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Emperor Gaozu of Han

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Emperor Gaozu of Han
Posthumous depiction from the Ming dynasty
Emperor of the Han dynasty
Reign28 February 202[1] – 1 June 195 BC
PredecessorQin Er Shi (Qin dynasty)
SuccessorEmperor Hui
King of Han
Reignc. March 206[2] – 28 February 202 BC
Born256 BC[3]
Feng, Pei, State of Chu[4]
Died1 June 195 BC
(aged 61)
Chang'an, Han dynasty
ConsortsEmpress Lü
Empress Gao
Consort Cao
Consort Qi
Lady Zhao
IssueLiu Fei, King Daohui of Qi
Emperor Hui of Han
Liu Ruyi, King Yin of Zhao
Emperor Wen of Han
Liu Hui, King of Liang
Liu You, King of Huaiyang
Liu Chang, King Li of Huainan
Liu Jian, King of Yan
Princess Yuan of Lu
Family name: Liu (劉)
Given name: Bang (邦)
Courtesy name: Ji (季)
Posthumous name
Emperor Gao (高皇帝)
Temple name
Taizu (太祖)
DynastyHan (Western Han)
FatherLiu Tuan
MotherWang Hanshi
Emperor Gaozu of Han
Traditional Chinese漢高祖
Simplified Chinese汉高祖
Literal meaning"High Ancestor of Han"
Liu Bang
(personal name)
Traditional Chinese劉邦
Simplified Chinese刘邦

Emperor Gaozu of Han (Chinese: 漢高祖;[a] 256 – 1 June 195 BC),[5] also known by his given name Liu Bang (劉邦), was the founder and first emperor of the Han dynasty, reigning from 202 to 195 BC. He is considered by traditional Chinese historiography to be one the greatest emperors in history, credited with establishing the Pax Sinica, one of China's longest golden ages.[not verified in body]

Liu Bang was among the few dynastic originators to have born into a peasant family.[6] He initially entered the Qin dynasty bureaucracy as a minor law enforcement officer in his home town Pei County, within the conquered state of Chu. During the political chaos following the death of Qin Shi Huang, who had been the first emperor in Chinese history, Liu renounced his civil service position and became a rebel leader taking up arms against the Qin. He outmanoeuvred rival rebel leader Xiang Yu to invade the Qin heartland and forced the surrender of the Qin ruler Ziying in 206 BC.

After the fall of the Qin, Xiang Yu, as the de facto chief of the rebels, divided the former Qin empire into the Eighteen Kingdoms, with Liu Bang forced to accept control of the poor and remote region of Bashu (present-day Sichuan, Chongqing, and southern Shaanxi), and assuming the title "King of Han". Within the year, Liu Bang broke out with his army and conquered the Three Qins, which started the Chu–Han Contention, a civil war between various forces seeking to inherit the Qin's former supremacy over China.

In 202 BC, Liu Bang emerged victorious following the Battle of Gaixia, unified most of China under his control, and established the Han dynasty with himself as the founding emperor. During his reign, Liu Bang reduced taxes and corvée labor, promoted Confucianism, and suppressed revolts by the lords of non-Liu vassal states, among many other actions. He also initiated the policy of heqin to maintain a de jure peace between the Han and the Xiongnu following the Han defeat at the Battle of Baideng in 200 BC. He died in 195 BC and was succeeded by his son, Liu Ying.

Birth and early life[edit]

According to the Han imperial mythology, Liu Bang's ancestors were the mythical Emperor Yao and the Yellow Emperor.[7] Many ancient Chinese noble families claimed descent from the Yellow Emperor to justify their right to rule.[8]

Liu Bang was born during the late years of the Warring States period;[4] his parents are only remembered as "Liu Taigong" and "Liu Ao" (劉媪; 'Old Madam Liu'). His family was from Zhongyang (中陽里) in the state of Chu.[4] According to legend, Liu Bang was conceived after Liu Ao encountered a jiaolong dragon during a rainstorm.[9]

According to records, the young Liu was outspoken, charismatic, generous, and forbearing, but he had little interest in education or work[10] and frequently ran into trouble with the law; he was dependent on his brother for subsistence and his father called him "little rascal". Later, he became good friends with Zhang Er (張耳; d. 202 BC), the magistrate of the nearby Waihuang County and former retainer of Lord Xinling. Liu lived with Zhang Er for several months,[11] until the latter went into hiding after the conquest of Chu by Qin.[citation needed]

Liu returned to Pei County. His close friends at the county office, Xiao He and Cao Shen, hid his delinquent behaviour and helped him to be appointed as the local sheriff (亭長) at Sishui Pavilion (泗水亭). Liu Bang forged close relationships with most of the local county bureaucrats, and earned a small reputation in the district. While performing corvée labour in the Qin capital at Xianyang, he witnessed Qin Shi Huang undertaking an inspection tour; the royal procession impressed Liu.[12]

Liu's wife, Lü Zhi, was the daughter of Lü Wen (呂文), a wealthy and influential gentry from Shanfu County. After moving to Pei County, Lü Wen held a feast for the local elite. Xiao He, who helped to collect gifts from the guests, declared that a seat inside the hall required gifts worth at least a thousand coins. Liu attended the feast without money, and made an offer of ten thousand coins which Xiao He realized was not serious. Nonetheless, Lü had Liu seated beside him based on appearance alone. Lü, further impressed by Liu in conversation, offered his daughter in marriage. Liu and Lü Zhi were married and had two children, Liu Ying (the future Emperor Hui) and the future Princess Yuan of Lu.[13]

Insurrection against the Qin dynasty[edit]

Uprisings of the Qin dynasty. Liu Bang's campaign is shown in purple.
Liu Bang, in an illustration by Qing dynasty artist Shangguan Zhou 上官周 (1665–1749)

