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Monarchs Amid 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 considered one of the most absurd and cruelest sovereigns in Chinese history.

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 End — The Rise and Fall of the Former Qin Kingdom

Fu Jian (338 — 385), also known by his courtesy name Yonggu, revered as 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 gave people better lives.

As a king who had fought many wars, he displayed remarkable kindness towards former enemies, granting them opportunities to rebel and seek 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

The Overthrow of a Tyrant and the Ascension to 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 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

Encounters 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 visited him there. After this meeting, Fu Jian and hermit Wang Meng agreed that they would make a significant change and build a prosperous empire together. 

Wang Meng (325 — 375), courtesy name Jinglue, was born into a low-income family and then practiced Taoism in the mountain.


No one knows how he acquired such a vast amount of knowledge and instant, accurate information about all the kingdoms.

Despite the mystery surrounding his knowledge, he emerged as a significant politician, reformist, militarist, and strategist in Chinese history.

Chess Pavilion on a peak of Mount Hua

Chess Pavilion on Mount Hua, Photo by Tianxin Dazhong. 

Successful Reforms 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.


At the same time, officials were increasingly selected based on their knowledge, talents, and other merits.

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 an open-minded, strong monarch who supported Wang Meng until his last day. 

With Wang Feng's talent and King Fu Jian's full support, citizens' living conditions improved; more qualified officials served 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. During difficult years, both he and his queen actively participated in farm work alongside the populace.

However, their reforms threatened the benefits of many aristocrats. In response, five of Fu Jian’s brothers allied together and initiated a rebellion.

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 further to places around the border.

Years later, Fu Jian’s kingdom became solid and prosperous; he annexed surrounding kingdoms and unified northern China.


Only a kingdom (Eastern Jin Dynasty) in the south was confronting his enormous empire.

Glass Jar of Eastern Jin Dynasty

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

Bisexual Fu Jian and His Two Enchanting Lovers

As a king reigning over an unstable era marked by usurpations and assassinations, Fu Jian had always shown remarkable kindness towards 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 charming princess, so Fu Jian took her as his concubine and asked her younger brother, an attractive 12-year-old 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)

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

This prince, Murong Chong (359 — 386), whose kingdom was destroyed and was forced to serve their enemy, never reciprocated Fu Jian's affection.

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. 

Devastating Loss 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 that King Fu Jian keep developing the kingdom to further integrate people from defeated kingdoms; before that, do not attack the enormous empire in the south.

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

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, writing, 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 a big army and invaded the Eastern Jin Dynasty, Xie An accepted the position of chief commander. 

As a civil official, distinguished poet, and avid traveler, Xie An demonstrated remarkable courage and composure as a general.

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

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 the 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 Fu Jian had already conquered. 

Many people from the Murong Clan rebelled as well, 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 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 resources and got hurt in a battle.

King Fu Jian on Battlefield

The Tragic End of King Fu Jian

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

General Yao Chang forced Fu Jian to abdicate the throne to him. Moreover, 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 Yao assassinated Fu Jian, 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 prominent 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 was probably the most important thing in his mind; civilians' lives never mattered to him.  

Murong Chong announced himself as the king but was assassinated one year later by generals 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)

Legacy of King Fu Jian


Fu Jian was a talented and compassionate king in Chinese history, whose accomplishments were truly remarkable.

However, he was far too indulgent to those who had betrayed him 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 — 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 Chinese history.

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 perverted monarch in history.

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

King Liu Ziye of Liu Song

Insanely Disregards Parents and Family

As the oldest son, Liu Ziye was nominated as the crown prince when he was four and had been getting 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 never showed 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 many ghosts existed in a sick person’s bedroom.

Later, when he saw Princess Xincai, the younger sister of his father, Liu Ziye forced the princess, his aunt, to sleep with him.


Then he executed his aunt’s husband and all officials criticizing his freakish behavior. 

Liu Ziye also captured his three uncles, who might threaten his throne. Afterward, 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 Liu Ziye Liked

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

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


The princess was married to a noble, decent young man 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. 

Despite being known as a volatile individual, Liu Ziye treated Princess Shanyin kindly and granted her every request.

Liu Chuyu the Princess Shanyin

The Inhumane Acts and Tragic End 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 they liked, whether they were married, with or without children.

One princess fought back intensely and refused to give up, so she was beaten to death, and her three 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 outrageous, insane behaviors and planned to remove him from the throne. 

Soon, his three uncles, who had been captured and humiliated, formed an alliance 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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