Emperor Wu of Han
|Emperor Wu of Han
|Reign||9 March 141 BC – 29 March 87 BC|
|Empress||Empress Chen Jiao (陳嬌)
Empress Wei Zifu (衛子夫)
|Princess Wei the Eldest (衛長公主)
Princess Yangshi (陽石公主)
Princess Zhuyi (諸邑公主)
Liu Ju, Crown Prince Li (戾太子劉據)
Liu Bo, Prince Ai of Changyi (昌邑哀王劉髆)
Liu Hong, Prince Huai of Qi (齊懷王劉閎)
Liu Dan, Prince La of Yan (燕刺王劉旦)
Liu Xu, Prince Li of Guangling (廣陵厲王劉胥)
Liu Fuling, Emperor Zhao (昭帝劉弗陵)
|Family name: Liu (劉)
Given name: Che[a] (徹)
Courtesy name: Tong (通)
|Jiànyuán 建元 (140 BC – 135 BC)
Yuánguāng 元光 (134 BC – 129 BC)
Yuánshuò 元朔(128 BC – 123 BC)
Yuánshòu 元狩 (122 BC – 117 BC)
Yuándĭng 元鼎 (116 BC – 111 BC)
Yuánfēng 元封 (110 BC – 105 BC)
Tàichū 太初 (104 BC – 101 BC)
Tiānhàn 天漢 (100 BC – 97 BC)
Tàishĭ 太始 (96 BC – 93 BC)
Zhēnghé 征和 (92 BC – 89 BC)
Hòuyuán 後元 (88 BC – 87 BC)
|Short: Emperor Wu[b] (武帝) "martial"
Full: Xiao Wu Huangdi[c] (孝武皇帝) "filial and martial"
|Father||Emperor Jing of Han|
|Mother||Empress Wang Zhi (王娡)|
|Born||10 August 156 BC|
|Died||29 March 87 BC|
Emperor Wu of Han, also translated Han Wudi, (simplified Chinese: 汉武帝; traditional Chinese: 漢武帝; pinyin: Hàn Wǔdì; Wade–Giles: Han Wu-ti, 156–87 BCE) was the seventh emperor of the Han Dynasty of China, ruling as such for 54 years, from 141 BCE to 87 BCE. Wudi's reign resulted in or the vast territorial expansion, development of a strong and centralized state resulting from his governmental re-organization, including his promotion of Confucian doctrines. In the field of historical social and cultural studies, Wudi is known for his religious innovations and patronage of the poetic and musical arts, including development of the imperial Music Bureau into a prestigious entity. It was also during his reign that cultural contact with western Eurasia was greatly increased, directly or indirectly. Many new crops and other items were introduced to China during his reign.
As a military campaigner, Emperor Wu led Han China through its greatest expansion—at its height, the Empire's borders spanned from modern Kyrgyzstan in the west, to Korea in the east, and to northern Vietnam in the south. Emperor Wu successfully repelled the nomadic Xiongnu from systematically raiding northern China and dispatched his envoy Zhang Qian in 139 BC to seek an alliance with the Yuezhi of modern Uzbekistan. This resulted in further missions to Central Asia. Although historical records do not describe him to be aware of Buddhism, emphasizing rather his interest in shamanism, nevertheless cultural exchanges occurred as a consequence of these embassies, and there are suggestions that these included his reception of Buddhist statues from central Asia, as depicted in the Mogao Caves murals.
While establishing an autocratic and centralized state, Emperor Wu adopted the principles of Confucianism as the state philosophy and code of ethics for his empire and started a school to teach future administrators the Confucian classics. These reforms would have an enduring effect throughout the existence of imperial China and an enormous influence on neighboring civilizations. However, Emperor Wu was also known for his employment of shaman advisers, and for various religious and cultural changes with historical significance of a less directly obvious nature.
Emperor Wu's reign lasted 54 years — a record that would not be broken until the reign of the Kangxi Emperor, more than 1800 years later.
The person later known as Emperor Wu of Han was born as Liu Che (劉徹—this was a personal name for family use, and it definitely was not used commonly).The use of "Han" (漢) in referring to emperor Wu is a reference to the Han dynasty of which he was a part. His family name is "Liu" (劉): the ruling family or clan of the Han dynasty shared the family name of "Liu", the family name of sheriff Liu Bang who was the founding father of the Han dynasty, and who afterwards came to be known as Emperor Gaozu of Han. The name "Di" (帝) is a title: this is the Chinese word which in imperial history of China means "emperor". The name "Wu" (武) literally means "martial" or "warlike", but is also related to the concept of a particular divinity in the historical Chinese religious pantheon existing at that time. Combined, "Wu" plus "di" creates the name "Wudi". Wudi being this emperor's Posthumous name, used for historical and for religious purposes, such as offering him posthumous honors at his tomb.
One of Han Wudi's innovations was the use of changing his reign name every so many years, as deemed auspicious or to commemorate some event. Thus, the practice for dating years during the reign of Wudi came to be the nth year of the [Reign Year Name] (where nth stands for an ordinal integer and "Reign Year Name" for the specific name of that regnal year.
The future Emperor Wu's mother had initially been married once, to a commoner called Jin Wangsun (金王孫) and had a daughter from that marriage. However, her mother Zang Er (臧兒) (a granddaughter of one-time Prince of Yan, Zang Tu (臧荼), under Emperor Gao) was told by a soothsayer that both Wang Zhi and her sister would one day become extremely honored. Zang got the idea to offer them to Crown Prince Liu Qi (later Emperor Jing) and forcibly divorced Wang Zhi from her then-husband in the process.
When Consort Wang was pregnant, she claimed that she dreamed of a sun falling into her womb. It was also said that Emperor Jing dreamed of a scarlet boar descending from the cloud into the palace.
Consort Wang's new husband, the Prince of Qi, would become emperor Han Jingdi, upon the death of his father, the emperor, Han Wendi.
"King of Jiaodong"
In 153 BC, Liu Che (the future Wudi) was given the title "King of Jiaodong".
As emperor Jing's eldest son, the future Han Wudi became officially named as heir apparent, at age nine.
When Emperor Jing died in 141 BCE, the 15 year old heir apparent heir apparent Wudi acceeded to the imperial throne, as Emperor (di) Wu of the Han dynasty.
