Emperor Liu Zhi and Liu Hong — Struggle and Declination in the Late Han Dynasty

Liu Zhi and Liu Hong were two influential emperors of the late Han Dynasty (202 BC — 220 AD).


During their 42 years' reign, more social problems arose and then aggravated, and the empire declined dramatically.


Meanwhile, they shared quite similar encounters and implemented resemble policies.

Unearthed Painted Ivory Ruler of the Eastern Han Dynasty — Shanxi Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Similar Experiences of Emperors Liu Zhi and Liu Hong


Liu Zhi (132 — 167), respected Emperor Huan of Han, reigned from the year 146 until 167.

Liu Hong (157 — 189), respected Emperor Ling of Han, reigned from the year 168 until 189.

They both came from side branches of the royal family of the Han Dynasty and were chosen and supported as emperors when they were teenagers, by powerful clans of the current empress dowagers'.

After they grew older, they allied eunuchs to perish the former empress dowager and their powerful clans but ended up giving the eunuch group more and more power.

Therefore, strong aristocrat clans, eunuch groups, and decent officials kept fighting against each other, which caused severe chaos and destruction.

Painted Pottery Building of the Eastern Han Dynasty — Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Struggle and Absurdity of Emperors Huan and Ling of Han

Emperors Huan and Ling stayed humble when they newly ascended to the throne, kept low profiles for years, and eliminated their political enemies from the most powerful clan.

Afterward, however, with chaotic faction conflicts and increased uprising armies, the national exchequer was almost empty.  

Then, these two emperors started to sell political positions for money, which solved their immediate problems but caused more declination in the long run. 

This took away opportunities for well educated but poor scholars to be involved politically, so the Emperor Ling of Han built a professional academy for civilian born, talented students. However, it didn't last long. 

Debris (Xi Ping Shi Jing) of Official Confucianism Classics That Were Carved on Stone, Finished Under Command of the Emperor Ling of Han — National Museum of China (Photo by Ayelie)

Besides, after they eliminated political enemies and obtained power, they both lived a luxury, even ridiculous life. 

Liu Zhi, the Emperor Huan of Han had over 5000 imperial concubines in his royal palace, but had no sons; Liu Hong, the Emperor Ling of Han built thousands of fancy houses to have fun with his beautiful women.

They all struggled with strong clans to retrieve power and defeated the invading enemies, however, conflicts and destruction during their reign had endangered the empire and made civilians live in poverty and chaos.

Bronze Unicorn of the Eastern Han Dynasty — Gansu Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

After Liu Hong the Emperor Ling of Han passed away, his 13-year-old first son ascended to the throne, but soon was abolished and forced to commit suicide by a strong warlord. 

Then, his second son Liu Xie (181 — 234) was supported as a puppet monarch, the Emperor Xian of Han, who after decades of difficult struggles, abdicated the throne and ended the Han Dynasty.

Brick Graving of the Eastern Han Dynasty about People Cooking and Welcoming Guests — Xuzhou Art Museum of Han Stone Gravings (Photo by Dongmaiying)

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