Li Siyuan

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Li Siyuan
Emperor Mingzong of (Later) Tang (more...)
2nd emperor of Later Tang
Reign 3 June 926[1] – 15 December 933
Predecessor Li Cunxu (Emperor Zhuangzong), adoptive brother
Successor Li Conghou (Emperor Min), son
Born (867-10-10)10 October 867
Yingzhou, Tang Empire[2] (today's Ying County, Shanxi)
Died 15 December 933(933-12-15) (aged 66)
Luoyang, Later Tang (today's Luoyang, Henan)
Burial 11 June 934[3]
in today's Mengjin County, Luoyang, Henan 34°47′5.28″N 112°33′54.72″E / 34.7848000°N 112.5652000°E / 34.7848000; 112.5652000
  • Lady Xia (夏氏)
  • Empress Cao (曹皇后)
  • Lady Wei (魏氏)
  • Consort Wang (王淑妃)
  • Concubine Wang (王昭儀)
  • Concubine Ge (葛昭容)
  • Concubine Liu (劉昭媛)
  • Concubine Gao (高婕妤)
  • Concubine Shen (沈美人)
  • Concubine Zhu (朱順御)
At least 13 other daughters
Full name
Shatuo name: Miaojilie ()
Chinese surname: Lǐ ()
Chinese given name: Sìyuán (), changed to Dǎn () on 5 February 927[4]
Era dates
Tiānchéng ()
Year 1: 3 June 926 – 4 February 927
Year 2: 5 February 927 – 25 January 928
Year 3: 26 January 928 – 12 February 929
Year 4: 13 February 929 – 1 February 930
Year 5: 2 February 930 – 2 March 930
Chángxīng ()
Year 1: 3 March 930 – 21 January 931
Year 2: 22 January 931 – 8 February 932
Year 3: 9 February 932 – 28 January 933
Year 4: 29 January 933 – 17 January 934
Regnal name
Emperor Shèngmíng Shénwǔ Wéndé Gōngxiào (皇帝), after 30 December 929[5]
Emperor Shèngmíng Shénwǔ Guǎngdào Fǎtiān Wéndé Gōngxiào (皇帝), after 27 August 933[6]
Posthumous name
Short: Emperor Héwǔ (皇帝)
Full: Emperor Shèngdé Héwǔ Qīnxiào (皇帝)[2]
Temple name
Míngzōng (, "Bright Ancestor")
Father Li Ni (李霓) (biological)
Li Keyong (adoptive)
Mother Lady Liu (劉氏) (biological)
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Li.
Li Siyuan

Li Siyuan (李嗣源, later changed to Li Dan (李亶)[4]) (10 October 867[2] – 15 December 933[7]), also known by his temple name Mingzong (明宗), was the second emperor of imperial China's short-lived Later Tang during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period, reigning from 926 until his death. He was an ethnic Shatuo originally named, in the Shatuo language, Miaojilie (邈佶烈).

Adopted by the Shatuo leader Li Keyong of the Jin territory, Li Siyuan became a trusted general under both Li Keyong and Li Keyong's successor Li Cunxu, the 1st Later Tang emperor. In 926 he seized power by a coup d'état when a mutiny killed Li Cunxu, and ruled with both discipline and compassion for the next 7 years. Despite an abundance of natural disasters, his reign was markedly more peaceful than the half-century preceding it.


Li Siyuan was born with the Shatuo name of Miaojilie in 867 in Yingzhou (應州; present-day Ying County, Shanxi), without a surname like his nomadic Turkic ancestors.[8] His father, referred in Chinese historiography books by his Chinese name Li Ni (李霓), was a military general under Li Guochang, the Shatuo leader in the region who received the imperial surname Li for contributions to the Tang Dynasty court. He was Li Ni's oldest son. His mother was a Lady Liu, who was later honored with the title of Lady of Song.[2]

In 878, however, Li Guochang and his son Li Keyong rebelled against the Tang. In 880, when they were destroyed by the joint forces of military governor Li Zhuo (李琢) and Tuyuhun chieftain Helian Duo,[2] and the Shatuo army fled northward to the Yin Mountains where they sought refuge with a Mohe tribe.[9] Some time after Li Ni's death (predating Li Guochang's and Li Keyong's defeat) in 879 (when Miaojilie was 12), Li Guochang took Miaojilie as a bodyguard, having been impressed by the son's mounted archery skills reminiscent of the father. It was said the teenager never missed when he aimed at hovering birds on hunting trips.[2]

Career under Li Keyong[edit]

Around that time the Tang court had great trouble with the large anti-government force of Huang Chao, who declared himself emperor of a new state of Qi, and therefore pardoned the Shatuos, allowing them to return to their home land on the condition that they join the military campaign against Huang's Qi state.[10] In 883, Li Keyong was made the military governor (Jiedushi) of Hedong Circuit (河東, headquartered in modern Taiyuan, Shanxi) after a major victory against Qi.[11]

Miaojilie had been serving Li Keyong, who, finding the quiet youngster earnest and dedicated, adopted him as a son and bestowed him the Chinese name Li Siyuan.[8] On 11 June 884, Li Keyong unsuspectingly entered Bian Prefecture (汴州; today's Kaifeng, Henan) to attend a grand feast hosted by fellow military governor and Bianzhou's prefect Zhu Wen (Zhu Quanzhong), whom he had just saved from Huang Chao's siege. At night, a completely drunk Li Keyong was ambushed in his lodging by Zhu's assassins who had already placed felled trees, fences and wagons to block the exits. Amidst the chaos, 16-year-old Li Siyuan helped his master climb over a low wall; together they escaped flying arrows unharmed, helped in part by a thunderstorm, even though over 300 (mostly intoxicated) attendants were butchered.[11] Upon their return to Hedong, Li Siyuan was given the command of Li Keyong's bodyguard cavalry.[2]

In 890, Li Keyong's old enemy Helian Duo attacked northern Hedong with his Xianbei tribesmen, reinforced by Tibetan and Yenisei Kirghiz troops. Li Cunxin — an older adopted son of Li Keyong's — resisted the invasion but was defeated. Li Keyong sent Li Siyuan to assist him, and soon the Hedong force expelled the enemy, even capturing Helian's son-in-law.[12] A couple of years later, Li Siyuan demonstrated his military leadership again by leading a force to quell a rebellion, capturing its leader Wang Bian (王弁). Once at a gathering, generals started bragging about their accomplishments, when Li Siyuan interrupted and spoke slowly: "You sirs, use your mouths to attack enemies. I use my hands to attack enemies." Everybody fell silent.[2]

In 896, Li Cunxin was allocated 30,000 men to reinforce the warlord cousins Zhu Xuan and Zhu Jin against the hated enemy Zhu Wen. Instead, Li Cunxin stayed behind and sent Li Siyuan to the front line with only 300 cavalrymen. Nevertheless, Li Siyuan successfully dispersed Zhu Wen's army and relieved Zhu Jin. When warlord Luo Hongxin surprised and defeated Li Cunxin afterwards, Li Siyuan fended off the attackers before returning home with Li Cunxin's main force. Praised by Li Keyong, he shared the rewards among his soldiers as usual.[2]

In 898, Li Keyong's general Li Sizhao was soundly defeated by Zhu Wen's general Ge Congzhou, just as Li Siyuan arrived to reinforce him. Noticing the frightened soldiers, Li Siyuan told Li Sizhao, "If we return empty-handed, important things will be lost. Sir, I'd like to fight for you and die if I'm unsuccessful, it's better than imprisonment." He dismounted from his horse, sharpened his weapons, and ascended to an elevated position where he directed his soldiers in the rehearsed formation. When Ge's troops arrived, he shouted at them: "My prince ordered me to get Lord Ge. Nobody else needs to die with him!" In no time he led his soldiers into battle, and with the help of Li Sizhao, expelled the enemy. Only then was it discovered that Li Siyuan was soaked in his own blood; arrows had punctured his body in 4 places. As Li Keyong, already the Prince of Jin by title, personally removed the clothing and medicated the wounds with alcohol, he remarked with pride: "My son is such an extraordinary man!" Li Siyuan's fame started to spread.[2] Another anecdote illustrated his frugal life style: once, seeing that Li Siyuan's residence had no material goods other than weapons, Li Keyong took him home and told his adopted son he could take anything he wanted. Li Siyuan left with a piece of cloth and a few strings.[citation needed]

In 902, Li Keying's archenemy Zhu Quanzhong, after his Xuanwu (宣武, i.e., Bian Prefecture) army, commanded by his general Shi Shucong (氏叔琮) and nephew Zhu Youning (朱友寧), defeated the Hedong army commanded by Li Siyuan's adoptive brother Li Sizhao and Zhou Dewei at Pu County (蒲縣, in modern Linfen, Shanxi), ordered Shi and Zhu Youning to advance to Hedong's capital Taiyuan to put it under siege. With a substantial portion of Li Keyong's army not available at that time at Taiyuan, the city appeared that it would be falling, and Li Keyong considered abandoning it and fleeing to Yun Prefecture (雲州, in modern Datong, Shanxi) — a strategy that Li Cunxin advocated. However, Li Siyuan, along with Li Sizhao and Zhou, advocated steadfast defending the city, and they, as well as Li Keyong's wife Lady Liu, were able to convince Li Keyong to stay and defend the city. Subsequently, raids that Li Sizhao and Li Siyuan lead against the Xuanwu army disrupted the Xuanwu army's food supplies, and Zhu Quanzhong decided to order its withdrawal. (Still, because of this siege, for several years, Li Keyong did not dare to again battle Zhu for supremacy of northern China.)[13]

In 907, Zhu seized the throne from Tang's last emperor Emperor Ai, ending Tang and starting a new state of Later Liang. Li Keyong, as Prince of Jin, along with several other regional governors (Li Maozhen the Prince of Qi, Yang Wo the Prince of Hongnong, and Wang Jian the Prince of Shu), refused to recognize Zhu as emperor and continued to consider themselves as vassals of the now defunct Tang state — but were in effect, rulers of their own independent states by this point. Li Siyuan continued to serve his adoptive father in this new Jin state. Shortly after, Zhu sent his general Kang Huaizhen (康懷貞) to command an army to attack Jin's Zhaoyi Circuit (昭義, headquartered in modern Changzhi, Shanxi), then under Li Sizhao's governance. Zhu himself then followed with a larger army, and the Later Liang army put Zhaoyi's capital Lu Prefecture (潞州) under intense siege, fully intent on capturing it. Li Keyong sent a relief force, under the overall command of Zhou Dewei, with Li Siyuan, Li Siben (李嗣本), Li Cunzhang (李存璋), and An Jinquan (安金全) serving under Zhou, to try to lift the siege, but while the relief army was able to harass the Later Liang army, it was unable to lift the siege. Soon, the city was in a desperate position as food supplies were dwindling. During the midst of the siege, Li Keyong grew ill at Taiyuan and died in spring 908 and was succeeded as Prince of Jin by his biological son Li Cunxu.[14]

Career under Li Cunxu[edit]

During Jin[edit]

During Later Tang[edit]

When Li Siyuan appeared in Luoyang before the emperor in the winter of 925–926, widespread starvation had engulfed the state, forcing many commoners to sell their "wives and children". Within a few months, generals Guo Chongtao and Zhu Youqian were killed, and it appeared that Li Siyuan was next.[2]


By the time Li Siyuan had assumed the throne of the Later Tang, relations with the powerful Khitan to the north had deteriorated. In accordance with custom, an ambassador was sent to the Khitan Supreme Capital to inform Abaoji of the death of the emperor. However, Abaoji used the occasion to try to gain territory from the Later Tang, especially the strategic Sixteen Prefectures, and even briefly imprisoned the envoy. Though Abaoji soon died, the enmity that had been developing between the two did not fade.

Li Siyuan was illiterate and relied on An Chonghui, who was hardly proficient in understanding written Chinese himself, to read the memorials.[1]

However, the major challenges to his rule came from the south and from within, particularly the Former Shu territory that Li Cunxu had annexed. The death knell of the dynasty would come from within with Khitan help. In 936, Shi Jingtang, the son-in-law of Li Siyuan himself, launched a rebellion against his rule. With Khitan help, he overthrew the last Later Tang Emperor and established his own dynasty, the Later Jin.

Mingzong's counselor and minister was An Chonghui.


On 5 December 933, the emperor fell seriously ill after a trip in the snow. A day later, as his eldest son Li Congrong (李從榮) visited him, Pure Consort Wang (王淑妃) whispered "Congrong is here" but elicited no response. Li Congrong was told by weeping palace attendants that his father could no longer recognize anyone, and left. The emperor woke up in the middle of the night coughing up blood. Asked by an attending maid whether he was clear-headed, he replied, "I do not know." He had a bowl of rice gruel and felt better in the morning, but Li Congrong did not come again, professing illness.[15]

Li Congrong actually had other plans. Fearing that the throne would go to his younger brother Li Conghou, whom he felt was a more favored and worthy son, he decided to act first and seize power militarily. On the next day, the ill emperor was informed by his generals and eunuchs that Li Congrong was attacking the palace gates. In disbelief, he pointed his finger upwards and cried at length. To Li Chongji (李重吉), son of his stepson Li Congke, he compared his 2 sons, "The fact that your father and I could emerge from obscure pasts to claim the world, it was all because he repeatedly saved me in dangerous situations. Oh, the temerity of Congrong to commit a deed so sinister!" He told the men to handle the matter themselves.[15]

After a day's battle, imperial guards killed Li Congrong, his wife and eldest son. The dying emperor collapsed on his couch upon hearing the news. The generals requested permission to kill Li Congrong's 2nd son, a child living in the palace. "For what crime!" was the reply, but the grandchild was killed nonetheless.[6] When Feng Dao and other courtiers visited him, the dying emperor uttered in tears, "I am embarrassed to meet you, my subjects, under such tragic family conditions." After his death 6 days later, the next eldest son Li Conghou assumed the throne before the coffin.[15]

Family information[edit]


Wives and concubines[edit]

  • Lady Wei (魏氏), from Pingshan, Zhenzhou (鎮州平山; in modern Hebei), originally married to a man surnamed Wang (王) with a young son. When Li Siyuan attacked Zhenzhou in c. 893, he took Lady Wei and the son whom he renamed Li Congke. Lady Wei died a few years later in Taiyuan.
  • Lady Xia (夏氏), died in c. 924, mother of Li Congrong and Li Conghou.
  • Empress Cao (曹皇后), mother of Yongning Princess, became the empress in 930. She died in 937 as the empress dowager of her stepson Li Congke.
  • Pure Consort Wang (王淑妃), from Binzhou (邠州, in today's Shaanxi), originally sold to the house of Later Liang general Liu Xun as a maid. When Liu was killed, An heard of her beauty and mentioned it to Li Siyuan. Very respectful and dutiful towards Empress Cao and the emperor which soon made her the emperor's favorite concubine with the ability to influence politics. She was killed in 947 with her adoptive son Li Congyi.
  • Many palace women were conferred as Madames (夫人) in 932, including Consort Wang (王昭儀; of the "Luminous Deportment" rank), Consort Ge (葛昭容), Consort Liu (劉昭媛), Consort Gao (高婕妤), Consort Shen (沈美人) and Consort Zhu (朱順御).[17]


  • Li Congshen, the 1st son,[18] changed his name to Li Jijing (李繼璟) days before his murder in 926 to become an adopted son of Li Cunxu's. He was posthumously named Li Congjing (李從璟).
  • Li Congrong, the 2nd son,[18] was born to Lady Xia. He was conferred the Prince of Qin (秦王) in 928 and killed in 933 with his wife Princess Consort Liu (劉妃),[6] son Li Chongguang (李重光)[7] and a younger son.
  • Li Conghou was born in 914 also to Lady Xia. He was conferred the Prince of Song (宋王) in 930 and succeeded the throne after the successive deaths of his elder brother and father in 933. Known in history as Emperor Min (愍帝) of Later Tang, he only reigned for 5 months before stepbrother Li Congke rebelled and drove him away from the capital, where he was killed with wife Empress Kong (孔皇后), son Li Chongzhe (李重哲)[7] and 3 other sons.[19]
  • Li Congyi was born in c. 931 to an imperial concubine, but Li Siyuan asked Pure Consort Wang to adopt him. He was conferred the Prince of Xu (許王) in 933, and the Duke of Xun (郇國公) in 939 during the subsequent Later Jin. After Later Jin was conquered by the Khitan-ruled Liao Dynasty from the north in 947, Emperor Taizong of Liao installed Li Congyi as the emperor of a puppet state in China proper before the Liao army returned to their home territory. The teenager was unable to summon any military commanders to protect him and was killed, along with his adopted mother Consort Wang, by the invading army of Liu Zhiyuan.[15]
  • The 3rd daughter was born to Lady Cao (later Empress Cao). She was named the Yongning Princess (永寧公主) in 928. She married military governor Shi Jingtang and was promoted to the Princess of Wei (魏國公主) in 933. She died in 950.
  • The 13th daughter was named the Xingping Princess (興平公主) in 930, the same year she married military governor Zhao Yanshou. In 933 she was promoted to the Princess of Qi (齊國公主). She died in the 940s.
  • In 933, the 14th daughter was named the Shou'an Princess (壽安公主) and the 15th daughter was named the Yongle Princess (永樂公主).[7] No information exists on the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th daughters.
  • One of the youngest daughters (younger than Li Congyi), known as the Yong'an Princess (永安公主), married Zhao after her 13th sister's death.
  • Li Congke, born in 885, was originally called Wang Ershisan (王二十三) before his mother Lady Wei remarried, committed suicide in 937 with wife Empress Liu (劉皇后) and son Li Chongmei (李重美); son Li Chongji (李重吉) and daughter Li Huiming (李惠明) killed earlier in 934 in 985's reign did not last much longer.[20]
  • Li Congcan (李從璨), killed in c. 929.
  • Li Congzhang (李從璋), conferred the Prince of Yang (洋王) in 933.[15]
  • Li Congwen (李從溫), born in c. 987, conferred the Prince of Yan (兗王) in 933, died in c. 937.[15]
  • Li Congmin (李從敏), conferred the Prince of Jing (涇王) in 933.[15]
Li Siyuan
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Qian Liu (King Wusu of Wuyue)
Sovereign of China (Zhejiang) (de jure)
Succeeded by
Emperor Min of Later Tang
Preceded by
Emperor Zhuangzong of Later Tang
Emperor of China (Central)
Sovereign of China (Hunan)
926–927, 930–933[21]
Sovereign of China (Fujian)
926, 927–933[22]
Succeeded by
Wang Yanjun (Emperor Huizong of Min)
Sovereign of China (Jingnan region)
Succeeded by
Gao Jixing (Prince Wuxin of Nanping)

