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Kings in Turbulent Eras


In the chaotic Three Kingdoms, Jin, North, and South Dynasties (220 — 589) when many regimes coexisted on the Chinese mainland and kept fighting against each other, many monarchs were assassinated by usurpers over thrones.


King Fu Jian, Emperor Xuanzhao of Former Qin, was one of the most outstanding monarchs during the turbulent period. 


King Liu Ziye, Emperor Qianfei of Liu Song, on the other hand, was the most absurd, cruelest sovereign in the history of China. 

Exquisite Boat on Part of The Picture of the Ode of the River Goddess, by Great Poet and Artist Gu Kaizhi (348 — 409)

Exquisite Boat on Part of The Picture of the Ode of the River Goddess, by Great Poet and Artist Gu Kaizhi (348 — 409) of the Jin Dynasty

Bisexual King Fu Jian and His Tragic Ending — Rise and Fall of the Kingdom of Former Qin

Fu Jian

Fu Jian (338 — 385), the courtesy name was Yonggu, respected as the Emperor Xuanzhao of Former Qin, was an extraordinary monarch of the Kingdom of Former Qin (351 — 394). 

He overthrew a tyrant, unified northern China, developed agriculture and economy, and brought people better lives.

As a king that had fought many wars, he was extremely kind to former enemies, which gave them chances to rebel and revenge.

In the end, outstanding King Fu Jian had his capital city occupied by his lover and had his family cruelly murdered by one of his most trusted generals. 

Fu Jian the Emperor Xuanzhao of Former Qin

Overthrowing of Tyrant and Obtaining of the Throne 

Fu Jian was born in a turbulent period when the Chinese mainland was separated into many small regimes.

He was a royal of the Kingdom of Former Qin and showed great talent when he was young. 

After he grew up, Fu Jian inherited his father’s title and served in the military, where he made exceptional contributions to defeating enemies and rebellions.

However, the current king, a cousin of Fu Jian, was widely considered to be a tyrant. 

Therefore, many generals and nobles supported Fu Jian and initiated a coup, after which Fu killed his cousin and became the next king.

Unearthed Golden Stirrup of Era of Three Kingdoms, Jin, North and South Dynasties

Golden Stirrup of Three Kingdoms, Jin, North and South Dynasties — National Museum of China

Meeting with the Exceptional Official Wang Meng

When Fu Jian ascended the throne, his kingdom had already suffered many wars and was surrounded by many strong enemies. 

One day, he heard about a recluse living on Mount Hua, who was quite intelligent and insightful. 

Then, Fu Jian paid him a visit there. After this meeting, Fu Jian and hermit Wang Meng agreed that they would make a big change, and build a prosperous empire together. 

Wang Meng (325 — 375), courtesy name Jinglue, was born into a poor family and then practice Taoism in the mountain, no one knows how he obtained such a great deal of knowledge and instant, accurate information about all kingdoms.

But he became a great politician, reformist, militarist, and strategist in the history of China.

Chess Pavilion on a peak of Mount Hua

Chess Pavilion on Mount Hua, Photo by Tianxin Dazhong. 

Successful Reform of King Fu Jian and Official Wang Meng

Fu Jian followed his promises. He nominated Wang Meng as the most powerful prime minister, and they implemented a series of reforms together, including encouragement of agriculture, education, and business, while more officials were selected based on knowledge and talent, etc.

In an era of the aristocracy, Wang Meng’s promotion and power encountered plenty of challenges from other royals and nobles. 

However, King Fu Jian was quite an open-minded, strong patron that supported Wang Meng until his last day. 

With Wang Feng's talent and King Fu Jian's full support, citizens’ living conditions were largely improved; more qualified officials were serving in an efficient and uncorrupted government, while many unskillful aristocrats were banished from the political center.

King Fu Jian Assigned Students to Learn from Xuan Wenjun, The First Female Doctor of Confucianism in Chinese History

King Fu Jian Assigned Students to Learn from Xuan Wenjun, The First Female Doctor of Confucianism in Chinese History, Painted by Chen Hongshou (1598 — 1652) — Cleveland Museum of Art

Fu Jian shared most of the natural resources with his people; in difficult years, he and his queen all participated in actual farm work. 

However, their reform jeopardized many aristocrats’ benefits; then five of Fu Jian’s brothers allied together and initiated a rebel war.

Fu Jian’s army triumphed in the end; then he further divided noble clans in his kingdom into smaller groups and commanded them to migrate to further places around the border.

Years later, Fu Jian’s kingdom became quite strong and prosperous; he then annexed surrounding kingdoms and unified northern China, while only a kingdom (Eastern Jin Dynasty) in the south was confronting his big empire.

