List and Timeline of Influential and Notable Chinese Emperors by Dynasties
This article lists the main achievements and the most notable characteristics of important emperors of China after the Qin Dynasty (221 BC — 207 BC).
The first emperor of China, established Qin Dynasty and Centralized System, unified currency, language, measurement, and road system, and constructed Great Wall to defend against Xiongnu and the Terracotta Army to guard his mausoleum.
Qin Er Shi
Snatched the throne after having killed most of his siblings, ruled the country with tyranny, and caused large-scale rebellions from nobles to peasants, which later ended the Qin Dynasty.
The first emperor of China that was born as a civilian, defeated Xiang Yu the Hegemon-King of Western Chu, and established the Han Dynasty.
Substantially enlarged territory, achieved great success fighting against Xiongnu, opened up the Silk Road, severely challenged Aristocracy, extensively promoted officials from all social backgrounds, largely weakened powers and lands of vassal states, and promoted Confucianism as the official ideology.
A prince raised in prison and later grew up in the civilian world, and later became one of the most accomplished emperors, who established the Protectorate of the Western Regions and brought his people a great, wealthy, peaceful reign.
During his reign period, he empowered the eunuch group, which was considered the turning point that the empire started to decline.
As a brilliant member of the current empress dowager's clan, Wang Mang grasped power, become regent, later usurped the throne, and established the Xin Dynasty.
Overthrown Wang Mang's reign, reestablished the Han Dynasty (the Eastern Han Dynasty), and brought peace and stable lives to the whole of the nation.
After having taken power back from the empress dowager, the empire reached its peak during his reign period. However, he again empowered eunuch groups, which was considered a turning point in the Eastern Han Dynasty.
Being an emperor that had little power, he struggled but failed; hence, he was forced to abdicate the throne and ended the Han Dynasty.
Ended centuries of separation, established the unified Sui Dynasty, innovated an efficient administrative system (Three Departments and Six Ministries), and brought civilians a great reign.
One of the most controversial Chinese emperors, who had implemented some not-wrong, even advanced policies, constructed a series of grand projects and initiated many military actions, but ended his flourishing empire after having been overthrown by his angry, suffering people.
Important founder of the Tang Dynasty, an almighty general that achieved exceptional military successes, and a great sovereign that brought people peaceful and wealthy lives.
Li Zhi the Emperor Gaozong of Tang
A benevolent and decisive emperor who further stabilized and flourished the empire, and challenged Aristocracy by promoting the Imperial Examination that could select talented people from other different social classes.
Wu Zetian, the only female emperor in ancient China, used her intelligence and beauty, got promoted from an imperial concubine to the queen, later obtained the throne and became the emperor of China and further disintegrated Aristocracy, and brought the empire an excellent reign.
A complicated sovereign, who led the empire reached its peak, but later caused the destructive An-Shi Rebellion, a turning point of the Tang Dynasty, during his reign period.
Li Yu the Emperor Daizong of Tang
Having witnessed the empire's prosperity and destructive war, he contributed to pacifying the An-Shi Rebellion as a prince and stabilized the country later as a fine emperor.
Implemented advanced tax reforms and further developed economy, and gradually recovered the empire from the destructive rebellious wars.
Successfully conquered half-independent military lords, further flourished the empire, and brought people a great reign. He had many imperial concubines in the palace, but never nominated a queen that may interfere with the freedom of his love life.
He further developed the empire and made sure people lived in wealth, and also implemented the Persecution of Buddhism.
Having been supported to enthrone by eunuchs because of considered as not bright, Li Chen changed to a decisive and brilliant monarch after becoming the emperor and brought people the last great reign of the Tang Dynasty.
Enthroned to a falling empire with rebellious military warlords, peasant uprisings, and manipulative eunuchs, Li Ye struggled difficultly, but failed and got assassinated cruelty in the end.
An invincible general and great sovereign, who established Song Dynasty, put an end to chaotic wartime, and brought people stable lives.
Zhao Guangyi the Emperor Taizong of Song
Got the throne after his big brother Zhang Kuangyin passed away mysteriously, and became a fine monarch that kept the empire stable.
Started to sign a peace treaty with nomadic regimes and was fascinated by grand sacrificial ceremonies, but was a capable emperor that further flourished his empire.
A benevolent emperor that brought his people wealthy and stable lives, and issued paper currency for the first time in ancient China.
Zhao Xu the Emperor Shenzong of Song
An ambitious emperor that dedicated his life to implementing a series of reforms and developing the empire, but didn't get the final goal that he expected.
Zhao Xu the Emperor Zhezong of Song
Inherited his father's reformative policies, flourished the empire, and achieved exceptional military success.
