Birthday: June 30, 156 BC
Died At Age: 69
Sun Sign: Cancer
Also Known As: Han Wudi, Liu Che, Xiao Wu Huangdi
Born in: Chang'an
Famous as: Emperor of China
Emperors & Kings
Spouse/Ex-: Consort Li Ji, Consort Wang, Consort Xing, Consort Yin, Consort Zhao, Empress Chen Jiao, Empress Wei Zifu, Lady Li
father: Emperor Jing of Han
mother: Empress Wang Zhi
siblings: Liu Sheng, Prince of Zhongshan, Princess Longlü, Princess Nangong, Princess Pingyang
children: Emperor Zhao of Han, Liu Bo, Liu Dan, Liu Hong, Liu Ju, Liu Xu, Prince Ai of Changyi, Prince Huai of Qi, Prince La of Yan, Prince Li of Guangling, Princess Shiyi, Princess Wei the Eldest, Princess Yangshi, Princess Zhuyi
Died on: March 29, 87 BC
place of death: Chang'an
Who was Emperor Wu of Han?
Wudi is the posthumous name of Emperor Wu of Han who was the seventh emperor of the Han dynasty of China; he ruled from 141–87 BC. His reign lasted over half a century and is one of the longest reigns in Chinese history. A famed military campaigner, Wudi led his armies on great expeditions that resulted in vast expansion of the territories under his rule. The autocratic emperor with his ruthless campaigning brought Southern China and northern and central Vietnam under his control and was successful in re-conquering northern and central Korea which had slipped out of Chinese control. Even though he was able to considerably expand his empire through his aggressive military campaigns, these wars also depleted much of the empire’s reserves and wealth. He declared new taxes and implemented new business policies to increase the state’s income which made him unpopular among the citizens. Even though marked by prosperity in the beginning, the final years of his reign were filled with financial difficulties and political unrest. Wudi was also known for his introduction of various religious and cultural changes into the society. He made Confucianism the state religion of China, and was obsessed with finding the path to immortality
Childhood & Early Life
He was born as Liu Che on 30 June 156 BC in Chang'an, (now Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, China) to Liu Qi and his consort Wang Zhi. His grandfather was Emperor Wen of Han upon whose death Liu Qi ascended the throne as Emperor Jing of Han.
Liu Che was his father’s tenth son and thus initially considered unlikely to inherit the throne. However he became his father’s favorite son and was made the Prince of Jiaodong in 153 BC. He was later made crown prince in 149 BC.
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Acession & Reign
Emperor Jing died in 141 BC and Crown Prince Liu Che ascended the throne as Emperor Wu. He was just 15 years old at that time.
Up to that time, the Han dynasty was run according to a Taoist wu wei ideology which emphasized on economic freedom and decentralization of government. Even though these policies helped to bring economic stability, they also resulted in the loss of political control by the government.
Young Emperor Wu was not satisfied with the ongoing policies and strived to bring about economic and political reforms. He consulted Confucian scholars and launched a series of reforms which came to be known as the Jianyuan Reforms.
However, since the emperor was still young, he was unable to fully implement his proposed policies as they were opposed by his mother and grandmother in whose hands the real political power to manage the government existed.
In 135 BC, his grandmother Grand Empress Dowager Dou died, and Emperor Wu could finally implement his ambitious plans. Almost immediately, he began a military campaign of territorial expansion and sent out troops in all directions.
Starting from 133 BC, he launched attacks on the nomadic Xiongnu people, whom he considered to be China’s principal threat on the northern frontier. The conflicts, known as the Han-Xiongnu War, continued for several years, over the course of which his armies spread out in all directions and expanded the territories under his rule.
Over the years he was successful in bringing southern China and northern and central Vietnam into Chinese control. He had lost control over the regions of northern and central Korea in 128 BC which he went on to successfully re-conquer later on. Emperor Wu was not someone to take defeat lightly.
Emperor Wu was an autocratic ruler, known for his ruthlessness and cruelty. He was also obstinate and vain. He developed a fascination for horses from the Fergana valley region which was very far away from the Chinese mainland. The first expedition (104 BC) he sent to the land was a failure, but he persevered and sent a second expedition that returned with horses in 101 BC.
He was very religious and worshiped the divinity Tai Yi (Dong Huang Tai Yi), a deity to whom he was introduced by his shaman advisers. He was also highly superstitious and was fascinated with the idea of achieving immortality.
In his quest for more power and in his desire to vastly expand the territories under his realm, Emperor Wu overspent from the state’s reserves. The final years of his rule were marked by great financial difficulties brought about by excessive expenditures on war and his lavish lifestyle.
The Han-Xiongnu War, a series of battles fought between the Chinese Han Empire and the Xiongnu confederated state from 133 BC to 89 AD, was the biggest war that took place during Emperor Wu’s reign. The war culminated in the total victory of the Han Empire over the Xiongnu state in 89 AD.
Personal Life & Legacy
Emperor Wu’s first marriage was to an older cousin, Chen Jiao, who later became known as Empress Chen of Wu. This marriage was a political alliance and did not result in the birth of any children. The empress was deposed in 130 BC for committing witchcraft.
His second marriage was to Wei Zifu which lasted for 49 years. She was the mother of Emperor Wu's heir apparent, Crown Prince Liu Ju. In addition to his two wives, he had several concubines who bore him numerous children.
Wei Zifu and the crown prince were falsely accused of practicing witchcraft by some political conspirators following which the prince led an uprising in which thousands of people were killed. After the failed uprising, both the mother and son committed suicide.
Emperor Wu was grief stricken by the deaths of his wife and son, and repented for his losses during his last years. He became seriously ill by 88 BC and declared his youngest son, Liu Fuling, to be the crown prince. The emperor died on 29 March 87 BC. He was assigned the posthumous name of “Wudi” which is used for historical and religious purposes.