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Emperor Wu of Han

Emperor Wu of Han
Emperor of the Western Han dynasty
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9 March 141 BC – 29 March 87 BC
Predecessor Emperor Jing
Successor Emperor Zhao
Empress Empress Chen Jiao (陳嬌)
Empress Wei Zifu (衛子夫)
Issue Princess Wei the Eldest (衛長公主)
Princess Zhuyi (諸邑公主)
Princess Shiyi (石邑公主)
Liu Ju, Crown Prince Li (戾太子劉據)
Liu Bo, Prince Ai of Changyi (昌邑哀王劉髆)
Liu Hong, Prince Huai of Qi (齊懷王劉閎)
Liu Dan, Prince La of Yan (燕刺王劉旦)
Liu Xu, Prince Li of Guangling (廣陵厲王劉胥)
Liu Fuling, Emperor Zhao (昭帝劉弗陵)
Full name
Family name: Liu (劉)
Given name: Che[a] (徹)
Courtesy name: Tong[1] (通)
Era dates
Jiànyuán 建元 (140 BC – 135 BC)
Yuánguāng 元光 (134 BC – 129 BC)
Yuánshuò 元朔(128 BC – 123 BC)
Yuánshòu 元狩 (122 BC – 117 BC)
Yuándĭng 元鼎 (116 BC – 111 BC)
Yuánfēng 元封 (110 BC – 105 BC)
Tàichū 太初 (104 BC – 101 BC)
Tiānhàn 天漢 (100 BC – 97 BC)
Tàishĭ 太始 (96 BC – 93 BC)
Zhēnghé 征和 (92 BC – 89 BC)
Hòuyuán 後元 (88 BC – 87 BC)
Posthumous name
Short: Emperor Wu[b] (武帝) "martial"
Full: Xiao Wu Huangdi[c] (孝武皇帝) "filial and martial"
Temple name
Shizong (世宗)
Dynasty Western Han
Father Emperor Jing of Han
Mother Empress Wang Zhi (王娡)
Born 30 June 156 BC
Chang'an, (now Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, China)
Died 29 March 87 BC (aged 69)
Burial Mao Mausoleum, Xianyang, Shaanxi Province, China
Emperor Wu of Han
Traditional Chinese 漢武帝
Simplified Chinese 汉武帝
Literal meaning The Martial Emperor of Han
Alternative Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 劉徹
Simplified Chinese 刘彻
Literal meaning (personal name)

Emperor Wu of Han (30 June 156 BC

  1. REDIRECT Template:Spaced ndash 29 March 87 BC), personal name Liu Che, courtesy name Tong, was the seventh emperor of the Han dynasty of China, ruling from 141–87 BC.

    Emperor Wu's reign lasted 54 years — a record that would not be broken until the reign of the Kangxi Emperor more than 1,800 years later. His reign resulted in vast territorial expansion, development of a strong and centralized state resulting from his governmental re-organization, including his promotion of Confucian doctrines. In the field of historical social and cultural studies, Emperor Wu is known for his religious innovations and patronage of the poetic and musical arts, including development of the imperial Music Bureau into a prestigious entity. It was also during his reign that cultural contact with western Eurasia was greatly increased, directly or indirectly. Many new crops and other items were introduced to China during his reign.

    As a military campaigner, Emperor Wu led Han China through its greatest expansion — at its height, the Empire's borders spanned from modern Kyrgyzstan in the west, to Korea in the east, and to northern Vietnam in the south. Emperor Wu successfully repelled the nomadic Xiongnu from systematically raiding northern China and dispatched his envoy Zhang Qian in 139 BC to seek an alliance with the Yuezhi of modern Uzbekistan. This resulted in further missions to Central Asia. Although historical records do not describe him to be aware of Buddhism, emphasizing rather his interest in shamanism, nevertheless cultural exchanges occurred as a consequence of these embassies, and there are suggestions that these included his reception of Buddhist statues from central Asia, as depicted in the Mogao Caves murals.

    While establishing an autocratic and centralized state, Emperor Wu adopted the principles of Confucianism as the state philosophy and code of ethics for his empire and started a school to teach future administrators the Confucian classics. These reforms would have an enduring effect throughout the existence of imperial China and an enormous influence on neighboring civilizations. However, Emperor Wu was also known for his employment of shaman advisers, and for various religious and cultural changes with historical significance of a less directly obvious nature.