Liu was responsible for escorting a group of penal laborers to the construction site of the First Emperor's mausoleum at Mount Li. During the journey, some prisoners escaped; under Qin law, allowing prisoners to escape was punishable by death. Rather than face punishment, Liu freed the remaining prisoners and fled. Liu was joined by some of the grateful ex-prisoners, and he became their leader. They took over an abandoned stronghold on Mount Mangdang. Liu secretly remained in contact with some old friends, including Xiao He and Cao Shen in Pei County.[citation needed]

According to the legend of the "Uprising of the Slaying of the White Serpent" (Chinese: 斬白蛇起義), Liu's ascension to rulership was prophesied after becoming an outlaw. In the legend, a gigantic white serpent killed some of the outlaws with its poisonous breath; the serpent was killed by a drunk Liu during the night. The next morning, the outlaws encountered an old woman along the road; when asked why she was crying she mysteriously disappeared after replying: "My child, the White Emperor's son, has been slain by the son of the Red Emperor." Liu's reputation grew among his followers, who became convinced of his destiny.[14]

In 209 BC, Chen Sheng and Wu Guang started the anti-Qin Dazexiang Uprising. The magistrate of Pei County considered joining the rebellion, and – on the advice of Xiao He and Cao Shen – invited Liu's group to the county to support him; the invitation was transmitted by Fan Kuai, Liu's brother-in-law. However, the magistrate changed his mind and rescinded the offer; he also ordered Xiao and Cao to be killed lest they open the gates for Liu, but they escaped and joined Liu. On Xiao's advice, Liu secured the aid of commoners from the county beside Pei through written appeals delivered by arrows fired across the border. Peasants responded by killing the Pei County magistrate and welcoming Liu's return. Liu became known as the self-styled "Duke of Pei" (沛公).[15]

In 208, the Qin empire faced rebellions that sought to restore the states conquered during the wars of unification. In Wu County, the uprising of Xiang Liang – a commoner and son of a Chu general – installed Xiong Xin as "King Huai II" (楚後懷王) of Chu. Liu joined Xiang Liang's uprising. After Xiang Liang was killed at the Battle of Dingtao, Huai II sent Xiang Yu – Xiang Liang's nephew – and minister Song Yi to lead an army to reinforce the Zhao state against the attacking Qin.[citation needed]

Liu Bang was made "Marquis of Wu'an" (武安侯) and ordered to lead an army against Guanzhong in the Qin heartland. Huai II promised to grant rulership of Guanzhong as "King of Guanzhong" to whoever entered the region first. In 206, Liu won the race with Xiang to seize the Guanzhong, arriving outside Xianyang. Ziying of Qin surrendered the city without resistance. Liu's occupation policies were informed by Fan Kuai – now his bodyguard – and Zhang Liang – his strategist. Troops were forbidden from mistreating the population and looting. The harsh Qin laws were abolished; murder, robbery, and burglary remained subject to strict punishments. Order was quickly restored in the city, and Liu won the respect of the Guanzhong population. Xiao He ordered the collection of all legal documents in the Qin palace and government facilities for preservation.[citation needed]

King of Han[edit]

Feast at Hong Gate[edit]

Western Han dynasty mural depicting the Hongmen Banquet, discovered in Northwest 61th Tomb now in the Luoyang Ancient Tombs Museum. event.
Left: A jade-carved wine cup with relief decorations, Western Han (202 BC – 9 AD)
Right: a gilded bronze wine warmer with animalistic relief decorations, 26 BC, Western Han period
A Western Han female dancer in silk robes, 2nd century BC, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Xiang Zhuang intended to assassinate Liu Bang by pretending to do a sword dance

Xiang Yu disliked losing the race to Guanzhong. On the advice of Fan Zeng – his advisor – and Cao Wushang (曹無傷) – an informer from Liu's camp – Xiang Yu planned to hold a banquet in which to assassinate Liu. Xiang Yu was persuaded by Xiang Bo, his uncle and a close friend of Zhang Liang, not to order the assassination during the banquet. Frustrated by the indecision, Fan Zeng ordered Xiang Zhuang, Xiang Yu's cousin, to perform and kill Liu during a sword dance, but this was stymied by Xiang Bo joining the dance and protecting Liu. Zhang Liang slipped away and summoned Fan Kuai, who arrived at the banquet in full armor and scolded Xiang Yu for the sinister plot. Embarrassed by Fan Kuai's accusation, Xiang Yu ordered the sword dance to stop and rewarded Fan Kuai for his bravery. Liu Bang escaped Xiang Yu's camp after pretending to go to the latrine, and then led his army westward. Xiang Yu then sacked Xianyang and burned the Epang Palace.[citation needed]

Enfeoffment at Hanzhong[edit]

After occupying Xianyang, Xiang Yu proclaimed himself the "Hegemon-King of Western Chu" and split the former Qin Empire into the Eighteen Kingdoms. He gave Guanzhong to three former Qin generalsZhang Han, Sima Xin and Dong Yi – instead of to Liu. Liu received the isolated Bashu region (Sichuan Basin and upper Han River valley), then a place used for exiling prisoners, as Xiang Yu claimed that Bashu was part of Guanzhong. Zhang Liang, who was leaving for his native state of Han, negotiated a better arrangement on Liu's behalf after bribing Xiang Yu through Xiang Bo. To Liu, Xiang Yu added Nanzheng, the surrounding rift valley region around the (then) middle Han River, and the title of "King of Han".[16]

Liu's army was escorted across the Qinling Mountains by a detachment of Xiang Yu's army. On Zhang Liang's advice, Liu burned the gallery roads behind him to prevent attack by Xiang Yu, and to reassure Xiang Yu that he would not return.[17]

Chu-Han contention[edit]

From 206 to 202 BC, Liu Bang engaged Xiang Yu in a power struggle – historically known as the Chu–Han contention – for supremacy over China, while simultaneously attacking and subjugating the other kingdoms.

