Gaozu of Han

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Emperor Gao of Han
Birth and death:256 BC¹/247 BC²– June 1, 195 BC
Family name:Liu (劉)
Given name:Ji ³ (季), later Bang4 (邦)</small>
Courtesy name (字):Ji5 (季)</small>
Dates of reign:Feb. 28, 202 BC6–Jun. 1, 195 BC
Temple name:Taizu7 (太祖), later Gaozu8 (高祖)
Posthumous name:
Emperor Gao (高帝)
Posthumous name:
Emperor Gao (高皇帝)
General note: Dates given are in the proleptic Julian calendar.
1. This is the birth year reported by Huangfu Mi</i> (皇甫謐) (215-282),
the famous author of acupuncture books.
2. This is the birth year reported by Chen Zan</i> (臣瓚) <i> around AD 270
in his comments of the Book of Han</i>
(漢書) <i>.
3. Name meaning "the youngest one". Liu Bang was the third son of his
father, his oldest brother was called Bo</i>
(伯) <i>, i.e. the "First one", and his
second older brother was called Zhong</i>
(仲) <i>, i.e. the "Middle one".
4. Had his name changed into Bang, meaning "country", either when he
was made Prince of Han, or when he ascended the imperial throne.
5. Ji was the courtesy name according to Sima Qian in his
Records of the Grand Historian. It may be that Liu Bang, after he
changed his name into Bang, kept his original name Ji as his courtesy
name. However, some authors do not think that "Ji" was ever used as
the courtesy name of Liu Bang.
6. Was already Prince of Han</i> (漢王) <i>since March 206 BC, having been
enfeoffed by the rebelled leader Xiang Yu. Liu Bang was proclaimed
emperor on February 28, 202 BC after defeating Xiang Yu.
7. Meaning "supreme ancestor". Was apparently the original temple name
of Emperor Gao. Taizu, in the most ancient Chinese tradition, going back
to the Shang Dynasty, was the temple name of the founder of a dynasty.
8. Sima Qian in his Records of the Grand Historian referred to Emperor
Gao as "Gaozu", meaning "high ancestor", perhaps a combination of the
temple name and posthumous name of the emperor (doubts still remain
about why Sima Qian used "Gaozu" instead of "Taizu", and what the exact
nature of this name is). Following Sima Qian, later historians most often
used "Han Gaozu" (漢高祖), and this is the name under which he is still
known inside China. Furthermore, it seems that in the Later Han Dynasty
"Gaozu" had replaced "Taizu" as the temple name of Emperor Gao.

Emperor Gao (256 BC or 247 BCJune 1, 195 BC), commonly known inside China as Gaozu, personal name Liu Bang, was the first emperor of the Chinese Han Dynasty, ruling over China from 202 BC until 195 BC, and one of only two dynasty founders who emerged from the peasant class (the other one being Zhu Yuanzhang founder of the Ming Dynasty). Before becoming an emperor, he was also called Lord Pei (沛公) after his birthplace. He was also created as King of Han by Xiang Yu, King Ba of Chu following the collapse of Qin Dynasty, and was called so before becoming emperor.


Early Life

Liu Bang was born into a peasant family in Pei (present Pei County in Jiangsu Province). When he was young, he did not like farm work, and was evidently living a rogue's life. Not surprisingly, he was not the favorite son of his peasant father.

After he was grown up, Liu Bang served as a patrol officer in his county. Once he was responsible of transporting a group of prisoners to Mount Li in now Shaanxi province. During the trip many prisoners fled, and when it was obvious that at this rate no one would make to the destination, Liu Bang released all the rest prisoners and fled himself.

Insurection against Qin

In 209 BC Chen Sheng led an uprising against Qin Dynasty and assumed the title "King of Rising Chu. Pei was in old Chu territory and when many other part of old Chu rebelled, Liu Bang killed the magistrate of Pei County and rebelled himself, assuming the title "Lord Pei".

Liu Bang served first as a subordinate of Xiang Liang and then, after Xiang Liang was killed in action, became a subordinate of Xin, King Huai of Chu, the nominal leader of all the rebellion kings. King Huai of Chu created Liu Bang as Marquess of Wu'an.

King Huai of Chu made a promise that whoever occupied Guanzhong (the plain of Central Shaanxi, the Qin homeland, and the core of Qin Dynasty) first should be awarded Guanzhong as his kingdom. He then sent Liu Bang for this mission, partly because he considered Liu Bang a kind and merciful man, partly because he did not like Xiang Yu. When Xiang Yu was busy fighting the main force of Qin Dynasty, Liu Bang invaded Guangzhong with relative ease.

In December 207 BC, the last Qin ruler Ziying surrendered to Liu Bang and his rebel army, and in 206 BC Liu Bang entered the Qin capital Xianyang. However, now Xiang Yu was the most powerful rebel at that time Instead, both Ziying and Xianyang was forced to be handed to Xiang Yu. Xiang Yu even considered killing Liu Bang in one dinner party but decided otherwise.

Chu-Han Contention

Now considering the whole China was in his hands, Xiang Yu realligned the territories of the rebel kings and created the 18 Kingdoms. Xiang Yu did not honor the promise by Xin, King Huai of Chu, who would soon himself be assassinated by Xiang Yu. Instead, he gave Guanzhong to the kings of three Qin. Liu Bang was only awarded the kingdom of Han (Southern part of now Shaanxi province).

In Hanzhong, Liu Bang focused his efforts on developing agriculture methods and training an army, through which he reinforced his resource accumulation and military power. Before long, Liu Bang left Hanzhong, deposed the kings of three Qin and occupied Guanzhong, where he launched a war now known as the Chu-Han War, against Xiang Yu.

Although Xiang Yu was far superior in military to Liu Bang, he was short of political maneuover. Xiang Yu kept defeating Liu Bang in the battlefield, but each of his victories only made more people stand by the side of Liu Bang. When Xiang Yu finally was defeated, he could never recovered and committed suicide.

The war lasted four years (206–202 BC) and ended with Liu Bang's victory. Having defeated Xiang Yu, Liu Bang claimed himself emperor and established the Han Dynasty in 202 BC and made Chang'an (present city of Xi'an) his capital city. Liu Bang became historically known as Emperor Gao of Han.

Reign as the Emperor

After Liu Bang came into power, he re-centralised China based on Qin's model. He gradually replaced the original vassals, granting their lands to his relatives. Since the economy had been devastated by the war following the demise of the Qin Dynasty, he reduced taxes and corve, developed agriculture and restricted spending. However, in response to what he saw as the decadence of Qin merchants, he restricted commerce by levying heavy taxes and legal restrictions on merchants. He also made peace with the Xiongnu. Under Gaozu's reign, Confucian thought gradually replaced Legalist thought; Confucian scholars were welcomed into his government, while the harsh Legalist laws were lessened. Emperor Gaozu's efforts laid a solid foundation for the over four-hundred-year reign of the Han Dynasty.

Liu Bang also devoted to subduing the unruly kings. He soon annexed most of the kingdoms and established princehoods, with his sons and relatives as princes. By doing so he consolidated his new-born empire.

Liu Bang tried military solutions against the Xiongnu but was beaten hard in the battlefield. He then decided to appease the Xiongnu by marrying ladies from royal family to Chanyu, the leaders of the Xiongnu. This policy would not change for about 70 years.


Crown Prince Hui, the eldest son of Liu Bang and Empress L, was the heir apparent of Liu Bang. However, Liu Bang disliked him because he considered Crown Prince Hui to be too weak as a ruler. His favorite son was Ruyi, Prince Yin of Zhao, by Lady Qi, one of his favorite concubine. Liu Bang attempted to make Ruyi crown prince but failed because most of his ministers remained loyal to Crown Prince Hui.

Liu Bang's affection for Lady Qi and Ruyi inflamed Empress Dowager L, who poisoned Ruyi and tortured Qi to death after Liu Bang's death.


By historians' account, Liu Bang was the contrary to his rival, Xiang Yu. While Xiang Yu was normally depicted as a romantic and noble man, Liu Bang was often mentioned as a rogue. Xiang Yu was always kind and gentle to his peer and subordinate. However, he was inferior in political maneuver. Although kind, one contemporary described Xiang Yu as "kind like a woman", which accurately reflected his indecision in things really matter. Xiang Yu also did not know how to utillize his talented subordinates, one of which, Han Xin later defected to Liu Bang and became his chief of army.

Liu Bang, on the contrary, was treacherous, bold and arrogant. These being said, he knew how to manipulate his peers and subordinates. He bid them glory and territories generously when he was fighting Xiang Yu, which won the hearty support of most of his peer kings and subordinates. However, once he became the emperor, Liu Bang ruthlessly oppressed them and killed several of them, most notably Han Xin, Peng Yue and Ying Bu.

Xiang Yu was generally remembered as a fallen hero while many considered Liu Bang as a rogue. However, Liu Bang treated the commons much better than the former nobles. He was a true popular monarch.

Personal information

See also

Template:Succession box two to oneTemplate:End boxde:Han Gaozuit:Gaozu (imperatore Han)ja:劉邦zh:刘邦

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