    The personal name of Emperor Wu was Liu Che(劉徹).[2] The use of "Han" () in referring to emperor Wu is a reference to the Han dynasty of which he was a part. His family name is "Liu" (): the ruling family or clan of the Han dynasty shared the family name of "Liu", the family name of sheriff Liu Bang, the founding father of the Han dynasty. The character "Di" () is a title: this is the Chinese word which in imperial history of China means "emperor". The character "Wu" () literally means "martial" or "warlike", but is also related to the concept of a particular divinity in the historical Chinese religious pantheon existing at that time. Combined, "Wu" plus "di" creates the name "Wudi", the emperor's Posthumous name [2] used for historical and for religious purposes, such as offering him posthumous honors at his tomb.

    Regnal years

    One of Han Wudi's innovations was the practice of changing reign names every so many years, as deemed auspicious or to commemorate some event. Thus, the practice for dating years during the reign of Wudi came to be the nth year of the [Reign Year Name] (where nth stands for an ordinal integer and "Reign Year Name" for the specific name of that regnal year.[3]

    Early years

    Liu Che was the 10th son of Liu Qi (劉啟), the oldest living son from Emperor Wen of Han. His mother Wang Zhi (王娡) was initially married to a commoner named Jin Wangsun (金王孫) and had a daughter from that marriage. However, her mother Zang Er (臧兒) (a granddaughter of one-time Prince of Yan, Zang Tu (臧荼), under Emperor Gao) was told by a soothsayer that both Wang Zhi and her younger sister would one day become extremely honored. She then got the idea to offer her daughters to the then-crown prince Liu Qi, and forcibly divorced Wang Zhi from her then-husband. After being offered to Liu Qi, Wang Zhi bore him three daughters — Princess Yangxin (陽信公主), Princess Nangong (南宮公主) and Princess Longlü (hi).

    On the day of Liu Qi's accession to the throne as Emperor Jing of Han upon the death of his father Emperor Wen in 156 BC, Wang Zhi gave birth to Liu Che, and was promoted to a consort for giving birth to a royal prince. While she was pregnant, she claimed that she dreamed a sun falling into her womb. Emperor Jing was ecstatic over the divine implication, and made the young Liu Che the Prince of Jiaodong (膠東王) in 153 BC. An intelligent boy, Liu Che was considered to be Emperor Jing's favorite son from a very young age.

    Heir apparent

    Emperor Jing's formal wife, Empress Bo, was childless. As a result, Emperor Jing's oldest son Liu Rong (劉榮), born of his favorite concubine Lady Li (栗姬), was created crown prince in 153 BC. Lady Li, feeling certain that her son would become the emperor, grew arrogant and intolerant, and frequently threw tantrums at Emperor Jing out of jealousy over his favor towards other concubines. Her lack of tact would prove to be the chance for Consort Wang and the young Liu Che.

    When Emperor Jing's older sister, Eldest Princess Guantao (館陶長公主) Liu Piao (劉嫖), offered to marry her daughter to Liu Rong, Lady Li rudely rejected the proposal out of grudge that Princess Guantao often pimped new concubines for Emperor Jing and siphoned away her favor. Consort Wang, who had been observing quietly and waiting for her chance, took the opportunity and offered her underage son. This union was not initially approved by Emperor Jing due to the age difference, but according to the Wei-Jin era pseudohistoric fable Hanwu Stories (漢武故事), during a royal gathering, when Princess Guantao held the 5-year-old Liu Che in her arms and asked him whether he wanted to marry her daughter A'Jiao (阿嬌), the young prince boasted that he would "build a golden house for her" if they were married. Princess Guantao then used the tale to convince Emperor Jing to finally agree to the arranged marriage. This inspired the Chinese idiom "Putting Jiao in a golden house" (金屋藏嬌), which later ironically became a term for keeping a mistress rather than a wife.

    Now sealed in the marriage alliance with Consort Wang, Princess Guantao began incessantly bad-mouthing Lady Li in front of Emperor Jing. Gradually buying into his sister's words, Emperor Jing decided to test out Lady Li. One day he asked Lady Li that whether she would happily foster-care the rest of his children if he was to pass away, only to have Lady Li rudely (and foolishly) refusing to comply. This made Emperor Jing angry and worried that if Liu Rong was to inherit the throne and Lady Li to become empress dowager, many of his concubines might suffer the fate of Consort Qi in the hands of Empress Lü. Princess Guantao then began to openly praise her son-in-law-to-be to her brother, further convincing Emperor Jing that Liu Che was a far better choice for heir apparent than Liu Rong. Seizing the opportunity, Consort Wang laid in the final straw for Lady Li — she hinted to a minister to officially advise Emperor Jing about making Lady Li empress, as Liu Rong was already the crown prince. Emperor Jing, already concluding that Lady Li must not be made empress, was enraged and believed that Lady Li had conspired with government officials. He executed the clan of that minister who forwarded that proposal, and deposed Liu Rong to the Prince of Linjiang (臨江王) and exiled him from the capital city Chang'an in 150 BC. Lady Li was stripped off her titles and placed under house arrest, and died of frustration and depression not long after. Liu Rong was arrested from his state two years later for illegal seizure of imperial shrine lands and committed suicide in custody.