Conquest of the Three Qin[edit]

Liu Bang's migration into Nanzheng was far from pleasant – his followers were mostly from the Wu and Chu flatland regions and adapted poorly in the mountainous Bashu lands, and deserters grew on a daily basis. Liu Bang also grew temperamental, as he was very unhappy with his own predicament. One night, rumour arrived that Xiao He also disappeared, and Liu Bang almost had a nervous breakdown. When Xiao He returned the following morning, Liu Bang furiously confronted him and demanded an explanation. Xiao He revealed that he was in a rush chasing back an extremely talented military strategist named Han Xin, who was then merely a low-ranking officer only recently recruited into Liu Bang's army. Xiao He then introduced Liu Bang to Han Xin, who laid out his strategic plan to conquer the states. Impressed and convinced, Liu Bang formally assigned Han Xin as the supreme commander of his army.[18]

Meanwhile, Xiang Yu's overbearing and arbitrary handling over the enfeoffments created much anger among the rebel leaders. Merely four months after Liu Bang's departure into Bashu, a rebellion broke out in the state of Qi in late 206, and Xiang Yu left Western Chu to suppress the revolt. Under Han Xin's advice, Liu Bang sent men to pretend trying to repair the previously burnt gallery roads, drawing away the attention of the Three Qins. At the same time, Han Xin used the distraction to invade Guanzhong unexpectedly via Chencang, and quickly defeated Zhang Han in a surprise attack. Following that, Sima Xin and Dong Yi both surrendered to Liu Bang, and by August or September 205 the Three Qins became part of Liu's Kingdom of Han.[19]

Defeat at Pengcheng[edit]

With Xiang Yu occupied to the east, Liu Bang collected a force of 560,000 troops from his subordinate lands, and marched east to attack Western Chu. En route, he encountered Peng Yue, who joined his cause upon promise of a fiefdom in Wei. As opposed to combining forces, Liu Bang sent Peng Yue's 30,000 troops to pacify the surrounding area. Liu Bang's army entered Xiang Yu's capital of Pengcheng apparently unopposed, looting its valuables and taking its women, but discipline had become lax and each day found the Han troops deeper in their cups.[citation needed]

Hearing of the fall of Pengcheng, Xiang Yu ordered the bulk of his forces to maintain the attack on Qi, while he personally led 30,000 crack troops to retake the capital. He encamped about ten miles from a city in present-day Xiao County, Anhui, and launched an attack on Pengcheng at dawn, and by noon had routed the unprepared Han army, driving them into the nearby Gu and Si Rivers, where over 100,000 men drowned or were killed by Chu soldiers. The remaining Han troops fled south to high ground, but were cornered by Chu forces by the Sui River, where another 100,000 drowned, their corpses damming up the river.

Liu Bang escaped the city with a handful of mounted bodyguards, heading to nearby Pei to collect his family. Xiang Yu also dispatched troops to Pei in an attempt to capture Liu Bang's family. His family had all fled, but Liu Bang encountered on the road his eldest daughter and second eldest son Liu Ying. The Chu army coerced a local into leading them to capture two of Liu Bang's family as hostages: his father Liu Taigong and wife Lü Zhi. One account states Liu Bang's mother was also captured. The Records of the Grand Historian recounts an event during this conflict, an event omitted from Liu Bang's own biography but present in the biography of Xiang Yu, where Liu Bang pushed his own children out of his carriage three times to lighten it in a desperate attempt to escape Xiang Yu's men, and it is only the repeated intervention of Xiahou Ying that secures the children's escape.[20]

Battle of Jingsuo[edit]

After the disastrous defeat at Pengcheng, the strength of the Han forces decreased drastically. Many of the kings who had surrendered to Liu Bang earlier had also defected to Xiang Yu's side. Moreover, the states of Qi and Zhao, which were previously at war with Chu, also requested to make peace.[citation needed]

Upon reaching Xiayi (下邑; east of present-day Dangshan County, Suzhou, Anhui), which was defended by his brother-in-law, Liu Bang reorganised his troops for a retreat. When he arrived at Yu (present-day Yucheng County, Shangqiu, Henan), he sent an envoy to meet Ying Bu, the King of Jiujiang, to appeal for support. Ying Bu, who held a grudge over Xiang Yu's unfair enfeoffment over the Eighteen Kingdoms, agreed to join Liu Bang and rebelled against Western Chu. Xiang Yu responded by sending Long Ju to attack Ying Bu.[21]

In 205 BC, Liu Bang named his son Liu Ying as his crown prince and ordered him to defend Yueyang. Shortly after, Han forces conquered Feiqiu (廢丘; present-day Xingping, Shaanxi), which was guarded by Zhang Han, who committed suicide after his defeat. On another front, Ying Bu was unable to defeat Long Ju so he gave up on Jiujiang and went to join Liu Bang. Liu Bang reorganised his army, which now included reinforcements from Guanzhong sent by Xiao He alongside Han Xin's troops, and attacked Chu at Jing County (京縣; around present-day Xingyang, Zhengzhou, Henan) and Suoting (; near present-day Xingyang, Henan). He emerged victorious, and drove Xiang Yu's forces east of Xingyang.[citation needed]

Battle of Chenggao and Treaty of Hong Canal[edit]