After Emperor Wudi ascended the throne, his grandmother Empress Dowager Dou became the Grand Empress Dowager, and his mother Empress Wang became the Empress Dowager. He made his wife (and cousin, with Empress Chen being the daughter of his aunt) Chen Jiao empress.
The first few years of Emperor Wu's reign saw the administration dominated by three figures — his Daoist grandmother Grand Empress Dowager Dou, his mother Empress Dowager Wang, and her half-brother Tian Fen (田蚡, Marquess of Wu'an and commander of the armed forces). Emperor Wu was forced to submit to his grandmother Dou's wishes. In 139 BC, Confucian officials Zhao Wan (趙綰) and Wang Zang (王臧) advised the emperor to no longer consult the grand empress dowager, because of her adherence to Taoism. Grand Empress Dowager Dou had Zhao and Wang charged with corruption, and they ended up committing suicide in prison, the emperor unable to help them, only managing to keep his throne through the mediation of his aunt and mother-in-law, Princess Piao.
Emperor Wu created his own close circle of advisers, constantly seeking young, capable officials around his age, whose views of state government agreed with his own, hiring, promoting, or punishing them outside of the normal bureaucratic process. Emperor Wu did not hesitate to remind these advisers of his position — punishing them severely or even executing them if they were found corrupt or to have hidden secrets from him. On the other hand, he respected those officials who did not flatter him and would honestly rebuke him when they saw fit. The most famous of these latter officials was Ji An (汲黯), whose offensive and brutal comments often gave Emperor Wu fears of staying in front of him. Still, he respected Ji's integrity sincerely. Emperor Wu also showed typical young male rebelliousness at times, often sneaking out of the capital disguised as an ordinary marquess, for hunting and sightseeing.
Emperor Wu's marriage to Empress Chen was initially a happy one — so much so that he once boasted to her mother, Princess Piao, that he would build a house of gold for Empress Chen. (This led to the Chinese idiom "putting Jiao in a golden house" (金屋藏嬌), which, became a term for keeping a mistress rather than a wife.) This did not last however, at least partly because Empress Chen never bore him a son, despite being treated by physicians. Later, while visiting his sister Princess Pingyang, he was entertained by a female singer/dancer Wei Zifu, the daughter of one of the princess' lowly lady servants, and Princess Pingyang offered Wei to become one of Emperor Wu's consorts. She became his favorite. Empress Chen was so jealous that she attempted suicide several times, but each time she failed; each attempt made Emperor Wu more angry at her. Princess Piao, in order to avenge her daughter, tried to have Consort Wei's brother Wei Qing kidnapped and secretly executed, but Wei Qing was saved just in time by his friends. Emperor Wu promoted both Consort Wei and Wei Qing in front of the Empress and her mother, initially out of protest. Later he discovered qualities in Wei Qing and made him one of the emperor's closest attendants, and later a general.
Emperor wudi of han also implanted Confucianism into the main government after the death of his grandmother Empress Dowager Dou.
In 135 BC, after Grand Empress Dowager Dou died, Emperor Wu moved with new authority. While Empress Dowager Wang and Tian Fen were still influential, they lacked ability to restrain the emperor's actions.
Wudi began a military campaign of territorial expansion, initially almost destroying his empire, in the process. Reacting to border incursions by sending out the troops, Wudi sent his armies in all directions but the sea.
In 138 BC, Minyue (modern Fujian) attacked Donghai (modern Zhejiang) and the Yue people of Donghai sought help from Han. Tian's opposition mattered little. Emperor Wu acted quickly, sending an army to occupy the coastal areas of Zhejiang and Fujian, displacing the local populations of both areas, Wudi had them relocated to inland locations of his empire. A more official version of these events was that upon hearing news of Han's expedition force being dispatched, Minyue withdrew. Fearful of another Minyue attack, Luo Wang (駱望), the King of Donghai, purportedly requested that his people be allowed to relocate into China proper. Emperor Wu subsequently relocated them to the region between the Yangtze and Huai Rivers.
Conquest of Nanyue
In 135 BC, when Minyue attacked Nanyue, Nanyue also sought assistance from Han even though it probably had enough strength to defend itself — a sign of submission to the emperor's authority. Emperor Wu was greatly pleased by this gesture, and he dispatched an expedition force to attack Minyue, over the objection of one of his key advisors, Liu An, a royal relative and the Prince of Huainan. Minyue nobles, fearful of the massive Chinese force, assassinated their king Luo Ying (駱郢) and sought peace. In a stroke of genius, Emperor Wu imposed a dual-monarchy system on Minyue by creating kings out of Luo Ying's brother Luo Yushan (駱餘善) and grandson Luo Chou (駱丑), thus ensuring internal discord in Minyue.
Although initially launched as a punitive expedition by Han Wudi, against the independent kingdom of Nanyue, by 111 BCE, the entire Nanyue territory, which includes modern Guangdong, Guanxi, and North Vietnam, had been conquered by Wudi's military forces and annexed to the Han empire.
War against the Xiongnu empire of the steppes
However, Wudi's main obstacle to expanding his empire, were the Xiongnu, to the north: he had at first continued heqin (sometimes called "appeasement") for some time, before adopting a more belligerent policy. The Han and Xiongnu empires had been at peace under a system which had been worked out by treaties which had been put in place before the accession of Wudi to the throne. In 133 BC, at the suggestion of Wang Hui (王恢), the minister of vassal affairs, Wudi had his generals proactively set a trap for the Xiongnu Chanyu Junchen (軍臣), attempting a surprise victory. Under the plan, a powerful local gentleman, Nie Yi (聶壹) from Mayi (馬邑, in modern Shuozhou, Shanxi) falsely claimed to offer Mayi to Xiongnu after killing the county magistrate to try to entice Chanyu Junchen into advancing on Mayi, while Han forces hid around Mayi to be ready to surprise the chanyu. The plan failed when a soldier captured by Xiongnu disclosed the entire plan to Chanyu Junchen, who then withdrew quickly before the Han forces could ambush him; rather than the planned surprise overthrow of the Xiongnu state, instead this ushered in a prolonged period of escalated hostilities. The following Han-Xiongnu war was one of attrition, and for years there were continued bitter border skirmishes and major battles (though, the states remained trade partners). Wudi sent waves of troops to the slaughter, with high casualty numbers within these forces of foot and cavalry, which often began their expeditions numbering in the 50,000 to 100,000 range. As the poets said, "only remnants returned". However, after campaign after campaign, and years of effort, Wudi successfully gained control to the "Northern Silk Road", allowing direct access to Central Asian markets (without having to go through Xiongnu intermediaries), constructing a length of fortified wall along the border of the Hexi Corridor (modern Gansu), and colonizing the area with 700,000 Chinese soldier-settlers.