    Since Empress Bo's deposition one year earlier in 151 BC, the position of empress was open, and Emperor Jing made Consort Wang empress merely 4 months later. The 7-year-old Liu Che, now legally the oldest son of the Empress, was later made crown prince in 149 BC.

    In 141 BC, Emperor Jing died, and Crown Prince Liu Che ascended to the throne as Emperor Wu at the age of 15. His grandmother Empress Dowager Dou became the grand empress dowager, and his mother became Empress Dowager Wang. His older cousin and wife from the political marriage also officially became Empress Chen (陳皇后).

    Early reign

    The Han dynasty up to this point was run according to a Taoist wu wei (無為而治) ideology, championing economic freedom and government decentralization. Foreign policy-wise, periodic heqin was used to maintain a de jure "peace" with the powerful Xiongnu confederacy to the north. These policies were important in stimulating economic recovery following the post-Qin dynasty civil war, but not without drawbacks. The non-interventionist policies resulted in loss of monetary regulation and political control by the central government, allowing the feudal vassal states to become dominant and unruly, culminating in the Rebellion of the Seven States during Emperor Jing's reign. Nepotism among the ruling class also stagnated social mobility, as well as encouraged rampant disregard of laws by nobles and led to the rise of local despots who bullied and oppressed other civilians. The heqin policy also failed to protect the Han borders against nomadic raids, with Xiongnu cavalries invading as close as 300 li from the capital during Emperor Wen's reign. Prominent politicians like Jia Yi (賈誼) and Chao Cuo (晁錯) had both previously advised on the necessity to important policy reforms, but neither Emperor Wen nor Emperor Jing was willing to implement such changes.

    Unlike the emperors before him, the young and vigorous Emperor Wu was unwilling to put up with the status quo. Merely a year into his reign in late 141 BC, under advice from Confucian scholars, Emperor Wu launched an ambitious reform, known in history as the Jianyuan Reforms (建元新政). However, his reform threatened the interests of existing noble classes, and was swiftly defeated by his grandmother Grand Empress Dowager Dou, who held real political power in the Han court. His two noble supporters, Dou Ying (竇嬰) and Tian Fen (田蚡, Empress Dowager Wang's half-brother), both had their positions stripped; and his two mentors, Wang Zang (王臧) and Zhao Wan (趙綰), were impeached, arrested and forced to commit suicide in prison. Emperor Wu, who was now deprived of any allies, was subjected to conspiracies to have him removed from the throne.

    At this point, Empress Chen had already married Emperor Wu for years but failed to achieve any pregnancies. In attempt to dominate his love, she also prohibited him from keeping other concubines. The fact that the youthful and energetic Emperor Wu was still childless, had been used by his political enemies as an excuse to consider deposing him, as the inability of an emperor to propagate royal bloodline was a serious matter. The speculation was to replace him with his distant uncle Liu An (劉安), the King of Huainan (淮南王), who was a renowned figure of Taoist ideology. Emperor Wu's political survival now relied heavily on the lobbying of his aunt/mother-in-law Princess Guantao, who served as a mediator for the Emperor's reconciliation with his powerful grandmother. Princess Guantao wasted no opportunities to exploit this leverage, and constantly made excessive demands from her son-in-law. Emperor Wu, already unhappy with Empress Chen's infertility (and himself being blamed for it) and spoilt behavior, was further enraged by her mother's greed. His mother Empress Dowager Wang however told him to stay put and tolerate such abuse for the moment, and wait for his chance as his aging grandmother was declining physically and would not be around for long. Emperor Wu took his mother's advice, then spent the next few years pretending to be docile, hedonistic and have given up all political ambitions, often sneaking out of the capital Chang'an for hunting and sightseeing posed as an ordinary marquess.