In 204 BC, after sustaining losses from Chu attacks on the newly built supply routes from Xingyang, the Han army was running short of supplies. Liu Bang negotiated for an armistice with Xiang Yu and agreed to cede the lands east of Xingyang to Western Chu. Xiang Yu wanted to accept Liu Bang's offer, but Fan Zeng advised him to reject it and use the opportunity to destroy Liu Bang. Xiang Yu changed his mind, pressed the attack on Xingyang and besieged Liu Bang's forces inside the city. Liu Bang heeded Chen Ping's suggestion to bribe Xiang Yu's men with 40,000 catties of gold for them to spread rumours[22] that Fan Zeng had the intention of betraying Xiang Yu. Xiang Yu fell for the ruse and dismissed Fan Zeng.[23]

Later that year, while Xiang Yu was away suppressing the rebellion in Qi, Li Yiji advised Liu Bang to use the opportunity to attack Western Chu. Han forces conquered Chenggao and defeated the Chu army led by Cao Jiu near the Si River. Liu Bang's forces advanced further until they reached Guangwu (廣武). Chu forces led by Zhongli Mo were trapped by the Han army at the east of Xingyang. Following Han Xin's victory in the Battle of Wei River, the Chu army's morale fell and it ran short of supplies months later. Xiang Yu had no choice but to request to make peace with Liu Bang and released Liu's family members, who were held hostage by him. Chu and Han agreed to a ceasefire at the Treaty of Hong Canal (鴻溝和約), which divided China into east and west under their respective domains.[24]

Battle of Gaixia[edit]

In 203, while Xiang Yu was retreating eastward, Liu Bang, acting on the advice of Zhang Liang and Chen Ping, renounced the Treaty of Hong Canal and ordered an attack on Western Chu. He also requested assistance from Han Xin and Peng Yue to attack Xiang Yu simultaneously from three directions. However, Han Xin and Peng Yue did not mobilise their troops and Liu Bang was defeated by Xiang Yu at Guling (固陵; south of present-day Taikang County, Zhoukou, Henan), and was forced to retreat and reinforce his defences. At the same time, he sent messengers to meet Han Xin and Peng Yue again, and promised to give them land and titles if they joined him in attacking Xiang Yu, and they finally agreed.[25]

Three months later in 202, Han forces led by Liu Bang, Han Xin and Peng Yue attacked Western Chu from three directions. The Chu army was running low on supplies and Xiang Yu was trapped in Gaixia. Han Xin ordered his troops to sing Chu folk songs to create a false impression that the Chu homeland had fallen to Han forces. The Chu army's morale plummeted and many soldiers deserted.[26] Xiang Yu attempted to break out of the siege, and after fighting out of repeated traps was left with only 28 men when he reached the northern bank of the Wu River (near present-day He County, Chaohu City, Anhui). He made a last stand and managed to slay several hundred Han soldiers before eventually committing suicide.[27]

Founding of the Han dynasty[edit]

A portrait painting of Emperor Gao of Han (Liu Bang), from an 18th-century Qing dynasty album of Chinese emperors' portraits.[citation needed]

In 202 BC, Liu Bang was enthroned as the emperor with support from his subjects even though he expressed reluctance to take the throne. He named his dynasty "Han", and was historically known as "Emperor Gaozu" (or "Emperor Gao"). He established the capital in Luoyang (later moved to Chang'an) and instated his official spouse Lü Zhi as the empress and their son Liu Ying as the crown prince.[citation needed]

The following year, Emperor Gaozu wanted to reward his subjects who had contributed to the founding of the Han Empire, but the process dragged on for a year because they could not agree on the distribution of the rewards. The emperor thought that Xiao He's contributions were the greatest, so he awarded Xiao the title "Marquis of Zan" and gave him the largest amount of food stores. Some of the others expressed objections because they thought that Xiao was not directly involved in battle so his contributions should not be considered the greatest. Emperor Gaozu replied that Xiao He should receive the highest credit because he planned their overall strategy in the war against Xiang Yu.[28] He named Cao Shen as the person who made the greatest contributions in battle and rewarded him and the others accordingly.


Reducing taxes and corvée[edit]

Emperor Gaozu disbanded his armies and allowed the soldiers to return home. He gave an order stating that the people who remained in Guanzhong were exempted from taxes and corvée for 12 years, while those who returned to their respective native territories were exempted for six years and that the central government would provide for them for a year. He also granted freedom to those who had sold themselves into slavery to avoid hunger during the wars. In 195 BC, the emperor issued two decrees: the first officialised the lowering of taxes and corvée; the second set the amount of tribute to be paid by the vassal kings to the imperial court in the 10th month of every year. The land tax on agricultural production was reduced to a rate of 1/15 of crop yield. He also privatised the coinage.[citation needed]

Emphasis on Confucianism[edit]

In his early days, Emperor Gaozu disliked reading and scorned Confucianism. After becoming the emperor, he still held the same attitudes towards Confucianism as he did before until he encountered the scholar Lu Jia. Lu wrote the Xinyu (新語), a 12-volume book which espoused the benefits of governing by moral virtue as opposed to using harsh and punitive laws (as it was under the Qin dynasty). Lu Gu read each volume to the emperor after he finished writing it. The emperor was deeply impressed. Under Emperor Gaozu's reign, Confucianism flourished and gradually replaced Legalism (of Qin times) as the state ideology. Confucian scholars, including Lu Gu, were recruited to serve in the government. The emperor also reformed the legal system by relaxing some laws inherited from the Qin regime and reducing the severity of certain penalties. In January to February 195 BC, after suppressing a rebellion by Ying Bu, he passed by Shandong, the birthplace of Confucius, and personally prepared for a ceremony to pay respect to the philosopher.[29]

Dispute over the succession[edit]

As depicted in the album Portraits of Famous Men c. 1900, housed in the Philadelphia Museum of Art

In his later years, Emperor Gaozu favoured Consort Qi and neglected Empress Lü Zhi. He thought that Liu Ying, his heir apparent (born to the empress), was too weak to be a ruler. Thus, he had the intention of replacing Liu Ying with another son, Liu Ruyi, who was born to Consort Qi. Lü Zhi became worried, so she asked Zhang Liang to help her son maintain his position. Zhang Liang recommended four reclusive wise men, the Four Whiteheads of Mount Shang, to help Liu Ying.