A major battle was pitched in 129 BC when Xiongnu attacked the Commandery of Shanggu (上谷, roughly modern Zhangjiakou, Hebei), Emperor Wu dispatched four generals, Li Guang, Gongsun Ao (公孫敖), Gongsun He (公孫賀) and Wei Qing, each leading a 10,000-strong cavalry against Xiongnu. Both Li Guang and Gongsun Ao suffered major losses at Xiongnu's hands, and Gongsun He failed to find and engage the enemy, but Wei Qing distinguished himself with a long-distance raid on a Xiongnu holy site and was promoted to a larger command. In 127 BC, a force commanded by Wei defeated a substantial Xiongnu force and allowed Han to occupy the Shuofang (朔方) region (modern western central Inner Mongolia centering Ordos), the region was immediately settled with 100,000 Chinese colonists. The city of Shuofang (朔方) was built, and would later become a key post from which offensives against Xiongnu would be launched. When Xiongnu tried to attack Shuofang in 124 BC, Wei surprised them by attacking them from the rear and took about 15,000 captives — and at this battle, his nephew Huo Qubing (霍去病) distinguished himself in battle and was given his own command. In 121 BC, Huo had a major victory over the Xiongnu Princes of Hunxie (渾邪王) and Xiutu (休屠王) — which had unforeseen good results for Han. When Chanyu Yizhixie (伊稚邪) heard of the loss, he wanted to punish those princes mercilessly. The Prince of Hunxie, fearful of such punishment, after being unable to persuade the Prince of Xiutu, killed the Prince of Xiutu surrendered his forces, which then controlled the Gansu region, to Han, and this turned out to be a major blow to Xiongnu, robbing Xiongnu of a major grazing region and other natural resources. Emperor Wu established five commanderies over the region and encouraged Chinese to relocate to the Gansu region, which has remained in Chinese hands ever since. The region would also become important staging grounds for the subjugation of Xiyu (西域, modern Xinjiang and former Soviet central Asia).
Emperor Wu made an invasion of the Korean Peninsula by establishing the Commandery of Canghai (蒼海), but abandoned it in 126 BC. Some of his military colonies survived into the 4th century, leaving behind various particularly well preserved funerary artifacts. However, this did not turn out to be a successful expansion of territorial control.
Diplomacy and exploration
The exploration into Xiyu was first started in 139 BC, that Emperor Wu commissioned Zhang Qian to seek out the Kingdom of Yuezhi, which had been expelled by Xiongnu from the modern Gansu region, to entice it to return to its ancestral lands with promises of Han military assistance, in order to fight against Xiongnu together. Zhang was immediately captured by Xiongnu once he ventured into the desert, but was able to escape around 129 BC and eventually made it to Yuezhi, which by then had relocated to Samarkand. While Yuezhi refused to return, it and several other kingdoms in the area, including Dayuan (Kokand) and Kangju, established diplomatic relationships with Han. Zhang was able to deliver his report to Emperor Wu when he arrived back in the capital Chang'an in 126 BC after a second and shorter captivity by Xiongnu. After the Prince of Hunxie surrendered the Gansu region, the path to Xiyu became clear, and regular embassies between Han and the Xiyu kingdoms commenced.
Another expansion plan, this one aimed at the southwest, was soon initiated as well. The impetus for this expansion was aimed at eventual conquest of Nanyue, which was viewed as an unreliable vassal, by first obtaining the submission the southwestern tribal kingdoms — the largest of which was Yelang (modern Zunyi, Guizhou) — so that a route for a potential back-stabbing attack on Nanyue could be made. The Han ambassador Tang Meng (唐蒙) was able to secure the submission of these tribal kingdoms by giving their kings gifts, and Emperor Wu established the Commandery of Jianwei (犍為, headquarters in modern Yibin, Sichuan) to govern over the tribes, but eventually abandoned it after being unable to cope with native revolts. Later, after Zhang Qian returned from the western region, part of his report indicated that by going through the southwestern kingdoms, embassies could reach Shendu (India) and Anxi (Parthia) easier. Encouraged by the report, in 122 BC, Emperor Wu sent ambassadors to try to again persuade Yelang and Dian (滇, modern eastern Yunnan) into submission.
Magic and religion
It was also during this time that Emperor Wu began to show a fascination with immortality, and he began to associate with magicians who claimed to be able to, if they could find the proper ingredients, create divine pills that would confer immortality. However, he himself punished others' use of magic severely. In 130 BC, for example, when Empress Chen was found to have retained witches to curse Consort Wei and to try to regain Emperor Wu's affections, he had her deposed and the witches executed.
In 128 BC, Consort Wei bore Emperor Wu his first-born son, Liu Ju. She was created empress later that year, and he was created crown prince in 122 BC.
Liu An prepares coup
In 122 BC, Liu An, the Prince of Huainan (a previously trusted adviser of Emperor Wu, and closely enough related to have imperial pretensions), and his brother Liu Ci (劉賜), the Prince of Hengshan, were accused of plotting treason. They committed suicide, and their families and many alleged co-conspirators were executed.
Another Xiongnu war
In 119 BC, Emperor Wu launched a new attempt to permanently defeat the Xiongnu empire, by making a major excursion against Xiongnu's headquarters. Wei and Huo's forces were able to make a direct assault on Chanyu Yizhixie's forces, nearly capturing him and annihilating his army. It was at this battle, however, that the famous general Li Guang, whose fortunes had been effectively sabotaged by Wei's strategic plan (who, as the supreme commander, had ordered Li to take a flanking route through a region without Xiongnu forces but which lacked food and water, resulting in Li's forces becoming lost and unable to join the main forces), committed suicide after being told that he would be court-martialed for his failures. Even though both Wei and Huo were successful, Emperor Wu particularly praised Huo and rewarded him with many others; it was from this point on that Huo began to receive primacy over the forces over his uncle Wei. After Xiongnu suffered these heavy losses, the Chanyu sought heqin peace with Han again, but broke off peace talks after Han made it clear that it wanted Xiongnu to become a vassal instead.
