Emperor Yi of Chu

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Emperor Yi of Chu
King Huai II of Chu
Reign 208–206 BC
Full name
Emperor Yi of Chu
Traditional Chinese 楚義帝
Simplified Chinese 楚义帝
King Huai II of Chu
Traditional Chinese 楚懷王
Simplified Chinese 楚怀王
Xiong Xin
(personal name)
Chinese 熊心

Emperor Yi of Chu (died 206 BC), also known as King Huai II of Chu, personal name Xiong Xin, was the ruler of the Chu state during the late Qin Dynasty. Chu was annexed by the Qin state in 223 BC as part of Qin's wars of unification, but in 209 BC, it was revived when rebellions erupted throughout China to overthrow the Qin Dynasty and restore the former states annexed by Qin. Xiong Xin was a grandson of King Huai of Chu, and was living as a commoner then. He was discovered by a rebel leader, Xiang Liang, who officially recognised him as the heir to the throne of Chu and had him enthroned "King Huai II of Chu". However, Xiong Xin was actually a puppet ruler as the military power of Chu was actually in the hands of Xiang Liang's clan and he was merely used as a figurehead to rally support for Xiang's rebel force. After Xiang Liang died, his nephew Xiang Yu overthrew the Qin Dynasty and proclaimed himself "Hegemon King of Western Chu", while Xiong Xin was promoted to the more honorific title of "Emperor Yi of Chu". He was relocated by Xiang Yu to Chen County (郴縣; in present-day Chenzhou, Hunan) and was assassinated during his journey on Xiang's order.

Early life[edit]

Xiong Xin was a descendant of the royal house of the Chu state in the Warring States period, and a grandson of King Huai of Chu. However, he was not in the main line of succession and there were four kings who succeeded his grandfather before the Chu state was annexed by the Qin state in 223 BC as part of Qin's wars of unification. Xiong Xin became a commoner after the fall of Chu.

As king of Chu[edit]

In 209 BC, the Dazexiang Uprising to overthrow the Qin Dynasty erupted under the leadership of Chen Sheng, who proclaimed himself "King of Zhangchu" (張楚王; literally: "king of rising Chu"). Although Chen Sheng's uprising was crushed by the imperial forces, other rebel forces had sprouted throughout China to overthrow Qin and restore the former six states annexed by Qin about two decades ago. The leader of the Chu rebel force, Xiang Liang, was advised by Fan Zeng to seek a member of the Chu royal family and install him on the throne, in order to garner more support from the people. Xiang Liang found Xiong Xin, a shepherd, and installed him on the throne of Chu in the summer of 208 BC. Xiong Xin ruled under the title of "King Huai II of Chu".[1]

King Huai II was effectively a puppet ruler, as the military power of Chu was actually in the hands of Xiang Liang. However, after Xiang Liang was killed at the Battle of Dingtao in the winter of 208 BC, the military power of Chu fell into the hands of King Huai II and some Chu generals, so the king gradually began to assert his authority. Following that, King Huai II commissioned Song Yi and Liu Bang to lead two armies to attack Qin, promising that whoever managed to enter Guanzhong (heartland of Qin) first would be granted the title of "King of Guanzhong". Xiang Liang's nephew, Xiang Yu, was put as second-in-command to Song Yi's army, which was sent to attack the Qin forces led by Zhang Han. Zhang Han's army was besieging Handan, the capital of the Zhao state, and Song Yi refused to advance any further to assist the Zhao forces. Xiang Yu took Song Yi by surprise in a military conference and killed Song on charges of treason. Xiang Yu sent a messenger to inform King Huai II, and the king reluctantly approved Xiang's command of the army. In the winter of 207 BC, Liu Bang's army arrived in Guanzhong before Xiang Yu, and the last Qin ruler Ziying surrendered, marking the end of the Qin Dynasty.

As emperor of Chu[edit]

According to King Huai II's earlier promise, Liu Bang should become the "King of Guanzhong", but Xiang Yu arrived in Guanzhong later and wrote a letter to King Huai II, asking the king to grant him the title instead. King Huai II's response was "As per the earlier agreement", but he had already lost his authority by then and existed as a king only in name. Xiang proclaimed himself "Hegemon-King of Western Chu" and proceeded to divide the former Qin empire into the eighteen principalities. Xiang Yu promoted King Huai II to a more honorific title of "Emperor Yi of Chu" and he moved the emperor to the remote region of Chen County (郴縣; in present-day Chenzhou, Hunan), effectively sending the puppet emperor into exile.

Death[edit]

Emperor Yi was aware of Xiang Yu's intention to send him into exile, so he feigned illness and used excuses in an attempt to postpone his "migration", but to no avail. The emperor was still forced to make his journey from Pengcheng (彭城; present-day Xuzhou, Jiangsu) to Chencheng. In the meantime, Xiang Yu issued a secret order to Ying Bu, Wu Rui and Gong Ao to kill the emperor during his journey. Emperor Yi was murdered by Ying Bu's men near Chengcheng and was buried by the locals in a hill southwest of Chen County.

During the power struggle for supremacy over China, known as the Chu–Han Contention, between Liu Bang and Xiang Yu, Liu used Emperor Yi's death as political propaganda to justify his war against Xiang. Liu Bang held a three-day long memorial service for Emperor Yi in 205 BC and denounced Xiang Yu for committing regicide and called for the people to rise up against Xiang. In 202 BC, the Chu–Han Contention ended with victory for Liu Bang, who founded the Han Dynasty and became Emperor of China. Liu Bang ordered his dukes Zhou Bo, Wang Ling and Fan Kuai to conduct another memorial service for Emperor Yi in their respective fiefs.

References[edit]

  1. ^ In 299 BC, King Huai of Chu was tricked into attending a conference in the Qin state, where he was captured and kept as a hostage in Qin until his death. Xiang Liang suggested Xiong Xin to use his grandfather's title in order to garner more support, because King Huai's tragic fate was still deeply remembered by the people of Chu. However, "King Huai" was actually a posthumous name and would be inappropriate for a living monarch.
Emperor Yi of Chu
Died: 206 BC
Titles in pretence
Preceded by
Jing Ju
— TITULAR —
King of Chu
Royal descent claimant
208–206 BC
Reason for succession failure:
Assassinated
Succeeded by
Hegemon-King of Western Chu
Preceded by
Qin San Shi
— TITULAR —
Emperor of China
Royal descent claimant
206 BC
Reason for succession failure:
Assassinated