top of page

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

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


Among the 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)

Joining and Betrayal of the Peasant Rebel Army

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

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

After a few years of intense fights, Zhu Wen believed that this peasant army would be defeated in the end, so he took his troops 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 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)

Becoming Regent and Exerting Control Over the Emperor

After Li Ye, Emperor Zhaozong of Tang ascended to the throne, he struggled 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 were only because of loyalty, while others believed that having the emperor under control would be pretty beneficial. 

In the end, Zhu Wen defeated the rebellious armies and exterminated the eunuchs; thereafter, he brought 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 under his absolute control.

Capital Chang An City of the Tang Dynasty

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

Destruction 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, built at the beginning of the Tang Dynasty, where Tang's emperors lived for hundreds of years, was ruined and burnt up by Zhu Wen.

This spectacular royal palace, three times the size of the Chateau de Versailles, fourteen times larger than Buckingham Palace, and 4.5 times the size of the Forbidden City, was left in ruins after Zhu Wen's destruction.

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

Countless families were torn apart, with many shedding tears as they were forced to relocate to the new city by Zhu Wen.

Restoration Map of Palace of the Tang Dynasty

Restoration Picture of the Royal Daming Palace of the Tang Dynasty

Cruel Assassinations Ordered 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 disagreed with Zhu Wen obtaining too much power.

Anyway, they initiated a big war against 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 fall into other warlords' hands after he led his army and left the city to participate in the war.

So, Zhu Wen ordered the assassination of the emperor in the royal palace and supported Li Ye's 12-year-old son to ascend as 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 recover the Tang Empire or obtaining more land and power.

Zhu Wen, unable to win over others to unify the nation, resorted to forcing the young emperor to abdicate the throne to him. Subsequently, he established his new empire, the Later Liang Dynasty.

Then, upon the official end of the Tang Dynasty, he executed the young emperor and the remaining members of the Tang royal family.

The Wife of Zhu Wen and His Alleged Incestuous Relationships

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

This woman named Zhang was very decisive, involved, and even planned every decision that Zhu Wen made. 

Zhu Wen was cruel, merciless, and unafraid of anyone except his wife.

Once, when Zhu Wen led his army toward a battlefield, his wife felt it was an inopportune decision. She promptly dispatched a servant to summon the entire army back, and Zhu Wen heeded her counsel without hesitation.

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 to some gossip, he slept with some of his daughters-in-law. 

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

Cruel End of Zhu Wen and the Fall of the Later Liang Dynasty

After the Tang Dynasty 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 the military or political skills to inherit his kingdom, and now he was getting old. 

Therefore, Zhu Wen planned to nominate his adoptive son as the 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 learned about 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 Zhu Wen had assassinated Li Ye, Emperor Zhaozong of Tang.  

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

He was a sly opportunist and a cruel monarch, but he didn’t start a new glorious chapter nor bring 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)

bottom of page