    Solidifying power

    Knowing that the conservative noble classes had occupied every level of the Han court, Emperor Wu changed his strategy. He secretly recruited a circle of young loyal supporters from ordinary upbringings, and promoted them to middle-level positions in order to infiltrate the executive ranks in the government. These newly established officials, known as the "insider court" (內朝), took orders and reported directly to Emperor Wu, and had genuine influence over actual operation of government affairs though lower in ranks. They became his potent countermeasure against the "outsider court" (外朝) made up of the Three Lords and Nine Ministers that at the time were mostly monopolized by the anti-reformist camp. Furthermore, Emperor Wu sent out nationwide edicts appealing to grassroots scholars to enroll in government services, in an attempt to break the stranglehold the older-generation noble class had on the nation's balance of power.

    In 138 BC, the southern autonomous state of Minyue (閩越國, in modern-day Fujian) invaded the weaker neighboring state of Dong'ou (東甌國, in modern-day Zhejiang). After their king Zuo Zhenfu (騶貞復) died on battlefield, the battered Dong'ou desperately sought help from the Han court. After a heated court debate over whether to offer military intervention for such a distant vassal state, Emperor Wu dispatched a newly promoted official Yan Zhu (嚴助) to Kuaiji (then still located in Suzhou rather than Shaoxing) to mobilize the local garrison. However the Tiger Tally (虎符), which was needed to authorize any use of armed forces, was under Grand Empress Dowager Dou's possession at the time. Yan Zhu, as the appointed imperial ambassador, circumvented this problem by executing a local army commander who refused to obey order without seeing the Tiger Tally and coerced the Chief of Kuaiji to mobilize a large naval fleet to Dong'ou's rescue. Seeing the much superior Han forces were on the way, Minyue became fearful and retreated. This was a huge political victory for Emperor Wu, and set the precedence of using the Emperor's decrees to bypass the Tiger Tally, hence removing the need for any approval from his grandmother. Now with the military firmly in his control, Emperor Wu's political survival was assured.

    In the same year, Emperor Wu's newly favored concubine Wei Zifu became pregnant with his first child, effectively clearing his name and silenced any political enemies who schemed to use infertility as an excuse to have him removed. When this news reached the state of Huainan, a deluded Liu An, who was hoping the young Emperor Wu would be deposed for "infertility" so he could ascend to the throne, was in a state of denial and awarded anyone who told him that Emperor Wu was still childless.

    In 135 BC, Grand Empress Dowager Dou died, and the last obstacle against Emperor Wu's ambition for reform was removed.

    The Han empire (dark orange) under administrative units control during Emperor Wu's reign (r. 141–87 BC), and sphere of influence (light orange)

    Imperial expansion

    Conquest of the south

    After the death of Grand Empress Dowager Dou in 135 BC, Emperor Wu had full authority of the nation. While his mother Empress Dowager Wang and his uncle Tian Fen were still influential, they lacked ability to restrain the Emperor's actions.

    Wudi began a military campaign of territorial expansion, initially almost destroying his empire, in the process. Reacting to border incursions by sending out the troops, Wudi sent his armies in all directions but the sea.[3]

    Conquest of Minyue

    After the Rebellion of the Seven States, the crown prince of the defeated rebel state of Wu, Liu Ju (劉駒), fled to the autonomous kingdom/state of Minyue, and was granted refuge by the Minyue king Luo Ying (雒郢). Out of hatred that the kingdom of Dong'ou refused to harbor his father Liu Pi (劉濞) and killed him for Emperor Jing, Liu Ju advised King Ying to attack Dong'ou and seize their land. In 138 BC, Minyue invaded its northeastern neighbor, killing the Dong'ou leader, King Zhenfu. The new Dong'ou king, Zou Wang (騶望), desperately sought help from the Han court. Tian Fen's opposition to military intervention mattered little, and Emperor Wu acted quickly by sending an army to occupy the coastal areas of Zhejiang and Fujian.[3] Upon hearing news of Han's expedition force being dispatched, Minyue grew afraid and withdrew. Fearful of another Minyue attack, King Wang purportedly requested that his people be allowed to relocate into China proper. Emperor Wu subsequently resettled them to the region between the Yangtze and Huai Rivers.

