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Xiao Yan — An Outstanding King Marked by Connivance and a Tragic End

Xiao Yan (464 — 549), courtesy name Shuda, was an excellent general who achieved influential military successes on battlefields and an outstanding monarch who built the Liang Dynasty (502 — 557), a prosperous empire during the North and South Dynasties (420 — 589).

He was also a brilliant artist with extraordinary achievements in literature, poetry, music, painting, calligraphy, and chess.


However, he destroyed the empire and starved to death tragically in the end.

Cyan Dragon on Pictorial Bricks of the South Dynasties

Cyan Dragon on Pictorial Bricks of the South Dynasties — Henan Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

A Talented Noble, A Brave General, and An Excellent King

Xiao Yan was born into a noble family, very handsome and talented. 

He had assisted a regent named Luan to initiate a coup to get the throne, then served in the army and made contributions.

After Luan departed, his son ascended to the throne but turned out to be a tyrant and executed Xiao Yan's big brother.

Hence, Xiao Yan initiated a rebel war against the new king, and after winning, he supported another royal prince as the puppet monarch. 

Sometime later, more people claimed their loyalty to Xiao Yan instead of the puppet king. Later, they supported Xiao Yan as their new monarch. 

Xiao Yan, now Emperor Wu of Liang, accepted and changed this empire's name to Liang Dynasty.

The Excellent Reign of Emperor Wu of Liang, Xiao Yan

Xiao Yan, Emperor Wu of Liang, was diligent, thrifty, modest, and open-minded; he published many good policies that guaranteed his people peace and prosperity.

He established two imperial mailboxes, which allowed every citizen and official in his kingdom to write to him; plenty of suggestions and complaints were sent to the king directly during that time.

Xiao Yan brought his people stable lives for decades in an era full of wars and chaos. 

Besides, Xiao Yan made significant contributions to literature, music, and the development of Buddhism.

Bronze Dancing Figuring of the South Dynasties

Bronze Dancing Figuring of the South Dynasties — Hunan Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Buddhist King Xiao Yan and His Unprincipled Forgiveness

However, the most important flaw of Xiao Yan was his extreme forgiveness of people nearby. 

Connivance is probably not good even for ordinary people like parents or managers, let alone for a king with massive power. 

In Xiao Yan's later years, he firmly believed in Buddhism, which made him even more modest and forgiving.

Buddha Statues of the South Dynasties

Buddha Statues of the South Dynasties — Chengdu Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

One of his brothers abandoned the army on the battlefield and caused a considerable loss for the troops, but instead of punishment, he received a huge promotion.

This brother was soon romantically involved with Xiao Yan's first daughter, and together, they tried to assassinate Xiao Yan.


However, after they got caught, they received absolute forgiveness from the emperor. 

Xiao Yan's adopted son betrayed his country and ran to a neighboring kingdom but later was expelled and returned. However, Xiao Yan didn't blame him, even continuing to spoil him. 

When these things happened, Xiao Yan always cried and blamed himself, trying to discover his own mistakes. 

He always believed that people could be changed and be moved by love.

Lotus Shaped Celadon (Lian Hua Zun) of the South Dynasties

Lotus Shaped Celadon (Lian Hua Zun) of the South Dynasties — The Oriental Metropolitan Museum of Nanjing (Photo by Dongmaiying)

How the Great King Was Starved to Death

A few years later, when a conquered general initiated a rebel war, Xiao Yan sent his adopted son, who had betrayed and rebelled against him, to be the general who led the army to quell this uprising.

Not surprisingly, this adopted son sold Xiao Yan out again; he opened the gate and let the rebel army in. 

Afterward, Xiao Yan and his sons were captured. 

Sometime later, Xiao Yan, the emperor who built a prosperous kingdom and achieved outstanding artistic feats, tragically succumbed to starvation at the age of 85. 

In the next few years, Xiao Yan's sons and nephews were supported to be puppet emperors of Liang but soon were assassinated.

Pictorial Bricks of the South Dynasties

Pictorial Bricks of the South Dynasties — National Museum of China (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Eight years after Xiao Yan's death, the Liang Dynasty ended. 

If Xiao Yan were an ordinary civilian, he might have been considered a super intelligent and kind person who could forgive anyone and anything.

But he was a king with great success and tremendous power. 

Hence, his connivance and unconditional forgiveness destroyed the prosperous kingdom he built and his whole family. 

However, the hundreds of excellent articles, over 80 poems, music, and calligraphy works that he left behind continue to showcase the intelligence of this once-sad king.

Unearthed Jade Sheep of the Three Kingdoms, Jin Dynasty, North and South Dynasties

Jade Sheep of the North and South Dynasties — Tianjin Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

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