Fun Facts about Chinese Culture and History

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Wang Mang -- A Possible Time-traveller and A Radical Reformist in the History of China 

From A Kind, Frugal Noble to A Powerful Regent 

Wang Mang (46 B. C. -- 23) was a cousin of Emperor Liu Ao, which meant that he came from the most powerful clan at that time, the clan of the current empress dowager.


Wang Mang was very smart, kind and frugal, while quite generously helped people in poverty. After Wang’s father passed away, he became the most powerful minister, because of his strong clan and his gracious reputation. 


After Liu Ao died, leaving no sons, Wang and his clan became even more powerful and had supported three powerless emperors in a row, two of them were toddlers.


During that period, Wang was quite a great regent.


He suggested the empress dowager to command all the aristocrats to live a frugal life, then he collected a great deal of money, which were given to people that were suffering from natural disasters or poverty.


In addition, he led many aristocrats to donate many land, and built tens of thousands of free houses for civilians who lost their homes in natural disasters. 


He also highly respected intellectuals, and had never connived crimes of his own clan.

When Wang was rewarded by the emperor, he only accepted titles, while refused all the land and money.


Later, large numbers of scholars and scientists were summoned to the capital city to teach and disseminate their knowledge, each of them was rewarded with a fine, free house.


Those caring and kind policies that Wang had implemented brought him increased support and respect dramatically, from both the ruling class and the civilians. 


Snatching of the Throne and Establishing of A New Dynasty 

Soon, the current teenager emperor passed away; Wang supported a 2-year-old child as the crown prince, and himself as the regent emperor.


This made the royal Liu clan quite furious and started to fight.

Wang defeated them, then he announced himself as emperor and established a new Dynasty named Xin, with support from large numbers of ministers and civilians.

Then the Emperor Wang Mang implemented a series of reform policies, which were frequently considered radical in the history of China.

He was sometimes considered as a time-traveler, because many of his policies resembled those utilized in recent decades of China.


In addition, he loved scientific experiment and invention, like the vernier caliper; Wang even performed a post mortem examination himself, in order to persuade people to stop believing in superstitions.


It felt like a Chinese who was born in the 1980s and then traveled to the Han Dynasty and applied all the policies from the era in which he used to live.

"Time Traveler" Emperor Wang Mang and His Radical Policy

Wang Mang claimed all the farmland belonging to the state and did not allow the trading of land. Everyone could be assigned farmland, for free, based on number of family members; any types of development activities should be authorized by the government.


More low-rental houses were built for poverty civilians, and people could get loans from the government with little or no interest.


Alcohol, salt and iron were managed by the state; the government would sometimes manage and supervise the market when necessary, so that businessmen could not manipulate the market.


Tax and officers’ income were fluctuate, based on national revenue. 

Wang Mang also forced everyone to work; people who didn’t work or couldn’t pay tax had to participate in jobs whatever the government assigned.


He also reformed the currency system for four times, but the results were not as good as he had expected. In addition, he initiated many wars to neighbor regimes and successfully expanded his realm. 


An Impartial Judical Executer that Executed His Own Sons

It was also forbidden to sell slaves; human’s lives were equally honorable and important.


This was not just a slogan that Emperor Wang Mang used to impress people or show his justice, it was a principle that he actually implemented.

Wang Mang’s second son killed a slave who was purchased a long time ago, then Wang forced his own son to commit suicide for this crime. Two of his other sons were forced to death as well, after they sinned. ​


Many people had benefited from his new policies, however, the prominence didn’t last very long.


Wang’s illegal occupation of the throne already made royal Liu clan furious, then his reform displeased nearly the entire aristocrat landlord class; soon, wars and many natural disasters made more civilians suffering.


Consequently, many of those who had supported him to be emperor before, gradually turned against him, after their interests were jeopardized by Wang and his reform.


In addition, those great changes within limited time (his new dynasty had lasted only for 15 years) and poor administration skill also led to the final failure. 


Soon, many uprising armies appeared in Wang's late years. 


Failure of Emperor Wang Mang and His Cruel Ending

After all of his followers were sacrificed in battles, Wang Mang was killed in chaos; his body was cut into several pieces after his death, his head was preserved by the following emperors for over 200 years.


His new dynasty and reform policies ended with his death. 


Emperor Wang Mang had long been criticized and despised in the history of China, for his series of radical reforms and the way he got the throne. 


He was indeed quite a smart and knowledgeable person, and was frugal in his entire life; as a noble born into a powerful and wealthy clan, he barely lived like a rich person.


Also, he was an outstanding politician and a sly opportunist, who was obsessed with power.


After he obtained the throne and achieved centralized power, he barely enjoyed life and kept working diligently. All the things he did were trying to make a change, to take care of the disadvantaged groups, and to decrease the gap between the rich and poor. 


Objectively speaking, his reform policies were not based on reality, especially while so many changes were squeezed into such a limited time; also, he barely used the right people to help him realize his political ambition.

In addition, the constant natural disasters, and rebellions from the former royal clan Liu and other forces made his failure not quite surprise.


However, Emperor Wang Mang was still an aspiring and brave reformist in the history of China, though failed, and an ambitious idealist with a big dream.