Despotism at home
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Around the same time, perhaps as a sign of what would be to come, Emperor Wu began to trust governing officials who were harsh in their punishments. For example, one of those officials, Yi Zong (義縱), when he became the governor of the Commandery of Dingxiang (part of modern Hohhot, Inner Mongolia), executed 200 prisoners even though they had not committed capital crimes — and then executed their friends who happened to be visiting as well. Emperor Wu came to believe that this would be the most effective method to maintain social order and so put these officials in power. A famous wrongful execution happened in 117 BC, the victim of which was the minister of agriculture Yan Yi (顏異). Yan had previously offended the emperor by opposing a plan to effectively extort double tributes out of princes and marquesses — by requiring them to place their tributes on white deer skin, which the central government would sell them at an exorbitantly high price. Later, Yan was falsely accused of committing a crime, and during the investigation, it became known that once, when a friend of Yan's criticized a law promulgated by the emperor, Yan, while not saying anything, moved his lips. Yan was executed for "internal defamation" of the emperor, and this caused the officials to be fearful and willing to flatter the emperor.
Further territorial expansion, old age, and paranoia
Starting about 113 BC, Emperor Wu appeared to begin to display further signs of abusing his power. He began to incessantly tour the commanderies, initially nearby Chang'an, but later extending to much farther places, worshipping the various gods on the way, perhaps again in the search of immortality. He also had a succession of magicians whom he honored with great things, even, in one case, making one a marquess and marrying a daughter to him. (That magician, Luan Da (欒大), after he was exposed to be a fraud, however, was executed.) Emperor Wu's expenditures on these tours and magical adventures put a great strain on the national treasury and caused difficulties on the locales that he visited, twice causing the governors of commanderies to commit suicide after they were unable to supply the emperor's entire train.
In 112 BC, a crisis in the Kingdom of Nanyue (modern Guangdong, Guangxi, and northern Vietnam) would erupt that would lead to military intervention by Emperor Wu. At that time, the King Zhao Xing (趙興) and his mother Queen Dowager Jiu (樛太后) — a Chinese woman whom Zhao Xing's father Zhao Yingqi (趙嬰齊) had married while he served as an ambassador to Han — were both in favor of becoming incorporated into Han. This was opposed by the senior prime minister Lü Jia (呂嘉), who wanted to maintain the kingdom's independence. Queen Dowager Jiu tried to goad the Chinese ambassadors into killing Lü, but the Chinese ambassadors were hesitant to do so. When Emperor Wu sent a 2,000-men force, led by Han Qianqiu (韓千秋) and Queen Dowager Jiu's brother Jiu Le (樛樂), to try to assist the king and the queen dowager, Lü staged a coup d'etat and had the king and the queen dowager killed. He made another son of Zhao Yingqi, Zhao Jiande (趙建德), king. He then annihilated the Han forces under Han and Jiu. Several months later, Emperor Wu commissioned a five-pronged attack against Nanyue. In 111 BC, the Han forces captured the Nanyue capital Panyu (番禺, modern Guangzhou) and annexed the entire Nanyue territory into Han, establishing ten commanderies.
Later that year, one of the co-kings of Minyue (modern Fujian), Luo Yushan, fearful that Han would next attack his kingdom, made a preemptive attack against Han, capturing a number of towns in the former Nanyue and in the other border commanderies. In 110 BC, under Han military pressure, his co-king Luo Jugu (駱居古) assassinated Luo Yushan and surrendered the kingdom to Han. However, Emperor Wu did not establish commanderies in Minyue's former territory, but moved its people to the region between Yangtze and Huai Rivers.
Later that year, Emperor Wu, at great expense, carried out the ancient ceremony of fengshan (封禪) at Mount Tai — ceremonies to worship heaven and earth, and to offer a secret petition to the gods of heaven and earth, presumably seeking immortality. (He decreed that he would return to Mount Tai every five years to repeat the ceremony, but only did once, in 98 BC; still, many palaces were built for him and the princes to accommodate the anticipated cycles of the ceremony.)
It was around this time that, in reaction to the large expenditures by Emperor Wu that had exhausted the national treasury, his agricultural minister Sang Hongyang (桑弘羊) conceived of a plan that many dynasties would repeat later, by creating national monopolies for salt and iron. The national treasury would further purchase other consumer goods when the prices were low and sell them when the prices were high at profit, thus replenishing the treasury while at the same time making sure the price fluctuation would not be too great.
In 109 BC, Emperor Wu would start yet another territorial expansion campaign. Nearly a century ago, a Chinese General named Wiman had taken the throne of Gojoseon and had established Wiman Joseon at Wanggeom-seong (王險), modern Pyongyang), which became a nominal Han vassal. A conflict would erupt in 109 BC, when Wei Man's grandson King Ugeo (衛右渠, 위우거) refused to permit Jin's ambassadors to reach China through his territories. When Emperor Wei sent an ambassador She He (涉何) to Wanggeom to negotiate right of passage with King Ugeo, King Ugeo refused and had a general escort She back to Han territory — but when they got close to Han borders, She assassinated the general and claimed to Emperor Wu that he had defeated Joseon in battle, and Emperor Wu, unaware of his deception, made him the military commander of the Commandery of Liaodong (modern central Liaoning). King Ugeo, offended, made a raid on Liaodong and killed She. In response, Emperor Wu commissioned a two-pronged attack, one by land and one by sea, against Joseon. Initially, Joseon offered to become a vassal, but peace negotiations broke down by the Chinese forces' refusal to let a Joseon force escort its crown prince to Chang'an to pay tribute to Emperor Wu. Han took over the Joseon lands 108BC and established four commanderies.
Also in 109 BC, Emperor Wu sent an expeditionary force against the Kingdom of Dian (modern eastern Yunnan), planning on conquering it, but when the King of Dian surrendered, Dian was incorporated into Han territory with the King of Dian being permitted to keep his traditional authority and title. Emperor Wu established five commanderies over Dian and the other nearby kingdoms.
