Emperor Xian of Han — Struggle, and Compromise of the Last Emperor of the Han Dynasty

Liu Xie (181 — 234), courtesy name as Bohe, respected as Emperor Xian of Han, was the last monarch of the Han Dynasty (202 BC — 220 AD).


Since he ascended to the throne as a puppet emperor, he had never obtained the real power. On the contrary, he constantly suffered from horror, sadness, and conspiracy.


He had struggled bravely for his empire but accepted the cruel reality in the end.


Emperor Xian of Han didn’t do anything wrong but still had to hand over his big empire himself, helplessly.

Intense Conflict Among Aggressive Forces

After Liu Xie was born, his mother was poisoned to death by the current queen out of jealousy. Hence, he was raised by his grandmother the Empress Dowager Dong. 

Liu Xie was the second son of Liu Hong (the Emperor Ling of Han) (156 — 189), who left behind an empire that was controlled by powerful eunuchs and warlords, and full of uprising armies. 

After Liu Hong passed away, his oldest son Liu Bian (176 — 190) ascended to the throne. 

At that time, eunuchs and civil officials were fighting intensified, while more and more warlords obtained independent armed forces.

After hearing that Emperor Liu Bian’s uncle planned to summon warlords to the capital city and perish them, some eunuchs kidnapped Emperor Liu Bian and Liu Xie and fled.  

When Liu Bian and Liu Xie finally were saved by loyal officials and heading back to the royal palace, they encountered Dong Zhuo (? — 192), the warlord that was summoned to destroy the eunuch groups.  

The eunuchs were eliminated, but Warlord Dong Zhuo, a strong general with a huge private army, stayed in the capital city. 

Bronze Artifact of Han Dynasty with Inlaying Gold and Silver that used to Press Sitting Mat — Hebei Museum  (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Puppet Emperor of A Falling Empire

When Dong Zhuo firstly met Liu Bian and Liu Xie in chaos, everyone was scared by Dong’s huge troop. Emperor Liu Bian was too nervous to speak clearly, but the 8-year-old Liu Xie was quite brave, smart, and dignified. 

Most importantly, Liu Xie had no mother nor strong clan behind to support him. 

Hence, Dong Zhuo abolished Liu Bian, and supported Liu Xie as the new emperor. Later, Liu Bian and his mother’s entire clan were perished by Dong Zhuo. 

Liu Xie, now the Emperor Xian of Han, became a puppet of Dong Zhuo that obtained real power. 

Dong Zhuo and his soldiers were all cruel and greedy; they burnt down the prosperous Luoyang city of the Han Empire and robbed large numbers of treasures and women, then forced Emperor Liu Xie and the entire royal family to move out of this city.

Soon, many other warlords allied together, trying to perish the indecent Dong Zhuo, which caused lots of intense battles since after. 

Unearthed Pottery Houses (Wu Bao) of the Late Han Dynasty, Modeled by Castles of Strong Clans with Private Troops — National Museum of China

Honeytrap Scheme and Chaotic Struggles

Wang Yun (137 — 192), a civil official that was loyal to the Emperor Xian of Han, trained a beautiful spy and then offered her to both Dong Zhuo and his strong adoptive son Lv Bu.

This gorgeous honeytrap named Diao Chan, one of the Four Beauties in the history of China, successfully made those two powerful men desired her very much, but she in the end was occupied by Dong Zhuo. 

Plus further instigations of Wang Yun, Lv Bu got quite furious and then assassinated Dong Zhuo.

Dong Zhuo’s former generals, under the name of revenging, kept invading the city that Emperor Xian of Han was living. 

Wang Yun sacrificed protecting the emperor, Lv Bu lost in battles and fled, and Emperor Xian of Han was captured. 

Unearthed Glass Bowl of the Han Dynasty — Nanyang Cultural Relic and Archeology Research Institute  (Photo by Dongmaiying)

During this period, as a puppet emperor, he still used his limited power to relieve people suffered from natural disasters, and saved many lives. 

A few months later, protected by some loyal generals, Emperor Xian of Han finally escaped out of the city. 

When they were suffering from hunger and danger, they encountered a warlord Cao Cao (155 — 220). 

