Fun Facts about Chinese Culture and History

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Li Kuo -- Emperor of Self Contradiction 

Li Kuo (742 -- 805) was great grandson of the Emperor Li Longji, who experienced the eight-year long An-Shi Rebellion war and witnessed his kingdom from super prosperous to full of chaos and blood.

He spent most of his life ambitiously trying to recover the prosperious kingdom in his childhood memory, however, he failed. 

 

tAfter he realized that he could never make that dream come true, Li Kuo changed to a completely different person. 

 

From A Carefree Prince to An Experinced Marshal 

When Li Kuo was little, as first grandson of the crown prince of a flourishing empire, he was very well educated and lived a wealthy life.

 

Soon, a destructive rebel war happened when he was 13, and his great grandfather, the Emperor Li Longji, escaped out of the capital city.

 

Then Li Kuo’s grandfather and father stayed and commanded Tang’s army to fight back.

 

Most sadly, Kuo’s beloved mother was lost in that chaos; he spent lots of time trying to find her after the war, but no one knew how and where she ended. 

Li Kuo had participated in battlefield with his father, and then was nominated as the cheif commander of the Tang’s army; when his great grandfather Li Longji, who should be responsible for this rebel war, was hiding in a safe city. 

 

With assistance of intelligent, brave and loyal generals and soldiers, as well as courageous civilians of the Empire Tang, his father and him finally led Tang’s army defeated those rebellion troops after eight years of arduous wars.

 

Efforts to Recover Prosperity of the Empire Tang

A decade later, Li Kuo ascended to the throne, after his grandfather and father both passed away. 

 

Emperor Li Kuo, also respected as Tang De Zong, was very diligent and frugal, and respected General Guo Ziyi as the most honorable minister.

 

Seeing what his father’s eunuchs had done to Guo Ziyi and other loyal ministers before, Li Kuo tried his best to limit the eunuch’s power, and nominated many talented officers.

 

Under his governance, taxes were simplified and lowered, economy and agriculture were encouraged and gradually recovered. 

 

In the first 13 years of Li Kuo's life, as the heir of the Tang Empire, he had seen the most prosperous era of the kingdom, which gave him a full image of what a powerful country should look like. 

 

After he ascended to the throne, he tried his best to recover that flourishing kingdom from his memory.

 

Those Half-Independent Kingdoms that Were Hard to Control

However, the consequences of that big rebellion were still obvious.

 

Except dramatic decline of population and economy, many nearby nomadic regimes also found it a great opportunity to attack and take advantage of the Tang Empire.

 

Moreover, during that war, many loyal generals expanded their armies and contributed a lot in defeating the rebellions; but they also occupied with lots of independent power when the central government was weak.

 

After the war, they still were loyal to the royal family and Empire Tang; but those newly empowered warlords didn’t want to lose power either.

 

Those former counties of Tang now became half-independent and powerful kingdoms, which was a severe problem for the rest emperors of the Tang Dynasty in the history of China. 

Since, Li Kuo’s father, Emperor Li Yu was the main commander who led Tang’s army fought for a long time, most of the generals and warlords were very loyal to him. 

 

In addition, Li Yu was a grateful and kind emperor who kept those general’s powers and privileges.

 

However, after his father passed away, as a young and ambitious monarch, conflicting between Emperor Li Kuo and those powerful warlords or their descendants became severe and obvious.

 

Remarkable and loyal generals like Guo Ziyi were not common, most  people were still normal and simple: they would fight for their country, but they also wanted power and privileges based on their contributions.

 

As long as one had tasted power, it was very hard to let go. 

Apologizing and Making Peace with Rebelled Warlords 

In the first few years, Emperor Li Kuo disagreed the succession system within those half-independent kingdoms, and tried to remove power from warlords, by commanding loyal generals to attack those disobeyed ones.

 

In the meantime, he also needed to protect his kingdom from nearby nomadic regimes.

 

Years later, an army initiated a coup because they were treated unfairly; then a sly opportunist made it expanded to a big rebel war against the emperor.

 

It had lasted for years, until Emperor Li Kuo published a famous self criticize article, saying that he was wrong and was responsible for all the wars and chaos in his empire, and he claimed that surrendered people would be pardoned. 

 

Afterwards, all rebel armies stopped fighting and surrendered, and those invasive nomadic troops were successfully defeated.

 

An important reason was that Tang’s former emperors brought people stable and wealthy lives for a long time; therefore, most civilians and soldiers still had faith in Tang. Additionally, the central government was still powerful, and Emperor Li Kuo was kind, intelligent and respected. 

 

Hence, those rebel generals knew they couldn’t win in the end.

 

Moreover, at that time, those warlords only wanted more power, not a title of a traitor.

 

The Empire Tang then finally reached peace, with a central government surrounding by some powerful warlords and their half-independent kingdoms. 

 

Changing to A Completely Different Monarch 

After those chaos, Emperor Li Kuo changed a lot and published a series of self-contradicted policies.

 

In the beginning, he tried his best to suppress eunuchs and those independent warlords. But afterwards, he became suspicious to ministers in his government, and started to trust eunuchs close to him, especially those who risked their lives to protect him during those wars.

Afterwards, he assigned eunuchs as the chief commanders of his imperial guards, which officially gave the eunuch group the military power, until the end of the Tang Dynasty.

He also allowed the existence and legality of more power of those warlords, which he tried his best to weaken before. 

 

Kuo also implemented another widely criticized policy in his late years, in which he tried everything possible to save money to the exchequer. 

 

Maybe after long term fights and frustrations, only close eunuchs and assets could give him some sense of security. 

Maybe he secretly prepared an important, strong asset to his beloved grandson Li Chun.

 

Based on Kuo's personal experiences and the cruel but realistic condition, his choices were not difficult to understand.

 

Having seen the destructive war, huge decline and lost his mother when he was only a teenager; then he dedicated almost the rest of his life fighting in battles and trying to recover the prosperous Tang Empire from his memory, but in the end had to make lots of compromises that he wasn’t willing to.

 

However, destructions that the eight-year-long rebel war brought the empire was too influential, which was the biggest reason of Li Kuo’s sadness and contradictions in his whole life.

 

Therefore, in the end, he had to give up his ambitious dream that he had since childhood. 

 

Contributions of Emperor Li Kuo to Literature and Medication 

Surprisingly, though Li Kuo seemed quite busy and occupied during his entire life, he was an excellent poet and calligrapher who left many outstanding masterpieces in the history of China.

 

Moreover, he even wrote a medical book introducing hundreds of prescriptions, which was quite impressive as a hectic emperor.