In 108 BC, Emperor Wu sent general Zhao Ponu (趙破奴) on a campaign to Xiyu, and he forced the Kingdoms of Loulan on northeast border of the Taklamakan Desert and Cheshi (modern Turpan, Xinjiang) into submission. In 105 BC, Emperor Wu gave a princess from a remote collateral imperial line to Kunmo (昆莫), the King of Wusun (Issyk Kol Basin) in marriage, and she later married his grandson and successor Qinqu (芩娶), creating a strong and stable alliance between Han and Wusun. The various Xiyu kingdoms would also strengthen their relationships with Han, in general. An infamous Han war against the nearby Kingdom of Dayuan (Kokand) would soon erupt in 104 BC. Dayuan refused to give in to Emperor Wu's commands to surrender its best horses, Emperor Wu's ambassadors were then executed when they insulted the King of Dayuan after his refusal. Emperor Wu commissioned Li Guangli (李廣利), the brother of a favorite concubine Consort Li, as a general to direct the war against Dayuan. In 103 BC, Li Guangli's army of 26,000 men (20,000 Chinese & 6,000 steppe cavalry), without adequate supplies, suffered a humiliating loss against Dayuan, but in 102 BC, Li with a new army of 60,000 men, was able to put a devastating siege on its capital by cutting off water supplies to the city, forcing Dayuan's surrender 3,000 of its prized horses. This Han victory further intimidated the Xiyu kingdoms into submission.
Emperor Wu also made attempts to try to intimidate Xiongnu into submission, but even though peace negotiations were ongoing, Xiongnu would never actually submit to becoming a Han vassal during Emperor Wu's reign. In 103 BC, indeed, Chanyu Er would surround Zhao Ponu and capture his entire army — the first major Xiongnu victory since Wei Qing and Huo Qubing nearly captured the chanyu in 119 BC. Following Han's victory over Dayuan in 102 BC, however, Xiongnu became concerned that Han could then concentrate against it, and made peace overtures, but peace negotiations would be destroyed when the Han deputy ambassador Zhang Sheng (張勝) was discovered to have conspired to assassinate Chanyu Qiedihou (且鞮侯). The ambassador, the later-famed Su Wu would be detained for two decades. In 99 BC, Emperor Wu commissioned another expedition force aimed at crushing Xiongnu, but both prongs of the expedition force would fail — Li Guangli's forces became trapped but was able to free itself and withdraw, while Li Ling (李陵), Li Guang's grandson, surrendered at the end after being surrounded and inflicting large losses on Xiongnu forces. One year later, receiving an inaccurate report that Li Ling was training Xiongnu soldiers, Emperor Wu had Li's clan executed. Li's friend, the famed historian Sima Qian (whom Emperor Wu already bore a grudge against because Sima's Shiji was not as flattering to Emperor Wu and his father Emperor Jing as Emperor Wu wanted), who tried to defend Li's actions, was castrated.
In 106 BC, in order the further better organize the territories, including both the previously-existing empire and the newly conquered territories, Emperor Wu divided the empire into 13 prefectures (zhou, 州), but without governors or prefectural governments at this time — that would come later. Rather, he assigned a supervisor to each prefecture, who would visit the commanderies and principalities in the prefecture on a rotating basis to investigate corruption and disobedience with imperial edicts.
In 104 BC, Emperor Wu built the luxurious Jianzhang Palace (建章宮) — a massive structure that was intended to make him closer to the gods. He would later reside at that palace exclusively rather than the traditional Weiyang Palace (未央宮), which Xiao He had built during the reign of Emperor Gao.
About 100 BC, due to the heavy taxation and military burdens imposed by Emperor Wu's incessant military campaigns and luxury spending, there were many peasant revolts throughout the empire. Emperor Wu issued an edict that was intended at suppressing the peasant revolts, by making officials whose commanderies saw unsuppressed peasant revolts liable with their lives — but which had the exact opposite effect, since it became impossible to suppress all of the revolts, and the officials would merely cover up the existence of the revolts. He executed many people made fake coins.
In 96 BC, a series of witchcraft persecutions would begin. Emperor Wu, who was paranoid over a nightmare of being whipped by tiny stick-wielding puppets and a sighting of a traceless assassin (possibly a hallucination), ordered extensive investigations with harsh punishments. Large numbers of people, many of whom were high officials, were accused of witchcraft and executed, usually with their entire clans. The first trial began with Empress Wei Zifu's elder brother-in-law Gongsun He (公孫賀, the Prime Minister at the time) and his son Gongsun Jingsheng (公孫敬聲, also an imperial official, but under corruption charges), quickly leading to the execution of their entire clan. Also caught in this disaster were Crown Prince Ju's two elder sisters Princess Yangshi (陽石公主, who was said to have a romantic relationship with her cousin Gongsun Jingsheng) and Princess Zhuyi (諸邑公主), as well as his cousin Wei Kang (衛伉, the eldest son of the deceased general Wei Qing), who were all accused of witchcraft and executed in 91 BC. Soon, these witchcraft persecutions would become intertwined in the succession struggles and erupt into a major catastrophe.
Crown Prince Ju revolt
In 94 BC, Emperor Wu's youngest son Liu Fuling was born to a favorite concubine of his, Consort Zhao. Emperor Wu was ecstatic in having a child at such an advanced age (62 years old), and because Consort Zhao purportedly had a post-term pregnancy that lasted 14 months long — same as the mythical Emperor Yao — he named Consort Zhao's palace gate "Gate of Yao's mother". This led to speculations that the Emperor, due to his favor for Consort Zhao and Prince Fuling, wanted to make Liu Fuling the crown prince instead. While there was no evidence that he actually intended to do anything as such, over the next few years, conspiracies against Crown Prince Ju and Empress Wei began, under the inspiration of such rumors.
Up to this point, there had been a cordial but somehow fragile relationship between Emperor Wu and his crown prince, who perhaps was not as ambitious as his father wished, and Wudi, as he grew older, grew less attracted to Ju's mother, Empress Wei Zifu, though continuing to respect her. When Wudi left the capital, he delegated authority to Crown Prince Ju. Eventually, however, the two began to have disagreements over policy, with Ju favoring more lenient policy and Wu's advisers (harsh and sometimes corrupt officials) urging the opposite. After Wei Qing's death in 106 BC and Gongsun He's execution, Prince Ju had no strong allies left in the government, the other officials began to publicly defame and plot against him. Meanwhile, Emperor Wu was becoming more and more isolated, spending time with young concubines, often remaining unavailable to Ju or Wei.
Conspirators against Prince Ju included Jiang Chong (江充), the newly appointed head of secret intelligence, who had once had a run-in with Ju after arresting one of his assistants for improper use of an imperial right of way. Another conspirator was Su Wen (蘇文), chief eunuch in charge of caring for imperial concubines, who had previously made false accusations against Ju, claiming he was joyful over Wu's illness and had an adulterous relationship with one of the junior concubines.