Glass Jar of Eastern Jin Dynasty

Glass Jar of Eastern Jin Dynasty — Nanjing Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Bisexual Fu Jian and His Two Beautiful Lovers

As a king of an unstable era that was full of usurping and assassinations, Fu Jian had always been quite kind to his former enemies. 

To people, generals, or royals, who had served in other hostile kingdoms, Fu Jian all treated them well.

One of the defeated countries had a very beautiful princess, so Fu Jian took her as his concubine, and asked her younger brother, a 12-year-old attractive prince, to come along.

Then Fu Jian, this bisexual king, loved those two a lot. 

Pottery Figurine of the Sixteen Kingdoms Period

Pottery Figurine of the Sixteen Kingdoms Period — Xi'an Antique Archaeology Institute (Photo by Dongmaiying)

And to their family, the Murong Clan, Fu Jian was kind as well. He gave them noble titles and mansions and allowed them to live wealthy, peaceful lives.

This prince Murong Chong (359 — 386), whose kingdom got perished and was forced to serve their enemy, however, never loved Fu Jian back.

At first, he behaved obediently and pleased King Fu Jian.

After he grew up, Wang Meng strongly disagreed with him still living in the king's palace, so Fu Jian sent him out, gave him a fancy palace, and assigned him a political position with power. 

Huge Lose in the Battle of Fei River

When everything went well and the Kingdom of Former Qin was on track with their bigger goal, Wang Meng passed away. 

Before he left, he strongly suggested King Fu Jian keep developing the kingdom, to further integrate people from defeated kingdoms; before that, do not attack the big empire in the south.

A few years after Wang Meng's departure, despite almost everyone's disagreement, King Fu Jian organized all soldiers of his country and decided to march southward.

He led 800,000 of his fine warriors and ambitiously initiated the war against the big country in the south, the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317 — 420). 

However, he was defeated by around 80,000 soldiers of the south, commanded by an all-mighty genius Xie An.

Battle of Fei River

General Xie An of the Eastern Jin Dynasty

Xie An (320 — 385), courtesy name Anshi, was born into a noble family, and his calligraphy, poems, and articles were quite famous.

He spent most of his time, just like artists Ji Kang and Ruan Ji of this period, reading and writing and traveling, and enjoying nature. 

His reputation and talent impressed many people, but Xie An rejected offers from his king several times, for having no interest in politics or power.

In his 40s, Xie An finally accepted a political assignment to save his clan. 

A few years later, when King Fu Jian led the big army and invaded the Eastern Jin Dynasty, Xie An accepted the position of chief commander. 

As a civil official, a classy poet, and a passionate traveler, Xie An turned out to be a calm and brave general as well. 

As a 63-year-old man, he led his soldiers, successfully defeated ten times more enemies, and then further expanded the territory.  

Afterward, Xie An resigned again and passed away peacefully.

Calligraphy "Zhong Lang Tie" of Xie An

Calligraphy "Zhong Lang Tie" of Xie An — Palace Museum

Falling of King Fu Jian's Empire

In the Battle of Fei River (or Battle of Feishui), King Fu Jian lost his main crack force; around 700,000 of his brave soldiers were captured or killed.

Seeing his failure, many forces rebelled, led by surrendered nobles of the regimes that Fu Jian had already conquered. 

Many people from the Murong Clan rebelled too, including Murong Chong, the lover of King Fu Jian. 

Months of intense battles later, Murong Chong led his rebel army and besieged the capital city. 

Fu Jian tried many times, wondering if they could get back together, or at least call a truce for old times’ sake. But all the romance and affection, from prince Murong Chong’s perspective, was pure shame and insult. 

King Fu Jian was enclosed in his capital city for several months, until he was out of any resources, and got hurt in a battle.

King Fu Jian on Battlefield

Tragic Ending of King Fu Jian

Fu Jian then escaped out of the capital city, but soon was attacked by Yao Chang, another rebelled general that he had saved and empowered before. 

General Yao Chang forced Fu Jian to abdicate the throne to him. What's more, he even cast his greedy eyes on the king's two daughters. 

King Fu Jian refused. 

He killed his two daughters, to avoid them being insulted. After Fu Jian was assassinated by Yao, his queen and his favorite son committed suicide.

Unearthed Portrait Brick of Noble Women of the North and South Dynasties

Portrait Brick of Noble Women of North and South Dynasties — National Museum of China

The capital city of the Kingdom of Former Qin, a big and prosperous metropolis of Fu Jian’s huge empire, soon became a living hell.