In 195 BC as Emperor Gaozu's health started to worsen, he desired even more to replace Liu Ying with Liu Ruyi as the crown prince. Zhang Liang tried to dissuade him but was ignored, so he retired on the excuse that he was ill. Shusun Tong (the crown prince's tutor) and Zhou Chang also strongly objected to the emperor's decision to replace Liu Ying with Liu Ruyi. Zhou Chang said, "I am not good in arguing, but I know this is not right. If Your Majesty deposes the Crown Prince, I won't follow your orders any more."[30] Zhou Chang was outspoken and had a stutter, which to some made his speech very amusing. The emperor laughed. After that, the Four Whiteheads of Mount Shang (also known as the Four Haos of Mount Shang) showed up in the court. Emperor Gaozu was surprised to see them because they had previously declined to join the civil service when he invited them. The four men promised to help Liu Ying in the future if he were to remain as the crown prince. The emperor was pleased to see that Liu Ying had their support so he dismissed the idea of changing his heir apparent.[31]

Military campaigns[edit]

Western Han-era painted ceramic statues of cavalry, Hainan Provincial Museum

After establishing the Han dynasty, Emperor Gaozu appointed princes and vassal kings to help him govern the Han Empire and gave each of them a piece of land. There were seven vassal kings who were not related to the imperial clan: Zang Tu, the King of Yan; Han Xin, the King of Hán; Han Xin, the King of Chu; Peng Yue, the King of Liang; Ying Bu, the King of Huainan; Zhang Er, the King of Zhao; Wu Rui, the King of Changsha. However, later, the emperor became worried that the vassal kings might rebel against him because they, after all, had no blood relations with him. Han Xin and Peng Yue were (falsely) accused of treason, arrested and executed along with their families. Ying Bu and Zang Tu rebelled against him but were defeated and killed. Only Wu Rui and Zhang Er were left.[citation needed]

The Xiongnu to the north had been a threat since the Qin dynasty. Qin Shi Huang had sent the general Meng Tian to oversee the defences on the Qin Empire's northern border and the construction of the Great Wall to repel the invaders. Meng Tian achieved success in deterring the Xiongnu from advancing beyond the border. However, after the Qin dynasty collapsed, the Xiongnu seized the opportunity to move south and raid the border again. In 201 BC, Hán Xin (King of Hán) defected to the Xiongnu leader, Modu. In the following year, Emperor Gaozu led an army to attack the Xiongnu but was besieged and trapped by the enemy at the Battle of Baideng.[32] Acting on Chen Ping's advice, he bribed Modu's wife with gifts and got her to ask her husband to withdraw his forces. Modu did so. After returning to the capital, Emperor Gaozu, acting on advice from Liu Jing, initiated the policy of heqin, which involved sending noble ladies to marry the Xiongnu leaders and paying annual tribute to the Xiongnu in exchange for peace between the Han Empire and the Xiongnu.[33]


Gaozu is also recorded as having a male lover known as Jiru, who was said to have more access to the emperor than his own ministers.[34]


Changling (長陵), the tomb of Emperor Gaozu in Xianyang, Shaanxi.

Emperor Gaozu was wounded by a stray arrow during the campaign against Ying Bu. He became seriously ill and remained in his inner chambers for a long period of time and ordered his guards to deny entry to everyone who tried to visit him. After several days, Fan Kuai barged into the chambers to see the emperor and the other subjects followed behind him. They saw Emperor Gaozu lying on his bed and attended to by a eunuch. Fan Kuai said, "How glorious it was when Your Majesty first led us to conquer the empire and how weary we are now. Your subjects are worried when they learn that Your Majesty is ill, but Your Majesty refuses to see us and prefers the company of a eunuch instead. Has Your Majesty forgotten the incident about Zhao Gao?" The emperor laughed and got out of bed to meet his subjects.[35]

Emperor Gaozu's health deteriorated later so Empress Lü Zhi hired a famous physician to heal him. When Emperor Gaozu enquired about his condition, the physician told him that his illness could be cured, but the emperor was displeased and he scolded the physician, "Isn't it Heaven's will that I managed to conquer this empire in simple clothing and with nothing but a sword? My life is determined by Heaven. It is useless even if Bian Que is here!" He refused to continue with the treatment and sent the physician away. Before his death, he said that Cao Shen could succeed Xiao He as the chancellor after Xiao died, and that Wang Ling could succeed Cao Shen. He also said that Wang Ling might be too young to perform his duties so Chen Ping could assist Wang, but Chen was also qualified to assume the responsibilities of a chancellor all by himself. He also named Zhou Bo as a possible candidate for the role of Grand Commandant. He died in Changle Palace (長樂宮), Chang'an, on 1 June 195 BC and was succeeded by Liu Ying, who became historically known as Emperor Hui.[citation needed]

Song of the Great Wind[edit]

The Song of the Great Wind is a song composed by Liu Bang in 195 BC when he visited his hometown in Pei County after suppressing Ying Bu's rebellion. He prepared a banquet and invited all his old friends and townsfolk to join him. After some drinks, Liu Bang played the guqin and sang the Song of the Great Wind (大風歌).[36][37]


Consorts and issue[edit]