Cao respected Liu Xie as the monarch and protected him back to his royal palace. 

The 15-year-old Emperor Xian of Han that had already experienced many life-and-death crises finally stabilized. 

However, he still had no power, nor military force. 

Final Struggles of the Emperor Xian of Han

At that time, the whole nation was already divided up and occupied by powerful warlords.

Having the Emperor Xian of Han on hand made Lord Cao the most orthodox force at that time.

Soon, Cao forced the emperor to change his capital, and command all the other forces and uprising armies to bend their knees.

After this migration, Liu Xie found that his loyal servants were all killed for different reasons and replaced by Lord Cao’s followers.

When the Emperor Xian of Han was older, he tried to contact some loyal generals who might be willing to help him take power back.

However, they either failed or got caught before they initiate any actions.

The emperor’s messengers, include his beloved queen Fu and an imperial concubine Dong, as well as their entire clan, were all slaughtered by Lord Cao.

Jade Comb with Gold Decoration of the Late Han Dynasty — Metropolitan Museum of Art (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Emperor Xian of Han’s Compromise and Abdication

Afterward, Lord Cao sent three of his daughters to the emperor and demanded Liu Xie to nominate one of them as the queen. Meanwhile, his monitoring of the emperor became even stricter. 

Lord Cao Cao, courtesy name Mengde, was a brilliant politician, militarist, poet, and strategist. He reigned the kingdom well and brought civilians good lives. 

He was powerful, ambitious, and skeptical. He didn’t want to share power with the Emperor Xian of Han but had never planned to usurp the throne from the emperor either.  

Unearthed Dragon Shaped Golden Belt Buckle of the Han Dynasty Decorated with Turquoises — Shouxian Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Lord Cao Cao passed away in the year 220, and his heir Cao Pi (187 — 226), courtesy name as Zihuan, inherited his title and power. 

A few months later, under constant “persuasions” and “suggestions”, Emperor Xian of Han abdicated the throne to Cao Pi.

Cao Pi changed the empire’s name to Wei. He respected his father Cao Cao as the Emperor Wu of Wei, and himself as Emperor Wen of Wei.

The Han Dynasty was officially ended.

Afterward, the other two powerful warlords claimed independence and enthroned in succession.


The era of the Three Kingdoms began. 

Portrait of Cao Pi the Emperor Wen of Wei, By Artist Yan Liben (601 — 673) — Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Liu Xie's Life as A Great Doctor

After Liu Xie, Emperor Xian of Han, having forced to give up the great empire that his brilliant ancestors built and flourished, he was demoted as Duke Shanyang, with a small city as his fief.

He and his wife, the daughter of Lord Cao Cao, lived a peaceful life for another 14 years. They were very generous, and helpful, had reigned this fief well, and gained civilians’ respect and love.

Liu Xie let go of everything, and started his simple life as a doctor, using the medical skills that he learned from the royal palace before. 

He had cured countless people there, with free inquiry and treatment fees.

Painted Pottery Building of the Eastern Han Dynasty — Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Emperor Xian of Han’s Helpless Fate and Peaceful Ending

The first half of Liu Xie's life, as the Emperor Xian of Han, was quite turbulent and tragic. As a symbol of power in warlords’ eyes, he never obtained actual authority nor respect. 

As an honored emperor, he almost had witnessed and experienced all the dark sides of the world and humanity. 

He was fully aware of how prosperous the Han Empire used to be, what his ancestors had achieved, and what he wanted to obtain. 

He had tried everything he could and struggled bravely. But, the truth was that his empire was about to end, and no one can change it.

Therefore, Liu Xie compromised. He let go of the throne, and everything that came along with it, the conspiracy, tension, conflict, blood, so on and so forth.

Filigree Gold Dragon of the Eastern Han Dynasty Decorated with Gems — Dingzhou Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

The latter half of his life was at peace, simple and calm: helping people while acquiring their sincere, heartiest love and respect. 

Liu Xie passed away peacefully when he was old and was buried using an emperor’s ceremony. 

His sons also were given some noble titles, but his grandsons and further descendants gradually disappeared in historical records.

Jade Cup of the Empire Wei During the Three Kingdoms Era — Luoyang Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

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