Taishang Huang'' in a pejorative context because he wielded much of his power without assuming the titles normally taken on by China's paramount leader, and because he belonged to Mao Zedong's generation of leaders but wielded influence over leaders who were a generation below him. The term has also been applied to other Communist Party of China, Communist Party senior officials without formal titles who were seen as meddling in the affairs of their successors, such as Chen Yun and Jiang Zemin.

List of ''Taishang Huang''s

Instances of Chinese rulers who were granted the title ''Taishang Huang'' and/or ''Taishang Huangdi'': ; Early eras * King Zhuangxiang of Qin (281-247 BC). He was posthumously honored by his son, Qin Shi Huang. *
Liu Taigong Liu Taigong (), personal name Liu Tuan (), was the father of Emperor Gaozu of Han, Liu Bang (Emperor Gaozu of Han). Biography Not much is recorded about Taigong historically. He was born and likely lived his early life in present-day Feng County, ...
(282-197 BC), the father of Emperor Gaozu of Han, Emperor Gao (Liu Bang), the founder of the Han dynasty. * Emperor Hui (259-307, r. 290-307) of the Jin dynasty (265–420), Jin dynasty ; Northern and Southern dynasties * Lü Guang (337-400, r. 386-400) of Later Liang (Sixteen Kingdoms), Later Liang, abdicated shortly before death * Emperor Xianwen of Northern Wei, Emperor Xianwen (454-476, r. 465-471) of Northern Wei * Emperor Wucheng of Northern Qi, Emperor Wucheng (537-569, r. 561-565) of Northern Qi * Gao Wei (557-577, r. 565-577) of Northern Qi * Emperor Xuan of Northern Zhou, Emperor Xuan (559-580, r. 578–579) of Northern Zhou ; Sui and Tang dynasty rulers * Emperor Yang of Sui, Emperor Yang (569-618, r. 604–618) of the Sui dynasty, who was proclaimed Taishang Huang while his grandson, Yang You, was nominally the emperor. He never personally accepted the title. He was the only Taishang Huang who was the grandfather – not the father – of the reigning emperor. * Emperor Gaozu of Tang, Emperor Gaozu (566-635, r. 618–626) who was forced to abdicate in 626 and was made Taishang Huang until his death in 635. * Wu Zetian (690–705). The only person in Chinese history to have been both Empress Dowager and Taishang Huang. She was buried in accordance to her wishes as an Empress Dowager and Empress Consort to Emperor Gaozong. * Emperor Ruizong of Tang, Emperor Ruizong (684–690, 710–712), who abdicated in 712 and was made Taishang Huang until his death in 716. * Emperor Xuanzong of Tang, Emperor Xuanzong (712–756), who was forced to abdicate in 756 and was made Taishang Huang until his death in 762. * Emperor Shunzong of Tang, Emperor Shunzong (761-806, r. 805), who abdicated in 805 and was made Taishang Huang until his death in 806, said to be assassinated by eunuchs. * Emperor Zhaozong of Tang, Emperor Zhaozong (888–904), who abdicated in 900 and was made Taishang Huang until his restoration in 901. ; Yan (An–Shi), Yan ruler * An Lushan, who was assassinated in 757 by his son and successor An Qingxu, who claimed him to be severely ill and willing to abdicate, honored him Taishang Huang as if he was actually living. ; Min (Ten Kingdoms), Min ruler * Zhuo, who was honored ''Taishang Huang'' by his son Zhuo Yanming who was claimed emperor in April 945. In July both Zhuos were killed. ; Song dynasty rulers * Emperor Huizong of Song, Emperor Huizong (1100–1126), who abdicated in 1126 and was taken into the Jin dynasty (1115–1234), Jin Dynasty in 1127, died in 1135. * Emperor Gaozong of Song, Emperor Gaozong (1127–1162), who abdicated in 1162 and was made Taishang Huang until his death in 1187. * Emperor Xiaozong of Song, Emperor Xiaozong (1162–1189), who abdicated in 1189 and was made Taishang Huang until his death in 1194. * Emperor Guangzong of Song, Emperor Guangzong (1189–1194), who was forced to abdicate in 1194 and was made Taishang Huang until his death in 1200. ; Western Xia and Western Liao rulers * Yelü Zhilugu of Western Liao, who was made Taishang Huang by his son-in-law Kuchlug after being overthrown by the latter * Emperor Shenzong of Western Xia, Emperor Shenzong of Western Xia ; Later rulers * Emperor Yingzong of Ming (1435–1449, 1457–1464) of the Ming dynasty was a Taishang Huang from his capture by the Mongols in 1449 until his return to the throne in 1457. He was the only Taishang Huang who was a brother of the reigning emperor. * The Qianlong Emperor (1735–1796) of the Qing dynasty, who nominally abdicated and made himself ''Taishang Huang'' in 1796 but held on to power until his death in 1799. ; Vietnam * Trần Thái Tổ of the Trần dynasty * Mạc Đăng Dung of the Mạc dynasty

See also

* Abdication * Retired Emperor * Daijō Tennō, the adaption of this concept in Japan * Taesangwang, the adaption of this concept in Korea


{{reflist Chinese royal titles History of Imperial China Retirement