Fun Facts about Chinese Culture and History

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Liu Zhao -- Young Break Point Emperor of Han Dynasty in History of China 

Liu Zhao (79 -- 105) was the great grandson of the Emperor Liu Xiu, who recovered the Han Dynasty and took back the centralized control.

 

Liu Zhao’s great grandfather, grandfather and father were all great monarchs with good reputation and remarkable achievements in the history of China. 

 

Liu Zhao, respected as Emperor Zhang of Han, however, was a very controversial monarch in the Han Dynasty.

 

He was an excellent monarch with splendid accomplishments who led his empire reached another peak, but also was the one who left a huge potential peril that caused the prosperous empire collapsed gradually in the next century. 

 

A Child Emperor Under Control of His Adoptive Mother 

Liu Zhao’s father’s queen named Dou, she had no sons, so she adopted Zhao, framed up his birth mother and forced her to commit suicide later. 

 

Dou then framed up Zhao’s birth mother’s father, who was a decent lord, and perished her entire clan.

 

A few years later, Zhao’s father departed at a very young age; then Zhao ascended the throne when he was only 9 years old, and Dou was respected as the empress dowager.

At that time, Zhao barely knew and could do nothing in any political decisions; so the empress dowager Dou, his adoptive mother, was in charge of everything. 

 

She kept promoting people of her clan to very important positions, which made her clan became quite powerful; especially after her brother named Dou Xian defeated the Huns (Xiongnu) for good.

 

Powerful Clan of the Empress Dowager - The House of Dou

Soon, the House of Dou included a powerful empress dowager, an excellent marshal who was in charge of the army, some royal princesses and lots of noble lords.

 

While, on the other side, was the lonely teenager emperor Liu Zhao; he had no idea of who, among his ministers, were loyal to him or to the House of Dou.

 

Though his ancestors tried very hard to avoid powerful clan of empress dowager’s, this still happened inescapably.

 

The powerful and contributive general Dou Xian, brother of the Empress Dowager Dou, was an exceptional marshal but an arrogant person.

 

After one part of the Huns (southern Huns) allied with Han by marriage, the northern Huns kept fighting and further expanded since the chaos that Wang Mang caused.

 

Dou Xian led Han’s army, allied with southern Huns, defeated northern Huns for several times.

When the northern Huns wanted to surrender, the southern Huns instigated the negotiation; so Dou Xian commanded his army attacked and chased the rest Huns westward far away until they disappeared.

 

From that time on, in Han Empire’s documents, this aggressive and strong nomadic regime that had fought with Han for hundreds of years were finally defeated and perished for good in the history of China. 

 

Then Dou Xian was given countless privileges and powers; but he didn’t know that nothing could keep expanding or when to be humble and modest.

He occupied many farmland illegally, even included a royal princess’ property. He kept many professional assassins, and murdered a lord from royal Liu’s clan because of jealousy, and those who disagreed or displeased him. 

Soon, Dou Xian and his followers planned to assassinate Emperor Liu Zhao, but the emperor was informed.  

 

Perishing the House of Dou with Help of the Eunuch Group

Liu Zhao was still a teenager, but was already much older and more mature; he gradually realized that he was just a puppet emperor, while the House of Dou have the actual dominance.

 

However, most of his relatives were members of the House of Dou, most ministers and generals were following, or maybe secretly supporting, this clan. In addition, Liu Zhao’s every move was being monitored as well. 

Consequently, the only group that Emperor Liu Zhao could easily reach and trust was eunuch, those imperial servants who had served him for a long time.

 

Liu Zhao asked some eunuchs and his royal guards ambushed in a palace carefully, then he tricked Dou Xian and his main followers to come here, under the name of celebrating their military success. 

 

Afterwards, Liu Zhao captured all of Xian’s followers and removed Xian’s military power; then he grounded the Empress Dowager Dou, and commanded Xian and other powerful people of her clan to commit suicide.

In the end, Zhao was told about how his adoptive mother Dou had framed up and murdered his birth mother and her entire clan; but he didn’t demote or punish the Empress Dowager Dou. After she passed away, she was still buried with Zhao’s father, using ceremony of empress dowager.  

 

An Excellent Teenager Emperor Liu Zhao

Now Liu Zhao was a 13-year-old emperor, who was already quite strong and decisive.

 

Afterwards, he kept working diligently, as other good monarchs did in the history of China. He cared about civilians, lowered taxes, encouraged agriculture and selected qualified officers to make sure the government operated efficiently.

 

He also further expanded his realm and made peace with nearby regions.

 

Zhao passed away when he was 26; in that year, the population of the Han Empire reached over 53 million and people were living in peace and wealth.

 

He left the Han Empire to a baby emperor of only a few months old, and his powerful queen Deng Sui.

 

Consequences of Emperors Losing Power to Eunuch Group

Emperor Liu Zhao defeated his powerful political enemies when he was still a teenager and led his kingdom reached prosperity, he was exceptional indeed.

 

However, he was widely criticized for having established precedent that giving eunuch too much political power, though he choosing them was the only decision he had in the beginning.

 

Objectively speaking, eunuchs that he trusted and nominated were loyal and helpful; they made important contributions to Zhao’s defeating the House of Dou and regaining centralized power.

 

Paper, one of the greatest inventions in ancient history of China, was invented by an eunuch named Cai Lun during Liu Zhao’s ruling period. 

 

Therefore, maybe Liu Zhao’s decision wasn’t quite wrong; those things that wronged the dynasty in the following century were more about people. 

 

But Zhao's reign was indeed a turning point of the Han Dynasty in the history of China; after his departure, till the end of the Han dynasty, none of the following emperors obtained actual centralized power.

 

Instead, nearly most of the following emperors of the Han Dynasty after him repeated the same fate which they ascended to the throne at a very young age, when the empress dowager and her clan, or eunuch group, were in charge of almost everything.

 

Some of the emperors tried to fight, while others just lived with the flow, but none of them could achieve big success as Liu Zhao did. Since then, the Han Dynasty gradually declined.