  • Empress Gao, of the Lü clan (241–180 BC), personal name Zhi
  • Empress Gao, of the Bo clan (d. 155 BC)
    • Liu Heng, Emperor Xiaowen (203–157 BC), fourth son
  • Furen of the Cao clan (夫人、曹氏), Liu Bang's first mistress
    • Liu Fei, King Daohui of Qi (221–189 BC), first son
  • Furen of the Qi clan (224–194 BC), personal name Yi
  • Meiren of the Shi clan (美人石氏)
  • Lady of the Zhao clan (趙氏; d. 198 BC), personal name Zi'er (子兒)
    • Liu Chang, King Li of Huainan (淮南厲王、劉長; 199–174 BC), seventh son
  • Unknown
    • Liu Hui, King Gong of Zhao (趙共王 劉恢; d. 181 BC), fifth son
    • Liu You, King You of Zhao (d. 181 BC), sixth son
    • Liu Jian, King Ling of Yan (燕靈王、劉建; d. 181 BC), eighth son


Liu Qing
Liu Ren
Liu Taigong (282–197 BC)
Emperor Gaozu of Han (256–195 BC)
Empress Zhaoling

Modern references[edit]

Liu Bang is one of the 32 historical figures who appear as special characters in the video game Romance of the Three Kingdoms XI by Koei. His life story has also been dramatized in numerous TV series and films (see Chu–Han Contention).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Gaozu of Han", derived from the Records of the Grand Historian, is the commonly used name, even though he was not accorded the temple name Gaozu ("High Ancestor").


