Zhu Wen — Destructor of Fabulous City and Terminator of the Tang Dynasty

Zhu Wen (852 — 912), respected as Emperor Taizu of Later Liang, was the warlord that ended Tang Dynasty (618 — 907) and established the Later Liang Dynasty (907 — 923).


Among founder emperors in the history of China, Zhu Wen was one of the most criticized monarchs with the worst reputation. 

Copper Lion of the Late Tang Dynasty to Five Dynasties

Copper Lion of the Late Tang Dynasty to Five Dynasties — Asian Art Museum of San Francisco (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Join and Betrayal of Peasant Rebel Army 

Zhu Wen, born into an impoverished family, was disliked by nearly everyone around, for being lazy about farm works.

When a large-scale peasant uprising outburst, he joined this rebellion as a soldier and soon got promoted to a high-ranking general because of his courage and military talent. 

A few years of intense fights later, and Zhu Wen believed that this peasant army will be defeated in the end, so he took his troop and surrendered to the Tang Empire. 

The Tang emperor was happy with Zhu Wen's contribution and awarded him a new name Zhu Quanzhong, which means absolute loyalty.

Then, Zhu Wen became a powerful warlord of Tang and started to fight against the peasant uprising army that he had served before.

With Zhu Wen's exceptional military talent, he kept winning and obtaining more power.

Gilding Silver Cup of the Tang Dynasty

Gilding Silver Cup of the Tang Dynasty — Metropolitan Museum of Art (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Became Regent and Put the Emperor Under Control

After Li Ye, the Emperor Zhaozong of Tang ascended to the throne, he had been struggling with strong eunuch groups in the central government, and aggressive warlords nationwide.

A few years later, when the eunuchs allied with some warlords, imprisoned, and abolished the emperor, many other warlords planned to save the emperor. 

Some of them were only because of loyalty, while others believed that have the emperor under control would be quite beneficial. 

In the end, Zhu Wen defeated rebellion armies and slaughtered those eunuchs; afterward, he took the emperor under his control.

Then, he forced the emperor and large numbers of civilians in the capital city Chang'an to move out, and migrate to the city that was under his absolute control.

Restored Picture of Part of the Chang'an City of the Tang Dynasty

Destroying of the Fabulous Capital City and Royal Palace

During that migration, the prosperous and fabulous capital, the Chang'an City of the Tang Empire was destroyed and the situation devolved into chaos.

The royal Daming Palace, which was built at the beginning of the Tang Dynasty, where Tang’s emperors lived for hundreds of years, was completely ruined and burnt up by Zhu Wen.

This spectacular royal palace was 3 times the size of the Chateau de Versailles, 14 times bigger than the Buckingham Palace, 4.5 times as big as the Forbidden City, then left only some relics after Zhu Wen’s destruction. 

Countless valuable buildings were torn down, and the residues were floating in the river.

Many people’s families fell apart and they cried all away, to the new city that Zhu Wen forced them to move to.

Restoration Map of Palace of the Tang Dynasty

Restoration Picture of the Royal Daming Palace of the Tang Dynasty

Cruel Assassinations Commanded by Zhu Wen

Meanwhile, Zhu Wen secretly executed the emperor's hundreds of loyal servants and replaced them with his followers.

Afterward, many warlords allied together to fight against Zhu Wen, some of those lords were loyal and sincerely wanted to recover the Tang’s reign, while others were just disagreeing with Zhu Wen obtaining too much power.

Anyway, they initiated a big war toward Zhu Wen.

Zhu Wen had to fight back, but he worried that the ambitious emperor Li Ye might do something to jeopardize his reign or fell into other warlords' hands after he led his army and left the city to participate in the war.

So, Zhu Wen commanded to assassinate the emperor in the royal palace and supported Li Ye’s 12-year old son to be the next emperor. 

Part of A Golden Crown of the Tang Dynasty

Part of A Golden Crown of the Tang Dynasty — Xi'an Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Then, Zhu Wen executed all of Li Ye’s other sons and loyal officials of Tang and dumped their bodies in the river. 

Now, in the central government of the Tang Empire, there was a 12-year-old emperor, surrounded by Zhu Wen and his cruel followers. 

In other places in China, there were endless wars among warlords, for different purposes, trying to save the emperor and recovering the Tang Empire, or obtaining more land and power.

Zhu Wen still couldn’t win over others to unify the whole of the nation, so he forced the young emperor to abdicate the throne to him, and he started his new empire, the Later Liang Dynasty.

Then he murdered the young emperor and the rest royals of Tang when the Tang Dynasty was officially ended.

Zhu Wen's Wife and His Possible Incestuous Love Lives

The love of Zhu Wen’s life was a beautiful woman, whom he fell in love with when he was still a teenager.

This woman named Zhang was a very decisive person, who was involved, even planned, every decision that Zhu Wen had made. 

Zhu Wen was cruel, merciless, and not afraid of anyone, except for his wife.

Once when Zhu Wen led his army marching toward a battlefield, his wife felt it was not a good decision at that time; so she sent a servant to summon the entire army back, and Zhu Wen completely listened.

Unearthed Porcelain Lotus Bowl of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms

Porcelain Lotus Bowl of the Five Dynasties — Suzhou Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

However, before Zhu Wen became the king, his wife passed away, and left him a suggestion of “less murder and fewer women”.

After Zhang's death, Zhu Wen didn’t marry another wife; but in some gossips, he slept with some of his daughters-in-law. 

The weirdest thing was that all of his sons knew about this, and they were happy and proud if Zhu Wen enjoyed their wives. 

Cruel End of Zhu Wen and Fall of Later Liang Dynasty

After Tang Dynasty was ended, the whole of the nation steeped into the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period (907 — 979), when warlords kept fighting against each other, trying to expand their territories and finish unification.

Hence, Zhu Wen never stopped fighting in wars.

The year that Tang's last emperor was murdered, Li Cunxu, the son of Zhu Wen's long-term enemy, started to attack him. 

Zhu Wen and his generals encountered a series of losses on the battlefield, while the invincible Li Cunxu kept expanding.

After a big failure, Zhu Wen realized that none of his sons had military nor political skills to inherit his kingdom, and now he was getting old. 

Therefore, Zhu Wen planned to nominate his adoptive son as his crown prince.

Gilding Flowers Decorated Siver Plate, the Late Tang Dynasty to Five Dynasties

Gilding Flowers Decorated Siver Plate, the Late Tang Dynasty to Five Dynasties — Dingzhou Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

But Zhu Wen’s oldest son found out the plan and felt threatened.

Consequently, five years after Zhu Wen claimed himself the new king, he was murdered by his oldest son, in his bedroom; the same way how Zhu Wen had assassinated Li Ye, the Emperor Zhaozong of Tang.  

Zhu Wen was a talented general with excellent military achievements, and a fine politician that reigned his empire well; however, the destructions he brought extremely outweighed his contribution.

He was a sly opportunist and a cruel monarch, but he didn’t start a new glorious chapter nor brought people good lives, as other dynastic founders did. 

As he had expected, 11 years after his death, Li Cunxu defeated his incapable sons and perished his empire.

Copper Flying Deity Figurine of Later Tang Dynasty, the Empire that was Built by Li Cunxu

Copper Flying Deity Figurine of Later Tang Dynasty, the Empire that was Built by Li Cunxu — Capital Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)