Fun Facts about Chinese Culture and History

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Liu Bang the Emperor Gaozu of Han

Liu Bang (256 B. C. -- 195 B. C.), founder of the Han Dynasty, was the first emperor who came from a civilian family, not a noble one in the history of China.

 

His legendary experience told people, for the first time, origin and family name doesn’t quite matter. 

 

Peasant Liu Bang and His Idle Early Life

Liu Bang was born into a peasant family, but never liked doing farm works and was disliked by his father for being fiddle around. He enjoyed making friends as a swordsman and then worked as an ordinary officer in his town. 

 

Years later, a landlord, also a good friend of the governor of the local county, moved to his town and held a big party, which all the powerful and rich people in this town were invited.

 

Bang found it was interesting, so he bragged that he would pay the most cash, though he had nothing, as a gift and then got welcomed as the most respected guests.

 

Bang’s confident and fearless personality impressed this landlord who was also good at physiognomy. He believed Bang would be very successful in the future and decided to marry his daughter to Bang, even many people told him Bang was not a diligent and reliable person.

 

Finally, Bang got his first wife Lv Zhi from this party when he was already 38 years old; they lived a normal life together until many uprising armies started to fight against the Empire Qin

 

Liu Bang's First Army and Beginning of Rebellion 

Once Bang was supervising a group of criminals to transfer to another place, some of them got escaped in the chaos. Then Bang set the rest of them free and decided to escape as well.

 

Many of the rest criminals were touched by Bang’s generosity and pledged their loyalty to him; Bang started to live as fugitive but further expanded his first army.

 

Soon, Bang allied his friends in his hometown, they defeated the leader of their country and occupied it as their first military base. Bang officially announced they would try to overthrow the Qin Dynasty as well, now he was 48 years old. 

 

Bang wasn’t very famous for his military skills, and his army wasn’t the strongest at that time.

 

So, he firstly complied to King Xiang Yu, a powerful commander who came from a noble family of the former Kingdom Chu; allied with other uprising armies, they perished troops of the Qin Dynasty together. 

 

After Qin was perished and Qin’s last king was killed by the King Xiang Yu, uprising armies started to fight with each other.

Liu Bang, however, had the ability to gain respect and support from many extremely intelligent people.

 

With the assistance of those exceptional generals and remarkable strategists, Bang made some commanders of the King Xiang Yu to surrender, and alienated the king's most intelligent minister.

 

Establishment of the Han Dynasty 

A few years later, Bang finally defeated this king and established the unified Han Dynasty in the history of China, and himself was respected as the Emperor Gao Zu of Han. 

After years of wars, the new dynasty was very poor; Bang’s emperor's carriage even couldn’t find four horses with the same color.

 

In order to recover and develop the economy, Taoism and its conception of "governing with few interventions" was highly respected and strictly applied by Bang and the following emperors of the Han, until his great grandson Emperor Liu Che.

 

In addition, Liu Bang, the Emperor Gao Zu of Han, focused on rehabilitative policies and abolished some harsh laws from Qin; many slaves were released and given farmland and people lived in peace since then.

 

Moreover, horse breeding became an important and highly encouraged priority in the Han Dynasty. 

 

Wars With the Huns 

Meanwhile, when the Empire Han was newly established, a king of the Huns (Xiongnu) defeated most of other nomadic clans and unified the plateau on the Mongolia Plat. This large nomadic regime with aggressive cavalry troop kept expanding and fighting with Han.

 

When Emperor Liu Bang was 55 years old, which was only 2 years after the Han Dynasty was established, a king of Han colluded the Huns and planned to invade Han with 400, 000 cavalrymen.

 

Emperor Liu Bang then led 320,000 infantry soldiers fought back; however, after several battles, his army was isolated and enclosed by the Huns for over a week.

 

In the end, the Empire Han used lots of treasure to sue for peace and signed a pact, included offering a certain amount of money and sent royal princesses to the Huns. 

 

Eliminating Kings of Feudal States

In the beginning of the Han Dynasty, counties and feudatory states were coexisted; kings of those states were people with remarkable contributions in building up the Han Dynasty.

 

Bang also commanded all the nobles of former kingdoms and powerful clans to move and live near him, so that he could have them under strict surveillance; but he didn’t humiliate or give them hard times.

 

Years later, Liu Bang became suspicious, and perished all kings of those feudatory states whose family names weren’t Liu; then he commanded that only people from Liu’s clan could be entitled as kings.

 

He also set a strict rule for the Han Dynasty that only people with certain military achievements could get the title of nobility.

 

Cruel Fights Between the Queen and His Favorite Concubine

When Liu Bang was old, he loved a beautiful concubine very much and wanted to nominate her as queen and her son as the crown prince.

 

But the current queen, his wife Lv Zhi, was a very smart and ambitious woman.

 

Lv married to him at a very young age and had experienced a lot with Liu Bang, from a poverty peasant to emperor of the big empire. So Lv was familiar with nearly all of important generals and ministers of the Empire Han, and was very influential among them.

 

Lv utilized many strategies and assistances of those powerful ministers, then she kept her queen’s title and her son’s crown prince. 

 

After Liu Bang passed away, Lv became the empress dowager and her son the next emperor. She was still sad and angry about her husband had planned to replace her with that concubine.

 

So Lv shaved that concubine’s hair, cut her limbs and let her crawl in silt to death. She also grounded nearly all of Bang’s other concubines and murdered their sons.

 

After Lv’s emperor son passed away, she supported two other puppet emperors and was completely in charge of the government, which made her the first Empress with great power in the history of China.

 

She was a good monarch who run the empire very well; after she departed, nobles and ministers chose Liu Bang’s another son and supported him as the fifth emperor of the Han Dynasty. 

 

Legacy of Liu Bang the Emperor Gao Zu of Han

Started from a peasant with no property and power in his 40s, to a widely admired and respected emperor who built a prosperous empire in the history of China, Bang used only seven years.

 

He was extremely good at gaining people’s support, no matter they were intelligent ministers or common civilians. He successfully attracted the best generals and politicians and their loyalty, so he could finally perish the powerful Qin Dynasty and all the other strong uprising armies. 

 

The most controversial thing he did was he killed many people with great contributions, to reinforce the centralized power and eliminate possible rebels in the future. As a person, it was quite ungrateful and indecent to kill contributing people after using them.

 

But as a monarch of a huge unified empire, it would be more controversial when regarding to remove those potential threatens of the newly founded kingdom and maintain peace and stability of society.

 

It turned out this behavior might not be quite wrong; besides the king who had surrendered to the Huns, decades later after Bang departed, seven kings of the feudal states allied and initiated a big rebel war, which almost overthrown the empire.

 

Though they were defeated and perished later, this war did cause chaos and destruction to the Han Dynasty. 

Anyway, Liu Bang was remembered and highly respected as one of the greatest emperors in the history of China, who made a good start for a prosperous dynasty and brought his people stable lives.

 

He also pioneered an era when commoners could achieve exceptional merits and paramount honors.