A great artist, but a horrible emperor that declined the empire. He abdicated the throne to his crown prince Zhao Huan when the Jurchen Jin Dynasty marched toward his capital city.
Enthroned during a military crisis, but couldn't make good decisions. In the end, after a series of stupid commands, he lost his empire, which was called the Incident of Jingkang in history.
As the only prince that didn't get captured during the tragic Incident of Jingkang, Zhao Gou re-established the Song Empire in southern China with a smaller territory, which is called the Southern Song Dynasty.
After having obtained the throne and power, he tried several times to recover Song's lost territory but lost. Putting aside military failures, he was a great monarch that flourished his empire and brought people wealthy lives.
Zhao Xun the Emperor Lizong of Song
During his reign, Song allied with Mongol Empire, together, they conquered their long-term enemy the Jurchen Jin Dynasty. But very soon, the Mongol Empire started to invade the Song Empire.
After having unified Mongolian Plateau and established Mongol Empire, Genghis Khan allied with Song Empire, and perished Jurchen Jin Dynasty. Afterward, he started his expansion wars and later was bestowed the Temple Title of Emperor Taizu of Yuan by his grandson Kublai Khan.
Founding emperor of the Yuan Dynasty, unified the whole of the nation and invented the Provincial System.
Ayurbarwada the Emperor Renzong of Yuan
Implemented a series of reforms that flourished the empire, and recovered the Imperial Examination to select officials.
Emperor Huizong of Yuan was his Temple Title conferred by his people, for his ambitious reforms during his reign; Emperor Shun of Yuan was the Posthumous Title bestowed by the emperor of the next dynasty, for his instant northward withdrawal that ended the Yuan Dynasty as a national regime.
Born into a poor peasant family, he overthrew Yuan Dynasty, established the Ming Dynasty, and brought people a great reign.
Snatched the throne from his nephew emperor, migrated Ming's capital city to Beijing, and constructed the Forbidden City there. During his reign, the empire flourished, the Yongle Encyclopedia was compiled and published, the economy and science kept developing, and people lived in peace and wealth.
An accomplished emperor that further developed the empire, and a great artist that left many masterpieces.
Rashly initiated a large-scale war but failed, which had him captured by the enemy and put his empire in danger. After having been imprisoned by both the nomadic enemies and his younger brother, Zhu Qizhen regained the throne and got his second chance.
A diligent, decisive, accomplished monarch that reigned the empire quite well, and was the only emperor of China that had only one wife.
One of the most controversial, deviant emperors of China, an accomplished monarch with a series of absurd behaviors.
A monarch that was great at politics, and a professional Taoist that spent most of his life practicing Taoism.
After taking over a prosperous empire from his teacher/regent Zhang Juzheng, Wanli Emperor gradually lost his diligence and ambition in reigning his empire. Even been recorded as a very intelligent person, the Ming Empire started to decline during his ruling period.
The Ming Empire kept declining during his reign, with officials fighting inside the government, strong nomadic enemies invading outside, and destructive rebellions outburst nationwide.
Ascended the throne as a teenager and struggled very hard to reign the falling empire, but failed. He committed suicide after a rebel army broke into the capital city, which ended the Ming Dynasty as a national regime.
Fu Lin was the first emperor after Manchu Qing marched across the Great Wall and migrated their capital to Beijing. He implemented a series of policies to ease tension between the Manchu and Han people, which stabilized Qing's reign as a national regime.
Ambitiously unified the whole of the nation, and brought people a peaceful, great reign.
Had implemented a series of reforms that lowered taxes, flourished the empire, and strengthened the emperor's centralized power.
Hong Li was the most longevity emperor of China, with the longest reign period. During over 63 years of his being in power, the Qing Empire reached its peak and then started to decline in his later years.
A moderate, benevolent, diligent, but common emperor, whose empire kept falling inevitably during his reign period.
A thrifty, diligent, and ordinary monarch, during his reign period the Qing Empire lost in the First Opium War, which is considered the beginning of modern Chinese history.
Yi Zhu the Xianfeng Emperor
The Qing Empire kept falling and losing to western invaders in wars, and many large-scale rebellions were outburst during his short reign. Meanwhile, his early departure made his imperial concubine Cixi the powerful empress dowager, who was in actual charge for the last half-century of the Qing Dynasty.
Enthroned under the support of Empress Dowager Cixi, Zai Tian obtained power as the emperor for a very short period, when he implemented a big reform after the Qing empire encountered a big military loss. However, this reform was cut off by Cixi, who later grounded Zai Tian as a puppet emperor.
Selected and supported to be the heir to the throne by Empress Dowager Cixi, Pu Yi was the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty.
You Might Also Like: