Head of the former Chinese imperial clan

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It is not usual for a Chinese Dynasty to pass smoothly into the next one, as is depicted in history timelines, since dynasties were often established before the overthrow of an existing clan, or continued for a time after they had been defeated.[1] The last Chinese dynasty was the Qing Dynasty, which was abolished in 1912, and there's no officially recognized pretender to the dynasty since as of Yongzheng Emperor's reign, the successors' names were written on two scrolls, placed one scroll in a sealed box and had the box stored behind the stele in the Qianqing Palace, and it can be discovered when the emperor deceased or abdicated.[2] The method is known as "The Secret Designation of the Crown Prince" (Chinese: 秘密建儲制).

In dynasties prior to Yuan Dynasty, however, the reigning dynasties often gave title to certain members (sometimes pretenders) of the previous dynasties as recognition of the legitimacy of the former dynasty and the way to show the right to the dynastic change. The method is known as "The two crownings and the three respects" (二王三恪), the people who were given to such position had right to retain the law from the original dynasty within the land given to them, and the reigning emperor couldn't treat them as his subject.[3]


Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors[edit]

Xia dynasty[edit]

Yu the Great granted the benefice Tang (唐) to Danzhu (丹朱), and Yu (虞) to Shangjun (商均), son of Emperor Shun. Both of them needn't use the courtesy of a vassal.[5]

Shang dynasty[edit]

After Tang of Shang conquered Xia Dynasty, he made a descendant of Xia monarchs became the founder of the Qi state (杞國) and Yusui (虞遂), a descendant of Emperor Shun, as the founder of Chen (陳國). Both monarchs were technically not the vassals of Shang dynasty.[6][7]

Zhou dynasty[edit]

Western Han dynasty[edit]

  • In 113 B.C., Emperor Wu of Han granted Ji Jia (姬嘉), a descedant of Zhou dynasty, the title Lord Zhinan of Zhou (周子南君).
  • Ji Yen Nian (姬延年), grandson of Ji Jia, eventually became Duke of Zheng (鄭公) as of 4 A.D.[3]
  • 8 B.C., Emperor Cheng of Han granted Kong Ji, the 14th-generation descendant of Confucius, the title Marquis Shaojia of Yin (殷紹嘉侯); the title changed twice and became Duke of Song (宋公) as of 2 A.D.[3]

Xin dynasty[edit]

In 9 A.D., Wang Mang gave a series of titles to different people, some of whom he believed to be descendants from previous dynasties:[15]

  • Yao Xun (姚恂) became Marquis Chumu (初睦侯) to sacrifice The Yellow Emperor;
  • Liang Hu (梁護) became Count Xiuyuan (修遠伯) to sacrifice Shaohao;
  • Wang Chien (王千), a grandson of Wang Mang, became Duke Gonglong (功隆公) to sacrifice Emperor Ku;
  • Liu Xin (劉歆), a descendant of Liu Jiao (劉交, brother of Emperor Gao of Han), became Count Qilie (祁烈伯) to safrice Zhuanxu; Liu Xin's son Liu Die (劉疊) became Marquis Yixiu (伊休侯) to sacrifice Emperor Yao;
  • Gui Chang (媯昌) became Marquis Shimu (始睦侯) to sacrifice Emperor Shun;
  • Ruzi Ying became Duke Ding'an (定安公) and he was also the last emperor of Western Han dynasty;
  • Ji Dang (姬黨), 6-generation descendant of Ji Jia, whose title was changed to Duke Zhangping (章平公);
  • Kong Hong (孔弘), Duke of Song and grandson of Kong Ji, became Marquis Zhangzhao (章昭侯)
  • Si Feng (姒豐), descendant of Xia dynasty, became Marquis Zhanggong (章功侯)

Eastern Han Dynasty[edit]

  • In 26, Emperor Guangwu of Han made Kong An (孔安), son of Kong Hong, the Duke Shaojia of Yin (殷紹嘉公), and later Duke of Song (宋公) in 39.
  • Ji Wu (姬武), grandson of Ji Dang, was first the Duke Chengxiu of Zhou (周承休公) and later Duke of Wei (衛公).[16]

Cao Wei[edit]

  • In 220, Emperor Xian of Han, the abdicated last emperor of Han dynasty, was granted with the title Duke of Shanyang (山陽公) and the capital of his benefice, State of Shanyang (山陽國), was Zhuolu (濁鹿, located at the northeast of modern Xiuwu County in Henan Province). He had several privileges despite of demoted to a duke, including no need to address himself as a "vassal" to Cao Wei and sacrificing Han temple with the imperial rituals. Emperor Xian of Han outlived his unnamed elder son, so the dukedom passed to his grandson and the title eventually extincted during the Disaster of Yongjia.
    • Liu Kang (劉康), grandson of the emperor, was the duke for 51 years and died in 285.
    • Liu Jin (劉瑾), son of Liu Kang, was the duke for 4 years and died in 289.
    • Liu Chiu (劉秋), son of Liu Jin, the last known duke of Shangyang and was killed in 309 during the Uprising of the Five Barbarians.
    • According to Nihon Shoki, Achinoomi (Japanese: 阿知使主), a great-grandson of the Emperor Xian of Han, was the legendary ancestor of several noble clans of Japan,[17] and they have modern descendants.
  • In 264, Liu Shan, the last emperor of Shu Han, became the monarch of the ducal state of Anle (安樂國), locating at the northwest of modern Shunyi District of Beijing. The state was annexed during Uprising of the Five Barbarians.[16]

Jin dynasty (265-420)[edit]

  • In 265, Emperor Wu of Jin made abdicated Emperor Yuan of Wei the king of Chenliu (陳留王).
  • The dukedom of Shanyang and the dukedom of Wei were continued, while the duke of Song was demoted to Marquis of Song (宋侯).[3]

Liu Song dynasty[edit]

  • In 420, Emperor Gong of Jin became the king of Lingling (零陵王) and the capital was Muoling (秣陵, Nanjing in modern era). Emperor Gong of Jin along with many of Jin imperial clan members were killed afterwards, and the next king of the Lingling was Sima Yuanyu (司馬元瑜). The kingdom continued to exist until the time when Liang dynasty was established.
  • Kingdom of Chenliu was continued in Liu Song dynasty.[3]

Southern Qi[edit]

Liang dynasty[edit]

  • In 502, Emperor Wu of Liang made Emperor He of Southern Qi the King of Baling (巴陵王) and moved him to Gusho (姑熟, in today's Dangtu County). After the murder of Emperor He, his illegitimate elder brother Xiao Baoyi (蕭寶義) became his successor and the kingdom desceneded until the later era of Chen dynasty.[3]
  • Kingdom of Ruyin was continued.

Northern Qi[edit]

In 550, Emperor Wenxuan of Northern Qi made the abdicated Emperor Xiaojing of Eastern Wei the King of Zhongshan (中山王) and poisoned him afterwards.

Chen dynasty[edit]

  • In 557, Emperor Wu of Chen made Emperor Jing of Liang the King of Jiangying (江陰王). Emperor Jing's dukedom was succeeded by Xiao Jiching (蕭季卿) and the dukedom became extinct when Chen dynasty was conquered.
  • Kingdom of Baling was continued.[3]

Northern Zhou[edit]

In 557, Emperor Xiaomin of Northern Zhou made Emperor Gong of Western Wei the Duke of Song (宋公) and killed him afterwards. The next year, Yuan Lo, Emperor Gong's fifth cousin four times removed became Duke of Han (韓國公) as the successor of Western Wei.

Sui dynasty[edit]

Tang dynasty and Wu Zetian's reign[edit]

  • In 618, Yang You became Duke of Xi (酅國公) and the courtesy within the dukedom remained that of Sui dynasty's. At the same time, Dukedom of Jie was also continued.
  • In 690, Wu Zetian made the heads of Zhou dynasty, Han dynasty, and a descendant of Emperor Shun, Emperor Yu and Tang of Shang as nobles. As of 698, heads of Sui dynasty and Tang dynasty were granted with titles.
  • In 705, after the restoration of Tang dynasty, Dukedom if Xi and Jie were restored.
  • In 748, Yuan Boming (元伯明) became the Duke of Han (韓國公), while dukedom of Jie and Xi were continued.

Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period[edit]

  • In 907, Zhu Wen made Emperor Ai of Tang the King of Jiyin (濟陰王) and poisoned a year later. The dukedom was succeeded by Lee Zong (李嵸) and the title became Duke of Lai (萊國公), and Yang Renju (楊仁矩) became Duke of Xi while the Dukedom of Jie was continued.
  • Later Tang claimed to be the successor of Tang dynasty, so the Dukedom of Xi and Dukedom of Jie were granted.
  • In 937, Li Congyi became the Duke of Xun (郇國公), Yang Yansho (楊延壽) became the Duke of Xi, and Yuwen Jie became the Duke of Jie.
  • In 951, Guo Wei granted titles to descendant of Later Jin, Later Han, and Tang dynasty.

Song dynasty[edit]

  • In 960, Emperor Taizu of Song made Guo Zongxun the King of Zheng (鄭王) and the laws within the kingdom remained.
    • In 1059, Guo Zongxun's cousin Chai Yong (柴詠) became the Duke Chongyi (崇義公). In 1235, Chai Yong's great-grandson Chai Shuxia (柴叔夏) succeeded as the duke; as of 1249, Chai Yenyin (柴彥穎) gained the duke title.
    • In 1118, a descendant of Guo Zongxun became Xuanyilang (宣義郎), a titular title in Song dynasty.
  • Heads of imperial clan of Sui, Tang and the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period were granted with several titles to sacrifice those dynasties and kingdoms.[18]

Jin dynasty (1115-1234)[edit]

  • In 1125, Emperor Tianzuo of Liao became King Haibin (海濱王), while Emperor Huizong of Song became Duke Hunde (昏德公) and Emperor Qinzong of Song became Marquis Chonghun (重昏侯).[19]
  • In 1141, Emperor Tianzuo became King of Yu (豫王), the late Emperor Huizong was given the title Prince of Tianshui Commandery (天水郡王), Emperor Qinzong became the Duke of Tianshui Commandery (天水郡公), and the deposed puppet emperor Liu Yu (劉豫) became King of Cao (曹王).[18]

Yuan dynasty[edit]

In 1276, Kublai Khan made Emperor Gong of Song the Duke of Ying (瀛國公).

Ming dynasty[edit]

In 1368, Emperor Taizu of Ming made Maidarbal (grandson of fleeing Emperor Shun of Yuan) the Duke Chongli (崇禮侯).

Qing dynasty[edit]

In 1724, Zhu Zhilian (朱之璉), claimed by Qing government as a descendant of King Jien of Dai (Zhu Gui, the 14th son of the Emperor Taizu of Ming), became the first Marquis of Extended Grace.[20][21][22]

After 1912[edit]

House of Aisin Gioro[edit]

In 1912, the Qing dynasty was ousted and China was declared a republic.

Puyi, the last Qing emperor, later became the emperor of Manchukuo, now northeastern China, in 1934–1945; he was the only emperor of Manchukuo and the empire was abolished in 1945. He died without issue in 1967. His brother Prince Pujie was next in line under a 1937 succession law.[23] Stories published in the Chicago Times and The New York Times acknowledge Pujie as heir to the throne.[24]

Pujie died in 1994. He is survived by a daughter, Princess Husheng, who was born in 1941 and renamed "Kosei Fukunaga" (福永嫮生) when she married to a Japanese in 1968. However, the law restricts succession to males.[25] Several news stories have suggested that Jin Yuzhang, a nephew of Puyi and Pujie, is the current family head of House of Aisin Gioro.[26]

The present line of succession of Aisin Gioro clan goes by:

In The Empty Throne, Tony Scotland tells how he found Prince Yuyan, who lived in a mud floor hovel near the imperial palace.[29] Yuyan, a distant cousin of Puyi, told Scotland that the former emperor made him heir to the throne in a ceremony performed while they were imprisoned in Russia together in 1950.[30] This claim is not supported by any official document, although it was customary in the Qing dynasty that an emperor name his successor in a will or edict. Puyi's autobiography confirms merely that the idea was discussed.[31] Yuyan died in 1997. His eldest son is Prince Hengzhen, who was born in 1944.[32] There is no indication that Yuyan designated him heir to the throne, or that he claims this status.

Empire of China[edit]

In 1915, Yuan Shikai attempted to reinstate monarchy in China and become the emperor, and his title would be Hongxien Emperor. However, due to massive objection across provinces of China, Yuan needed to withdraw his attempt and died in June 6, 1916 as the President of the Republic of China.[33] During the preparation of the empire, Yuan planned to make Yuan Keding, his eldest son, the crown prince of Empire of China. Yuan Keding still retained the courtesy of a "crown prince" for decades later even though the empire never existed.[34]

Yuan Keding had a son and two daughters with modern descendants, although he had the other 31 siblings:[34]

Alternative proposals[edit]

During the 1911 Revolution, some minorities suggested that the Manchu emperor be replaced by an ethnic Chinese. Both Duke Yansheng, a descendant of Confucius,[35][36][37][38] and the Marquis of Extended Grace, a descendant of the imperial family of the Ming dynasty, were proposed and rejected.[39][40] The Duke Yansheng was proposed for replacing the Qing dynasty as Emperor by Liang Qichao.[41]


  1. ^ 古利. 大讀中國. Taiwan: 千華數位文化. p. 59. ISBN 978-986-144-122-1. 
  2. ^ http://www1.chinaculture.org/library/2008-02/09/content_22919.htm
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i "173". Cefu Yuangui. Song Dynasty. 
  4. ^ 《尚書•虞書》:虞賓在位,群後德讓。
  5. ^ Records of the Grand Historian, "Basic Annals of the Five Emperors": 譙周云:以虞封舜子,今宋州虞城縣。括地志云:虞國,舜後所封邑也。或雲封舜子均於商,故號商均也。
  6. ^ Book of Rites by Dai De, :"成湯卒受天命,不忍天下粒食之民刈戮,不得以疾死,故乃放移夏桀,散亡其佐,乃遷姒姓於杞。"
  7. ^ Zuo zhuan, 539 BC: "箕伯、直柄、虞遂、伯戲,其相胡公、大姬,已在齊矣。"
  8. ^ 司馬遷. "田儋列傳". 史記. 
  9. ^ 班固. "魏豹田儋韓王信傳". 漢書. -{H|zh-hant:元后傳;zh-hans:元后传}-
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  11. ^ Legge (1887), p. 259.
  12. ^ Yao 1997, 29.
  13. ^ Yao 2000, 23.
  14. ^ Rainey 2010, 66.
  15. ^ Book of Han, Volume 99
  16. ^ a b 錢林書,《續漢書郡國志匯釋》,p. 79, 142
  17. ^ 伊藤信博「桓武期の政策に関する一分析(1)p.9.
  18. ^ a b 欽定續通典, Chapter 71, Courtesy 27
  19. ^ Franke (1994), p. 233-234.
  20. ^ H.S. Brunnert; V.V. Hagelstrom (15 April 2013). Present Day Political Organization of China. Routledge. pp. 494–. ISBN 978-1-135-79795-9. 
  21. ^ http://www.forgottenbooks.com/readbook_text/Present_Day_Political_Organization_of_China_1000115601/509
  22. ^ https://archive.org/stream/presentdaypoliti00brun#page/494/mode/2up
  23. ^ The Manchoukuo Year Book 1941, "Text of the Law Governing Succession to the Imperial Throne", March 1, 1937, p. 905, Tōa Keizai Chōsakyoku (Japan). "In the absence of sons or descendants, the brothers of the reigning emperor, borne of the same mother, and their male-line descendants succeed according to age." (Article 5)
    Buyers, Christopher, The Royal Ark, "China".
  24. ^ Schmetzer, Uli, "Emperor-in-waiting recalls bygone age", Chicago Tribune, Oct. 25, 1992.
    "Pu Jie, 87, Dies, Ending Dynasty Of the Manchus", New York Times, March 2, 1994.
  25. ^ "The Imperial Throne of Manchoukuo shall be succeeded to by male descendants in the male line of His Majesty the Emperor for ages to come." (Article 1, "Text of the Law Governing Succession to the Imperial Throne", The Manchoukuo Year Book 1941, p. 905.)
  26. ^ a b Spencer, Richard, "The Chinese man who would be emperor", The Telegraph, 30 Nov 2008.
    McDonald, Hamish, "Heir to China's throne celebrates a modest life," The Age, November 27, 2004
  27. ^ "Life of Last Chinese Emperor's Nephew", People Daily, Dec. 11, 2000.
    金毓峑, Baidu.
  28. ^ 金毓岚, Baidu.
  29. ^ Scotland, Tony, and Patrick Leigh Fermor, The Empty Throne: Quest for an Imperial Heir in the People's Republic of China, (1993).
  30. ^ Scotland, p. 180.
  31. ^ Henry Pu Yi, Paul Kramer, The Last Manchu: The Autobiography of Henry Pu Yi, Last Emperor of China, p. 244.
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  36. ^ Jonathan D. Spence (28 October 1982). The Gate of Heavenly Peace: The Chinese and Their Revolution. Penguin Publishing Group. pp. 84–. ISBN 978-1-101-17372-5. 
  37. ^ Shêng Hu; Danian Liu (1983). The 1911 Revolution: A Retrospective After 70 Years. New World Press. p. 55. 
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  41. ^ Modernisation of Chinese Culture: Continuity and Change (revised ed.). Cambridge Scholars Publishing. 2014. p. 74. ISBN 1443867721.