  1. ^ According to Liu Bang's biography in Book of Han, he was crowned emperor on the jiawu day of the 2nd month of the 5th year of his reign (including his tenure as King of Han). This corresponds to 28 Feb 202 BC in the proleptic Julian calendar.
  2. ^ According to Liu Bang's biography in Book of Han, he was created King of Han in the 2nd month of the 1st year of his reign (including his tenure as King of Han). This corresponds to 12 Mar to 10 Apr 206 BC in the proleptic Julian calendar.
  3. ^ This is the birth year reported by Huangfu Mi (皇甫謐) (215–282 AD).
  4. ^ a b c 李祖德 (2012). "刘邦祭祖考——兼论春秋战国以来的社会变革". 中国史研究 [Journal of Chinese Historical Studies]. 34 (3). CNKI: 11–58.
  5. ^ According to Liu Bang's biography in Book of Han, he died on the jiachen day of the 4th month of the 12th year of his reign (including his tenure as King of Han). This corresponds to 1 Jun 195 BC in the proleptic Julian calendar.
  6. ^ "Gaozu Emperor of Han Dynasty". Encyclopædia Britannica.
  7. ^ Patricia Buckley Ebrey (2003). Women and the family in Chinese history. Vol. 2 of Critical Asian scholarship (illustrated ed.). Psychology Press. p. 171. ISBN 0-415-28823-1.
  8. ^ Fabrizio Pregadio (2008). Fabrizio Pregadio (ed.). The encyclopedia of Taoism, Volume 1 (ill ustrated ed.). Psychology Press. p. 505. ISBN 978-0-7007-1200-7.
  9. ^ Translation Archived 10 January 2017 at the Wayback Machine of Sima Qian's Shiji.
  10. ^ (仁而爱人,喜施,意豁如也。常有大度,不事家人生产作业。) Shiji, vol. 08
  11. ^ (髙祖为布衣时,尝数从张耳游,客数月。) Shiji, vol.89
  12. ^ (高祖常繇咸阳,纵观,观秦皇帝,喟然太息曰:"嗟乎,大丈夫当如此也!") Shiji, vol.08
  13. ^ (单父人吕公善沛令,避仇从之客,因家沛焉。沛中豪桀吏闻令有重客,皆往贺。萧何为主吏,主进,令诸大夫曰:"进不满千钱,坐之堂下。"高祖为亭长,素易诸吏,乃绐为谒曰"贺钱万",实不持一钱。谒入,吕公大惊,起,迎之门。吕公者,好相人,见高祖状貌,因重敬之,引入坐。萧何曰:"刘季固多大言,少成事。"高祖因狎侮诸客,遂坐上坐,无所诎。酒阑,吕公因目固留高祖。高祖竟酒,后。吕公曰:"臣少好相人,相人多矣,无如季相,愿季自爱。臣有息女,愿为季箕帚妾。"酒罢,吕媪怒吕公曰:"公始常欲奇此女,与贵人。沛令善公,求之不与,何自妄许与刘季?"吕公曰:"此非儿女子所知也。"卒与刘季。吕公女乃吕后也,生孝惠帝、鲁元公主。) Shiji, vol.08
  14. ^ (高祖被酒,夜径泽中,令一人行前。行前者还报曰:"前有大蛇当径,愿还。"高祖醉,曰:"壮士行,何畏!"乃前,拔剑击斩蛇。蛇遂分为两,径开。行数里,醉,因卧。后人来至蛇所,有一老妪夜哭。人问何哭,妪曰:"人杀吾子,故哭之。"人曰:"妪子何为见杀?"妪曰:"吾,白帝子也,化为蛇,当道,今为赤帝子斩之,故哭。"人乃以妪为不诚,欲告之,妪因忽不见。后人至,高祖觉。后人告高祖,高祖乃心独喜,自负。诸从者日益畏之。) Shiji, vol.08
  15. ^ (秦二世元年秋,陈胜等起蕲,至陈而王,号为"张楚"。诸郡县皆多杀其长吏以应陈涉。沛令恐,欲以沛应涉。掾、主吏萧何、曹参乃曰:"君为秦吏,今欲背之,率沛子弟,恐不听。愿君召诸亡在外者,可得数百人,因劫众,众不敢不听。"乃令樊哙召刘季。刘季之众已数十百人矣。于是樊哙从刘季来。沛令后悔,恐其有变,乃闭城城守,欲诛萧、曹。萧、曹恐,逾城保刘季。刘季乃书帛射城上,谓沛父老曰:"天下苦秦久矣。今父老虽为沛令守,诸侯并起,今屠沛。沛今共诛令,择子弟可立者立之,以应诸侯,则家室完。不然,父子俱屠,无为也。"父老乃率子弟共杀沛令,开城门迎刘季,欲以为沛令。刘季曰:"天下方扰,诸侯并起,今置将不善,壹败涂地。吾非敢自爱,恐能薄,不能完父兄子弟。此大事,愿更相推择可者。"萧、曹等皆文吏,自爱,恐事不就,后秦种族其家,尽让刘季。诸父老皆曰:"平生所闻刘季诸珍怪,当贵,且卜筮之,莫如刘季最吉。"于是刘季数让。众莫敢为,乃立季为沛公.) Shiji, vol.08
  16. ^ (汉元年,沛公为汉王,王巴蜀,赐良金百溢,珠二斗,良具以献项伯。汉王亦因令良厚遗项伯,使请汉中地。项王许之。) Book of Han, vol.40
  17. ^ (良因说汉王烧绝栈道,示天下无还心,以固项王意。乃使良还。行,烧绝栈道。) Book of Han, vol.40
  18. ^ (信数与萧何语,何奇之。至南郑,诸将行道亡者数十人,信度何等已数言上,上不我用,即亡。何闻信亡,不及以闻,自追之。人有言上曰:‘丞相何亡。’上大怒,如失左右手。居一二日,何来谒上,上且怒且喜,骂何曰:‘若亡,何也?’何曰:‘臣不敢亡也,臣追亡者。’上曰:‘若所追者谁?’何曰:‘韩信也。’上复骂曰:‘诸将亡者以十数,公无所追;追信,诈也。’何曰:‘诸将易得耳。至如信者,国士无双。王必欲长王汉中,无所事信;必欲争天下,非信无所与计事者。顾王策安所决耳。’王曰:‘吾亦欲东耳,安能郁郁久居此乎?’何曰:‘王计必欲东,能用信,信即留;不能用,信终亡耳。’王曰:‘吾为公以为将。’何曰:‘虽为将,信必不留。’王曰:‘以为大将。’何曰:‘幸甚。’于是王欲召信拜之。何曰:‘王素慢无礼,今拜大将如呼小儿耳,此乃信所以去也。王必欲拜之,择良日,斋戒,设坛场,具礼,乃可耳。’王许之。诸将皆喜,人人各自以为得大将。至拜大将,乃韩信也,一军皆惊。信拜礼毕,上坐。王曰:‘丞相数言将军,将军何以教寡人计策?’信谢,因问王曰:‘今东乡争权天下,岂非项王邪?’汉王曰:‘然。’曰:‘大王自料勇悍仁强孰与项王?’汉王默然良久,曰:‘不如也。’信再拜贺曰:‘惟信亦为大王不如也。然臣尝事之,请言项王之为人也。项王喑𫫇叱咤,千人皆废,然不能任属贤将,此特匹夫之勇耳。项王见人恭敬慈爱,言语呕呕,人有疾病,涕泣分食饮,至使人有功当封爵者,印刓敝,忍不能予,此所谓妇人之仁也。项王虽霸天下而臣诸侯,不居关中而都彭城。有背义帝之约,而以亲爱王,诸侯不平。诸侯之见项王迁逐义帝置江南,亦皆归逐其主而自王善地。项王所过无不残灭者,天下多怨,百姓不亲附,特劫于威强耳。名虽为霸,实失天下心。故曰其强易弱。今大王诚能反其道:任天下武勇,何所不诛!以天下城邑封功臣,何所不服!以义兵从思东归之士,何所不散!且三秦王为秦将,将秦子弟数岁矣,所杀亡不可胜计,又欺其众降诸侯,至新安,项王诈坑秦降卒二十馀万,唯独邯、欣、翳得脱,秦父兄怨此三人,痛入骨髓。今楚强以威王此三人,秦民莫爱也。大王之入武关,秋豪无所害,除秦苛法,与秦民约,法三章耳,秦民无不欲得大王王秦者。于诸侯之约,大王当王关中,关中民咸知之。大王失职入汉中,秦民无不恨者。今大王举而东,三秦可传檄而定也。’于是汉王大喜,自以为得信晚。遂听信计,部署诸将所击。 ) Shiji, vol.92