Many charges were made by Jiang or others of witchcraft against important persons in the Han court. And, Jiang and Su decided on using witchcraft as the excuse to move against Prince Ju. Jiang, with approval from Emperor Wu, who was then at his summer palace in Ganquan (甘泉, in modern Xianyang, Shaanxi), searched through various palaces, ostensibly for witchcraft items, eventually reaching Prince Ju's and Empress Wei's palace. While completely trashing up the palaces with intensive digging, he secretly planted witchery dolls and pieces of cloth with mysterious writings, and then announced that he had found them there during the search. Prince Ju was shocked, knowing that he was framed. His teacher Shi De (石德), invoking the story of Ying Fusu of the Qin dynasty, and raised the possibility that Emperor Wu might already be dead, suggested that Prince Ju start an uprising to fight the conspirators. Prince Ju initially hesitated, want to speed to Ganquan Palace to defend himself before his father. But, when he found out that Jiang's messengers were already on their way, he decided to follow Shi's suggestion.
Prince Ju sent an individual to impersonate a messenger from Wudi to lure and arrest Jiang and the other conspirators. Su escaped, but Ju accused Jiang of sabotaging his relationship with his father, and personally killed Jiang. Then with his mother's support of his mother, led his guards, enlisted civilians, and prisoners, in preparation to defend himself.
Su fled to Ganquan Palace and accused Prince Ju of treason. Emperor Wu, not believing it to be true and correctly (at this point) believing that Prince Ju had merely been angry at Jiang, sent a messenger back to Chang'an to summon Prince Ju. The messenger did not dare to proceed to Chang'an, but instead returned and gave Emperor Wu the false report that Prince Ju was conducting a coup. Enraged, Emperor Wu ordered his nephew, Prime Minister Liu Qumao (劉屈犛), to put down the rebellion.
The two sides battled in the streets of Chang'an for five days, but Liu Qumao's forces prevailed after it became clear that Prince Ju did not have his father's authorization. Prince Ju was forced to flee the capital following the defeat, accompanied only by two of his sons and some personal guards. Apart from a grandson Liu Bingyi, who was barely a month old and thrown into prison, all other members of his family were left behind and killed, and his mother Empress Wei committed suicide when Emperor Wu sent officials to depose her. Their bodies were carelessly buried in suburban fields without proper tomb markings. Prince Ju's supporters were brutally cracked down, and civilians aiding the Crown Prince were exiled. Even Tian Ren (田仁), an official City Gatekeeper who did not stop Prince Ju's escape, and Ren An (任安), an army commander who chose not to actively participate in the crackdown, were accused of being sympathizers and executed.
Emperor Wu continued to be enraged and ordered that Prince Ju be tracked down, but after a junior official Linghu Mao (令狐茂) risked his life and spoke on Prince Ju's behalf, Emperor Wu's anger began to subside, but he had not yet issued a pardon for Prince Ju. This would later be proven to cost the Crown Prince's life.
Prince Ju fled to Hu County (湖縣, in modern Sanmenxia, Henan) and took refuge in the home of a poor peasant family. Knowing that their good-hearted hosts could never afford the daily expenditure of so many people, the Prince decided to seek help from an old friend who lived nearby. However, this move exposed their whereabouts, and was soon tracked down by local officials eager for rewards. Surrounded by troops and see no chance of escape, the Prince committed suicide by hanging. His two sons and the family housing them died with him after the government soldiers eventually broke into the yard and killed everyone. The two local officials who led the raid, Zhang Fuchang (張富昌) and Li Shou (李寿), wasted no time to take the Prince's body to Chang'an and claim rewards from Emperor Wu. Emperor Wu, although greatly saddened to hear the death of his son, had to keep his promise and rewarded the officials contributed in the crackdown.
Emperor Wu did not seem fazed by this event to the outside world; he was an emperor, and he had more important things to do than mourn one of millions deaths that occurred daily.
Late reign and death
Even after Jiang Chong and Prince Ju both died, however, the witchcraft affairs would continue. One final prominent victim was the general Li Guangli, who was Consort Li's brother and had prior victories over Dayuan and Xiongnu despite causing unnecessary losses with his military incompetence. In 90 BC, while Li was assigned to a campaign against Xiongnu, a eunuch named Guo Rang (郭穰) exposed that Li and his political ally, Prime Minister Liu Qumao, conspired to use witchcraft on Emperor Wu. Liu and his family were immediately arrested and later executed, and Li's family was also under custody. Li, after knowing the news, realised that going home is no longer an option, so he used risky tactics to attempt a major victory against Xiongnu in order to build up a future standoff against Emperor Wu, but failed when some of his senior officers mutinied. On his retreat, he was ambushed by Xiongnu forces, and he defected to Xiongnu. His clan was executed by Emperor Wu not long after. Li himself later fell victim to the infighting with older Han traitors in Xiongnu, especially one named Wei Lü (衛律), who was extremely jealous of the amount of Chanyu's favor Li gained as a new, high-profile defector.
By this time, however, Emperor Wu had begun to realize that the witchcraft accusations were often false accusations, especially in relation to the Crown Prince rebellion. In 92 BC, when Tian Qianqiu (田千秋), then the superintendent of Emperor Gao's temple, wrote a report claiming that Emperor Gao told him in a dream that Prince Ju should have only been whipped at most, not killed, Emperor Wu had a revelation about what happened, and he had Su burned and Jiang's family executed. He also made Tian prime minister. However, although he claimed to miss Prince Ju greatly (he even built a palace and an altar for his deceased son as a sign of grief and regret), he did not at this time rectify the situation where Prince Ju's only surviving progeny, Liu Bingyi, languished in prison as a child.
The political scene now greatly changed. Emperor Wu publicly self-criticized and apologized to the whole nation about his past policy mistakes, a gesture known to history as the Repenting Edict of Luntai (輪台悔詔). The Prime Minister Tian he appointed was in favor of resting the troops and the people and promoting agriculture, and under his recommendation, several agricultural experts were made important members of the administration. Wars and territorial expansion generally ceased. These policies and ideals were those supported by Crown Prince Ju, and was finally realised years after he was dead.