Murong Chong sent his army to march into the city, then endless fire, robbery, and slaughter started, and countless innocent civilians lost their lives. 

Vengeance, probably, was the most important thing in his mind; civilians' lives never mattered to him.  

Murong Chong announced himself the king but was assassinated one year later, by generals that were unsatisfied with his policies. 

Pottery Figurine of the Sixteen Kingdoms Period Playing Musical Instrument

Pottery Figurine of the Sixteen Kingdoms Period Playing Musical Instrument — Xi'an Antique Archaeology Institute (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Fu Jian was a talented and caring king in the history of China, whose achievements were remarkable.

However, he was far too indulgent, to those who had betrayed, and those former enemies.


The prince that Fu Jian loved destroyed his capital city and hurt him the most; his trusted general murdered him, while many of his former officials divided his empire.

It was not wrong to be a forgiving and kind monarch, however, the object and timing should be chosen carefully. 

After King Fu Jian departed, his empire was devoured and perished nine years later. Northern China fell into chaos, until the Northern Wei Dynasty unified it again in 439, and integrated through the Reform of Emperor Xiaowen.

Jade Auspicious Animal Bixie of the Northern Wei Dynasty

Jade Auspicious Animal Bixie of the Northern Wei Dynasty — Luoyang Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Liu Ziye

Liu Ziye — A Cruel and Incestuous King

Liu Ziye (449 — 466), courtesy name Fashi, posthumous title Emperor Qianfei of Liu Song,  was the craziest, most ridiculous monarch in the history of China.

As a noble-born and well-educated king, none of his behaviors seemed like a normal human being would do.

He ascended to the throne when he was 15 and was assassinated at 17; however, everything he did in those two years made him the most incestuous and pervert monarch in history ever.

Probably only words like cruel, ridiculous, or even freakish could be used to describe him. 

King Liu Ziye of Liu Song

Insanely Disrespects to Parents and Family

As the oldest son, Liu Ziye was nominated as the crown prince when he was 4 and had been taking the best education as the heir of the Kingdom Liu Song (420 — 479).

However, after his father passed away, Liu Ziye was quite happy to ascend the throne and had never shown grief or other appropriate feelings when a person lost his beloved father.

A few months later, his mother was heavily sick and wanted to see her son. But Liu Ziye never paid visits, because he thought that there were many ghosts in a sick person’s bedroom.

Later, when he saw Princess Xincai, the younger sister of his father, Liu Ziye forced the princess, who was his aunt, to sleep with him. Then he executed his aunt’s husband and all officials that criticized his freakish behavior. 

Liu Ziye also captured his 3 uncles who might threaten his throne. Then he commanded his uncles to stay in and eat food from the mud, naked.

Unearthed Jade Sheep of the Three Kingdoms, Jin Dynasty, North and South Dynasties

Jade Sheep of the North and South Dynasties — Tianjin Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Liu Chuyu the Princess Shanyin — The Only Person that Liu Ziye Liked

Liu Chuyu, Princess Shanyin, the most beautiful royal of the kingdom, was the big sister of Liu Ziye.

They were quite close to each other; in some gossip, they were also sexually involved.


The princess was married to a noble, decent young man that carefully chosen by her beloved parents. But she was unhappy only having one man, while her brother Liu Ziye had so many women.  

After she expressed her dissatisfaction, Liu Ziye chose 30 handsome male concubines and sent them to Princess Shanyin.  

When she had a crush on the most handsome official in the government, Liu Ziye also commanded him to serve the princess. 

As such a crazy person, Liu Ziye was quite nice to Princess Shanyin and provided her with everything that she had asked for.

Liu Chuyu the Princess Shanyin

Inhuman Behaviors and Final Ending of Liu Ziye

During a royal banquet, Liu Ziye asked his trusted followers to close the door and let them rape all the princesses and noble ladies that they liked, no matter whether these women were married, with or without children.

One princess fought back intensely and refused to give up, so she was beaten to death, and her 3 children were killed cruelly afterward, under Liu Ziye's command.

Then Liu Ziye asked all his followers and those poor women to run in his garden, naked, while he had lots of fun watching. 

More and more people were angry about his absurd, insane behaviors, and planned to remove him from the throne. 

Soon, his three uncles that were captured and humiliated, allied with some of Liu Ziye's guards. They told Liu that some spirits were hanging in a small forest, and assassinated Liu when he was trying to shoot the ghosts there. 

Afterward, one of his uncles became the next king and commanded Princess Shanyin and other Liu Ziye's siblings to commit suicide. 

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