  19. ^ ([汉二年]八月,汉王用韩信之计,从故道还,袭雍王章邯。邯迎击汉陈仓,雍兵败,还走;止战好畤,又复败,走废丘。汉王遂定雍地。东至咸阳,引兵围雍王废丘,而遣诸将略定陇西、北地、上郡。)Shiji, vol.08
  20. ^ Watson (1958), pp. 95–98.
  21. ^ (楚使者在,方急责英布发兵,舍传舍。随何直入,坐楚使者上坐,曰:"九江王已归汉,楚何以得发兵?"布愕然。楚使者起。何因说布曰:"事已构,可遂杀楚使者,无使归,而疾走汉并力。"布曰:"如使者教,因起兵而击之耳。"于是杀使者,因起兵而攻楚。楚使项声、龙且攻淮南,项王留而攻下邑。) Shiji, vol.91
  22. ^ 平曰:"项王为人,恭敬爱人,士之廉节好礼者多归之。至於行功赏爵邑,重之,士亦以此不附。今大王嫚而少礼,士之廉节者不来;然大王能饶人以爵邑,士之顽顿耆利无耻者亦多归汉。诚各去两短,集两长,天下指麾即定矣。然大王资侮人,不能得廉节之士。顾楚有可乱者,彼项王骨鲠之臣亚父、鍾离眛、龙且、周殷之属,不过数人耳。大王能出捐数万斤金,行反间,间其君臣,以疑其心,项王为人意忌信谗,必内相诛。汉因举兵而攻之,破楚必矣。" 汉王以为然,乃出黄金四万斤予平,恣所为,不问出入. Book of Han, vol.40
  23. ^ (项王乃疑范增与汉有私,稍夺之权。) Shiji, vol.07
  24. ^ (项羽恐,乃与汉王约,中分天下,割鸿沟而西者为汉,鸿沟而东者为楚。项王归汉王父母妻子,...) Shiji, vol.08
  25. ^ (汉五年,汉王乃追项王至阳夏南,止军,与淮阴侯韩信、建成侯彭越期会而击楚军。至固陵,而信、越之兵不会。楚击汉军,大破之。汉王复入壁,深堑而自守。谓张子房曰:"诸侯不从约,为之柰何?"对曰:"楚兵且破,信、越未有分地,其不至固宜。君王能与共分天下,今可立致也。即不能,事未可知也。君王能自陈以东傅海,尽与韩信;睢阳以北至谷城,以与彭越:使各自为战,则楚易败也。"汉王曰:"善。"于是乃发使者告韩信、彭越曰:"并力击楚。楚破,自陈以东傅海与齐王,睢阳以北至谷城与彭相国。"使者至,韩信、彭越皆报曰:"请今进兵。") Shiji, vol. 07
  26. ^ (羽壁垓下,军少食尽。汉帅诸侯兵围之数重。羽夜闻汉军四面皆楚歌,乃惊曰:"汉皆已得楚乎?是何楚人多也!") Book of Han, vol.31
  27. ^ (羽独所杀汉军数百人。羽亦被十馀创。顾见汉骑司马吕马童曰:"若非吾故人乎?"马童面之,指王翳曰:"此项王也。"羽乃曰:"吾闻汉购我头千金,邑万户,吾为公得。"乃自刭。) Book of Han, vol.31
  28. ^ (论功行封,群臣争功,歳馀不决。上以何功最盛,先封为酂侯,食邑八千戸。功臣皆曰:"臣等身被坚执兵,多者百馀战,少者数十合,攻城略地,大小各有差。今萧何未有汗马之劳,徒持文墨议论,不战,顾居臣等上,何也?"上曰:"诸君知猎乎?"曰:"知之。""知猎狗乎?"曰:"知之。"上曰:"夫猎,追杀兽者狗也,而发纵指示兽处者人也。今诸君徒能走得兽耳,功狗也;至如萧何,发纵指示,功人也。且诸君独以身从我,多者三两人;萧何举宗数十人皆随我,功不可忘也!"群臣后皆莫敢言。 )Book of Han, vol. 39
  29. ^ ([汉十二年]十一月,行自淮南还。过鲁,以大牢祠孔子。 ) Book of Han, vol. 01 part 2
  30. ^ (臣口不能言,然臣期期知其不可。陛下雖欲廢太子,臣期期不奉詔。)
  31. ^ Chi-yen Ch'en (14 July 2014). Hsun Yueh and the Mind of Late Han China: A Translation of the SHEN-CHIEN. Princeton University Press. pp. 171–. ISBN 978-1-4008-5348-9.
  32. ^ (其明年,以护军中尉从攻反者韩王信於代。卒至平城,为匈奴所围,七日不得食。) Shiji, vol.56
  33. ^ (高帝乃使使闲厚遗阏氏,阏氏乃谓冒顿曰:"两主不相困。今得汉地,而单于终非能居之也。且汉王亦有神,单于察之。"冒顿与韩王信之将王黄、赵利期,而黄、利兵又不来,疑其与汉有谋,亦取阏氏之言,乃解围之一角。于是高帝令士皆持满傅矢外乡,从解角直出,竟与大军合,而冒顿遂引兵而去。汉亦引兵而罢,使刘敬结和亲之约。) Shiji, vol.110
  34. ^ Sima Qian; Sima Tan (1959) [90s BCE]. "125: 佞幸列傳 [Those who curried favour]". Records of the Grand Historian 史記 (in Chinese). Zhonghua Shuju. 非獨女以色媚,而士宦亦有之。昔以色幸者多矣。至漢興,高祖至暴抗也,然籍孺以佞幸;孝惠時有閎孺。此兩人非有材能,徒以婉佞貴幸,與上臥起,公卿皆因關說。It was not only women who could utilize sexual attraction: this was possible for gentlemen and eunuchs as well. There were actually many of them in the past who used sexuality to garner imperial favour. When the Han arose, Gaozu was perfectly fierce and rough, yet a boy named Ji charmed his way into favour. In the time of Emperor Xiaohui there was the Hong boy. These two people did not possess special talent or ability, but with tenderness and seduction came to become valued and favoured, sleeping and waking with their sovereign, such that even the most powerful ministers sought their influence. (Translation after Hinsch).
    Cited in Hinsch, Bret (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve. University of California Press. pp. 36–37. ISBN 9780520078697.
    Cited in Louis Crompton, Homosexuality and Civilization (Cambridge, MA and London, Harvard University Press, 2003) ISBN 0-674-01197-X
  35. ^ (先黥布反时,高帝尝病,恶见人,卧禁中,诏户者无得入群臣。群臣绛、灌等莫敢入。十馀日,哙乃排闼直入,大臣随之。上独枕一宦者卧。哙等见上流涕曰:"始陛下与臣等起丰沛,定天下,何其壮也!今天下已定,又何惫也!且陛下病甚,大臣震恐,不见臣等计事,顾独与一宦者绝乎?且陛下独不见赵高之事乎?"高帝笑而起。) Book of Han, vol.41
  36. ^ Records of the Grand Historian, "Basic Annals of Gaozu", 80. (in Chinese)
  37. ^ (in Chinese) 大风歌

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Emperor Gaozu of Han
Born: 256 BC Died: 1 June 195 BC
Regnal titles
New title King of Han
206–202 BC
Merged in the Crown
Preceded by
Emperor of China
Western Han
202–195 BC
Succeeded by