By 88 BC, Emperor Wu was terminally ill, but with Prince Ju dead, there was no clear successor. Liu Dan, the Prince of Yan, was Emperor Wu's oldest surviving son, but Emperor Wu considered both him and his younger brother Liu Xu, the Prince of Guangling, to be unsuitable, since neither respected laws. He decided that the only one suitable was his youngest son, Liu Fuling, who was only six at that time. He therefore also chose a potential regent in Huo Guang, whom he considered to be capable and faithful, and entrusted Huo with the regency of Fuling. He also ordered the execution of Prince Fuling's mother Consort Zhao, in fear that being at her prime age she would become an uncontrollable empress dowager like the previous Empress Lü. At Huo's suggestion, he also made ethnic Xiongnu official Jin Midi and general Shangguang Jie co-regents. He died in 87 BC, shortly after creating Prince Fuling crown prince. Crown Prince Fuling then succeeded to the throne as Emperor Zhao for the next 13 years.
Because Emperor Wu did not create anyone empress after Empress Wei Zifu committed suicide, and left no instruction on who should be enshrined in his temple with him, Huo, after Emperor Wu's death, considered what his wishes would have been, chose to enshrine Consort Li with Emperor Wu. They lie buried in the Maoling mound, the most famous of the so-called Chinese pyramids.
Historians have treated Emperor Wu with ambivalence, and there are certainly some contradictory aspects in regard to what is known of him. He roughly doubled the size of the Han empire of China during his reign, and much of the territory which he annexed is now part of modern China. He officially encouraged Confucianism, yet as did Qin Shi Huang, he personally used a legalist system of rewards and punishments to govern his empire.
Emperor Wu is said to have been extravagant, superstitious, and the allowed his policies to burden his population. As such he is often compared to Qin Shi Huang. The punishment for perceived failures and disloyalty was often exceedingly harsh. His father paroled many participants of Rebellion of the Seven States from execution, and made some work in constructing his tomb. Wudi killed ten thousands of people and their families over the Liu An affair (淮南之獄), Hengshan (衡山之獄), his witchcraft prosecution (巫蠱之亂or巫蠱之禍), and killed first members of one side, then the other in the Prince Ju revolt (戾太子之亂),.
He used some of his wives' relatives to fight Xiongnu, many became famous generals.
Entire families (Wei(衛), Huo(霍), Li(李)) were killed in different political cases later.
He forced his last queen to suicide. Out of the twelve prime ministers appointed by Emperor Wu, three were executed and two committed suicide while holding the post; another was executed in retirement. He set many special prisons (詔獄) and caught nearly two hundred thousand people in it.
Wudi was a great emperor of the Han dynasty and one of the greatest emperors in Chinese history, due to his effective governance which made the Han Dynasty one of the most powerful nations in the world.
Emperor Wu's political reform resulted in the strengthening of the Emperor's power at expense of the prime minister's authority. Also, the post of Shangshu (court secretaries) was elevated from merely managing documents to that of the Emperor's close advisor, and it stayed this way until the end of monarchy era.
In 140 BC, when Emperor Wu of Han conducted an imperial examination of over 100 young scholars. Having been recommended by officials, most of the scholars were commoners with no noble background. This event would have a major impact on Chinese history, marking the official start of the establishment of Confucianism as official imperial doctrine. This came about because a young Confucian scholar, Dong Zhongshu, was evaluated to have submitted the best essay, in which he advocated the establishment of Confucianism. It is unclear whether Emperor Wu, in his young age, actually determined this, or whether this was the result of machinations of the prime minister Wei Wan (衛綰), who was himself a Confucian. However, the fact that several other young scholars who scored highly on the examination (but interestingly enough, not Dong) later became trusted advisors for Emperor Wu would appear to suggest that Emperor Wu himself at least had some actual participation.
Various important aspects of Han poetry are associated with Han Wudi and his court, including his direct interest in poetry and Wu's patronage of poets. Han Wudi was a patron of literature, who has a number of poems attributed to him. As to the poetry on lost love, some of the pieces attributed to him are beautiful and wonderful, however, critical questions remain on whether Wudi was the actual author of these certain pieces of verse. The following work is on the death of Li Furen, one of his favorite concubines/wives.
The sound of her silk skirt has stopped.
On the marble pavement dust grows.
Her empty room is cold and still.
Fallen leaves are piled against the doors.
How can I bring my aching heart to rest?
Chu ci patronage
Wudi is famous poetically for a revival of interest in the poetry of and in the style of the area of the former Chu kingdom during the early part of his reign, in part because of his near relative Liu An. Some of this Chu material was later anthologized in the Chu Ci.
The Chuci genre of poetry from its origin was linked with Chu shamanism, and besides his support for the Chu genre of poetry in the earlier years of his reign, Han Wudi continued to support shamanically-linked poetry during his later in his reign. The founder of the Han dynasty had installed shaman cultists from the area of the former state of Jin (in the area of the modern province of Shanxi) as official religious functionaries of his new empire. Emperor Wu worshiped the divinity Tai Yi, to whom he was introduced by his shaman advisers, who were able to provide Wu with the experience of having this god (among other spiritual entities, such as the Master of Fate, Si Ming) summoned into the his presence; ad the emperor even went so far as to construct a "House of Life" (shou gong) chapel at his Ganquan palace complex specifically for this purpose, in 118 BC. One of the religious rituals which Emperor Wu organized was the Suburban Sacrifice, and nineteen hymns written in connection with these religious rites were published during Wu's reign, entitled Hymns for Use in the Suburban Sacrifice. Wudi employed his poets and musicians in writing lyrics for various performances: he was quite fond of lavish rituals, especially night time rituals where the multitudinous singers, musicians, and dancers would perform in the light of thousands of torches.
Development of the fu
The fu style so typical of Han Dynasty poetry also took shape during the reign of Han Wudi, and in his court, with poet and official Sima Xiangru as a leading figure. However, Sima's initial interest in the chu ci style later gave way to his interest in more innovative forms of poetry. And, the emperor himself, after his patronage of poets familiar with the Chu ci material or writing in that fashion, during the early part of his reign, later seems to have turned his interest and his court's interest to other literary fashions.