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b Zizhi Tongjian, ch. 275.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Old History of the Five Dynasties, ch. 35.
  3. ^ Zizhi Tongjian, ch. 279.
  4. ^ a b Wudai Shi, ch. 38. Many Chinese emperors changed their given names to rarely encountered characters to alleviate the burden of the populace who must observe naming taboo.
  5. ^ Zizhi Tongjian, ch. 276.
  6. ^ a b c Zizhi Tongjian, ch. 278.
  7. ^ a b c d Wudai Shi, ch. 44.
  8. ^ a b Wudai Shiji, ch. 6.
  9. ^ Zizhi Tongjian, ch. 253.
  10. ^ Zizhi Tongjian, ch. 254.
  11. ^ a b Zizhi Tongjian, ch. 255.
  12. ^ Zizhi Tongjian, ch. 258.
  13. ^ Zizhi Tongjian, ch. 263.
  14. ^ Zizhi Tongjian, ch. 266.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g Wudai Shiji, ch. 15.
  16. ^ Wudai Shi, ch. 35. Considering his ancestors were Turkic without surnames, the fact that they all had Chinese names here indicates that these names were probably all created posthumously after Li Siyuan became a "Chinese" emperor.
  17. ^ Wudai Huiyao, ch. 1
  18. ^ a b Wudai Shi, ch. 51.
  19. ^ Wudai Shi, ch. 45.
  20. ^ Wudai Shi, ch. 46.
  21. ^ From 927, when Emperor Mingzong created Ma Yin the King (國王, Guowang) of Chu to Ma's death in 930, Ma was de jure sovereign of his own kingdom, albeit as a Later Tang vassal; Ma's son and successor Ma Xisheng did not claim and was not given that title, so de jure sovereignty returned to Emperor Mingzong.
  22. ^ Wang Yanjun's older brother Wang Yanhan had, in effect, declared de jure independence from Later Tang in 926 by claiming the title of Guowang of Min and using ceremonies due an emperor, but after Wang Yanhan was assassinated around the new year 927 and succeeded by Wang Yanjun, Wang Yanjun returned to the Later Tang-bestowed titles (until 933).
  23. ^ Even before 927 and even long before the start of Emperor Mingzong's reign, Gao Jixing had acted in semi-independence to the central Chinese dynasties Later Liang and Later Tang, but 927 was the first formal break between Later Tang and Jingnan (also known as Nanping, after Gao's title of Prince of Nanping); after that date, Gao and his successors would vacillate between formal allegiance to the central Chinese dynasties, as well as Wu/Southern Tang and Later Shu; with that being the case, 927 may be regarded as the time when Jingnan became an independent state.