List and Timeline of Influential and Notable Chinese Emperors by Dynasties
This article lists the main achievements and the most notable characteristics of influential emperors of China after the Qin Dynasty (221 BC — 207 BC).
Before the Qin Dynasty, which marked the first united feudal empire, some exceptionally accomplished kings were revered as emperors.
Chinese Palace Buildings in "Seascape at Sunset" by an artist of Ming Dynasty (1368 — 1644)
The first emperor of China. He established the Qin Dynasty and Centralized System, unified currency, language, measurement, and road system, and constructed the Great Wall to defend against the Xiongnu and the Terracotta Army to guard his mausoleum.
Qin Er Shi
He snatched the throne after killing 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 to be born as a civilian, he defeated Xiang Yu, the Hegemon-King of Western Chu, and established the Han Dynasty.
Substantially enlarged territory, successfully fought against Xiongnu, opened up the Silk Road, severely challenged Aristocracy, extensively promoted officials from all social backgrounds, vastly weakened powers and lands of vassal states, and promoted Confucianism as the official ideology.
A prince raised in prison and grew up in the civilian world later became one of the most accomplished emperors. He established the Protectorate of the Western Regions and brought his people a remarkable, wealthy, peaceful reign.
During his reign, he empowered the eunuch group, which was considered the turning point when the empire started to decline.
As a brilliant member of the current empress dowager's clan, Wang Mang grasped power, became 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 nation.
After taking power back from the empress dowager, the empire peaked during his reign. However, he again empowered eunuch groups, considered a turning point in the Eastern Han Dynasty.
Being an emperor with little power, he struggled but failed; hence, he was forced to abdicate the throne and ended the Han Dynasty.
He ended centuries of separation, established the unified Sui Dynasty, innovated an efficient administrative system (Three Departments and Six Ministries), and brought civilians a remarkable reign.
One of the most controversial Chinese emperors, who had implemented some not-wrong, even progressive policies, constructed a series of grand projects and initiated many military actions, but ended his flourishing empire after being overthrown by his angry, suffering people.
An influential founder of the Tang Dynasty, an almighty general who achieved exceptional military successes, and a great sovereign who 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, leveraged her intelligence and beauty to rise from an imperial concubine to the queen. She later ascended to the throne, becoming the emperor of China, and played a pivotal role in disintegrating the aristocracy. Her reign brought excellence to the empire.
He was a complicated sovereign who led the empire to its peak but later caused the destructive An-Shi Rebellion, a turning point of the Tang Dynasty, during his reign.
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 progressive tax reforms, developed the economy, and gradually recovered the empire from destructive, rebellious wars.
Successfully conquered half-independent military lords, flourished the empire, and brought people a remarkable 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, ensured people lived in wealth, and implemented the Persecution of Buddhism.
Initially supported for enthronement by eunuchs due to being considered less bright, Li Chen transformed into a decisive and brilliant monarch after ascending to the throne. He ushered in the last remarkable reign of the Tang Dynasty.
Enthroned to a falling empire with rebellious military warlords, peasant uprisings, and manipulative eunuchs, Li Ye struggled but failed and was assassinated.
An invincible general and great sovereign who established the Song Dynasty, ended chaotic wartime, and brought people stable lives.
Zhao Guangyi, the Emperor Taizong of Song
He got the throne after his big brother Zhang Kuangyin passed away mysteriously and became an acceptable monarch who kept the empire stable.
He started to sign a peace treaty with nomadic regimes and was fascinated by grand sacrificial ceremonies, but he was a capable emperor who flourished his empire further.
He was a benevolent emperor who 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
He was an ambitious emperor who dedicated his life to implementing a series of reforms and developing the empire, but he didn't get the final goal he expected.
Zhao Xu, the Emperor Zhezong of Song
He inherited his father's reformative policies, flourished the empire, and achieved exceptional military success.
A great artist but a horrible emperor who 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 who didn't get captured during the tragic Incident of Jingkang, Zhao Gou re-established the Song Empire in southern China with a smaller territory 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 who flourished his empire and brought people wealthy lives.
Zhao Xun, the Emperor Lizong of Song
During his reign, Song allied with the Mongol Empire, and 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 the Mongolian Plateau and established the Mongol Empire, Genghis Khan allied with the Song Empire and perished the 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 nation and invented the Provincial System.
Ayurbarwada, the Emperor Renzong of Yuan
He implemented 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 the Yuan Dynasty, established the Ming Dynasty, and brought people a remarkable reign.
He snatched the throne from his nephew emperor, migrated Ming's capital city to Beijing, and constructed the Forbidden City there. The empire flourished during his reign, the Yongle Encyclopedia was compiled and published, the economy and science kept developing, and people lived in peace and wealth.
An accomplished emperor who further developed the empire and a great artist who 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 being imprisoned by the nomadic enemies and his younger brother, Zhu Qizhen regained the throne and got his second chance.
A diligent, decisive, accomplished monarch who reigned the empire quite well and was the only emperor of China who had only one wife.
One of the most controversial, deviant emperors of China, an accomplished monarch with a series of absurd behaviors.
He was a monarch who was great at politics and a professional Taoist who spent most of his life practicing Taoism.
After taking over a prosperous empire from his teacher/regent Zhang Juzheng, the 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 nationwide.
He ascended the throne as a teenager and struggled 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 policies to ease tension between the Manchu and Han people, stabilizing Qing's reign as a national regime.
Ambitiously unified the nation and brought people a peaceful, remarkable 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 most prolonged reign period. Over 63 years of his being sovereign, the Qing Empire peaked and started to decline in his later years.
He was a moderate, benevolent, diligent, but ordinary emperor whose empire kept falling inevitably during his reign.
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 occurred 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 an extensive reform after the Qing empire encountered a significant 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.
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