Music Bureau yuefu
Another of Emperor Wu's major contribution to poetry was through his organization of the Imperial Music Bureau (yuefu) as part of the official governmental bureaucratic apparatus: the Music Bureau was charged with matters related to music and poetry, as poetry lyrics are a part of music, and traditional Chinese poetry was considered to have been chanted or sung, rather than spoken or recited as prose. The Music Bureau greatly flourished during the reign of Emperor Wu of Han. Han Wudi has been widely cited to have created the Music Bureau in 120 BCE; however, it seems more likely that there was a long-standing office of music and that as part of his governmental reorganization Wu enlarged its size, changed its scope and function, as well as possibly renaming it –– thus seeming and being credited with establishing a new institution, the stated tasks of which were apparently to collect popular songs from various areas within the Han Empire, as well as external sources and to adapt and orchestrate these, as well as to develop new material. Wudi's Music Bureau not only collected folk songs and ballads from where they originated throughout the country, but also collected songs reportedly based on Central Asian tunes or melodies, with new lyrics which were written to harmonize with the existing tunes, and characterized by varying line lengths and the incorporation of various nonce words. In any case, Wudi is widely held to have used the Music Bureau as an important part of his religious innovations and to have specifically commissioned Sima Xiangru to write poetry. Because of the development and transmission of a particular style of poetry by the Music Bureau, this style of poetry has become known as the "Music Bureau" style, or yuefu (and in its later development as "new yuefu").
TV and Film
Emperor Wu, one of the most famous emperors of ancient China, has made appearances in quite a lot of Chinese TV dramas, like:
- Emperor Jing of Han (10th son of)
- Consort Li Furen, mother of Prince Bo
- Consort Wang, mother of Prince Hong
- Consort Li Ji, mother of Princes Dan and Xu
- Consort Zhao, mother of Emperor Zhao
- Princess Wei the Eldest (衛長公主)
- Princess Yangshi (陽石公主, executed 91 BC)
- Princess Zhuyi (諸邑公主, executed 91 BC)
- Liu Ju, initially Crown Prince Li (戾太子, b. 128 BC, created 122 BC, committed suicide 91 BC after failed uprising)
- Liu Bo (劉髆), Prince Ai of Changyi (created 97 BC, d. 86 BC)
- Liu Hong (劉閎), Prince Huai of Qi (created 117 BC, d. 109 BC)
- Liu Dan (劉旦), Prince La of Yan (created 117 BC, committed suicide 80 BC)
- Liu Xu (劉胥), Prince Li of Guangling (created 117 BC, committed suicide 53 BC)
- Liu Fuling (劉弗陵), later Emperor Zhao of Han (b. 94 BC, d. 74 BC)
- Great Grandchildren
|Ancestors of Emperor Wu of Han|
- Jianyuan (建元 py. jiàn yuán) 140 BC – 135 BC
- Yuanguang (元光 py. yuán guāng) 134 BC – 129 BC
- Yuanshuo (元朔 py. yuán shuò) 128 BC – 123 BC
- Yuanshou (元狩 py. yuán shòu) 122 BC – 117 BC
- Yuanding (元鼎 py. yuán dĭng) 116 BC – 111 BC
- Yuanfeng (元封 py. yuán fēng) 110 BC – 105 BC
- Taichu (太初 py. tài chū) 104 BC – 101 BC
- Tianhan (天漢 py. tiān hàn) 100 BC – 97 BC
- Taishi (太始 py. tài shĭ) 96 BC – 93 BC
- Zhenghe (征和 py. zhēng hé) 92 BC – 89 BC
- Houyuan (後元 py. hòu yuán) 88 BC – 87 BC
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Emperor Wu of Han|
- Had his name changed into the more suitable Che when he was officially made crown prince in April 150 BC.
- Literally meaning "martial".
- Literally meaning "filial and martial".
- This courtesy name is reported by Xun Yue(荀悅) (148–209),
the author of Records of the Han Dynasty (漢紀), but other sources
do not mention a courtesy name.
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- C. Peers, Imperial Chinese Armies: 200 BC – 589 AD, 7
- However, note that there is no historical record of Emperor Wu actually being aware of Buddhism. The first confirmed contact between a Chinese emperor and Buddhist doctrines would not happen until a century later, during the reign of Emperor Ming. Zizhi Tongjian, vol. 45.
- C. Peers, Imperial Chinese Armies: 200 BC – 589 AD, 8
- Hanshu, vol.24
- Zizhi Tongjian, vol. 22.
- Hanshu, vol.44
- Hanshu, vol.45
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- Bo Yang's commentary in the Modern Chinese edition of Zizhi Tongjian, vol. 7, and Zhao Yi (趙翼)'s commentary included therein.
- Zizhi Tongjian, vol. 17.
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- Translation, Arthur Waley, 1918 (in One Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems)
- Hawkes, 29
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- Hawkes, 118
- Hawkes, 100
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- Birrell, 6
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- Birrell, Anne (1988). Popular Songs and Ballads of Han China. (London: Unwin Hyman). ISBN 0-04-440037-3
- Hawkes, David, translator and introduction (2011 ). Qu Yuan et al., The Songs of the South: An Ancient Chinese Anthology of Poems by Qu Yuan and Other Poets. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-044375-2
- Morton, W. Scott. China: "Its History and Culture". ISBN 0-07-043424-7.
- Rexroth, Kenneth (1970). Love and the Turning Year: One Hundred More Poems from the Chinese. New York: New Directions.
- Paludan, Ann (1998). Chronicle of the Chinese Emperors: The Reign-by-Reign Record of the Rulers of Imperial China. New York, New York: Thames and Hudson. ISBN 0-500-05090-2
- Sima Guang. Zizhi Tongjian (Comprehensive Mirror to Aid in Government): Modern Chinese Edition edited by Bo Yang (Taipei, 1982–1989).
- Sima Qian. Shi Ji (Historical Records" or Records of the Grand Historian): Biography of Han Wudi.
- Watson, Burton (1971). CHINESE LYRICISM: Shih Poetry from the Second to the Twelfth Century. (New York: Columbia University Press). ISBN 0-231-03464-4
- Wu, John C. H. (1972). The Four Seasons of Tang Poetry. Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle. ISBN 978-0804801973
- Yap, Joseph P. (2009). Wars With The Xiongnu, A Translation from Zizhi tongjian. AuthorHouse, Bloomington, Indiana, U.S.A. ISBN 978-1-4490-0604-4. Chapters 3–7.
- Xun Yue. Han Ji: 
Emperor Wu of HanBorn: 156 BC Died: 86 BC
Emperor Jing of Han
|Emperor of China
141 BC – 87 BC
Emperor Zhao of Han
lived in the han dynasty