    In 135 BC, war broke out between Minyue and its southwestern neighbor Nanyue (南越國, the modern-day Two Guangs and part of Fujian). Zhao Tuo (趙佗), the founder of Nanyue, had had previously offered to submit as a Han vassal state in 179 BC. When Zhao Tuo died in 137 BC, he was over a hundred years old, having outlived his son Zhao Shi (趙始), and the throne was passed to his grandson Zhao Mo (趙眜). Seeing the new Nanyue king was young and inexperienced, the greedy Minyue king Zuo Ying decided to invade Nanyue. Zhao Mo sought help from the Han court, and Emperor Wu dispatched an amphibious expedition forces led by the Wang Hui (王恢) and Han Anguo (韓安國) to relieve the Minyue threat. Again fearing the Han intervention, the younger brother of King Ying, Luo Yushan (雒余善), conspired a coup with other Minyue nobles, killed his brother with a spear, decapitated the corpse and sent the severed head to Wang. Following the campaign, Minyue was split into a dual monarchy — Minyue, controlled by a Han proxy ruler Zou Chou (騶丑), and Dongyue (東越), ruled by Luo Yushan.

    As Han troops returned from the Han-Nanyue War in 111 BC, the Han government debated military action against Dongyue. Dongyue under the king Lou Yushan had agreed to assist the Han campaign against Nanyue, but the Dongyue army never reached there, blaming the weather as an excuse, while secretly relaying intelligence to Nanyue. Despite suggestion by General Yang Pu (楊僕), Emperor Wu dismissed the military proposal, and the Han forces arrived home without attacking Dongyue, though border garrisons were told to prepare for any military conflicts. After King Yushan was informed of this, he grew full of himself and responded by revolting against the Han, proclaiming himself emperor and assigned his "Han-devouring generals" (吞漢將軍) to invade neighboring regions controlled by Han. Enraged, Emperor Wu sent a combined army led by generals Han Yue (韓說), General Yang Pu, Commander Wang Wenshu (王溫舒) and two marquesses of Yue ancestry. The Han army crushed the rebellion, and the Dongyue kingdom began to fragment after King Yushan stubbornly refused to surrender, with elements of its own army defected and turned against their ruler. Eventually, the king of the other Minyue state, Zou Jugu (騶居股), conspired with other Dongyue nobles to kill King Yushan before surrendering to the Han forces. The two states of Minyue and Dongyue were then completely annexed under the Han rule.

    Conquest of Nanyue

    Further information: Han–Nanyue War

    In 135 BC, when Minyue attacked Nanyue, Nanyue also sought assistance from Han even though it probably had enough strength to defend itself — a sign of submission to the emperor's authority.[citation needed] Emperor Wu was greatly pleased by this gesture, and he dispatched an expedition force to attack Minyue, over the objection of one of his key advisors, Liu An, a royal relative and the Prince of Huainan. Minyue nobles, fearful of the massive Chinese force, assassinated their king Luo Ying (駱郢) and sought peace.[citation needed] In a stroke of genius, Emperor Wu imposed a dual-monarchy system on Minyue by creating kings out of Luo Ying's brother Luo Yushan (雒餘善) and nobleman Zou Chou (騶丑), thus ensuring internal discord in Minyue.[citation needed]

    Although initially launched as a punitive expedition by Emperor Wu, against the autonomous kingdom of Nanyue, by 111 BC, the entire Nanyue territory, which includes modern Guangdong, Guanxi, and North Vietnam, had been conquered by Emperor's military forces and annexed to the Han empire.

    War against the northern steppes

    Further information: Xiongnu and Han–Xiongnu War

    Military tension had long existed between ancient China and the northern "barbarians", mainly because the fertile lands of the prosperous agricultural civilization presented attractive targets for the poorer but more militaristic horseback nomads. Throughout Chinese history, protecting the northern borders from raids by various nomadic tribes had been a military priority, and the fall of Western Zhou dynasty was the direct result of sacking of the capital Haojing by a northwestern nomad known as Quanrong (犬戎). During the Warring States period, northern vassal states such as Yan, Zhao and Qin all resorted to defensive strategies, constructing elongated fortresses that served as the precursors of the Great Wall of China.

    The Xiongnu were initially a loose coalition of small steppe tribes, and gradually snowballed in size through conquest and alliance. During the Qin dynasty, the First Emperor conscripted thousands of civilian laborers to perfect the Great Wall in order to reinforce military campaigns along the northern border, and the famous general Meng Tian (蒙恬) led 300,000 troopers to purge the growing Xiongnu presence from the Hetao region (the modern day Ordos Loop). The Qin offensives were successful and "routed Xiongnu for 700 li, who dared not move south to graze horses (卻匈奴七百餘里,胡人不敢南下而牧馬)". However, after the murder of Meng Tian in the hands of Qin Er Shi and Zhao Gao, the Qin dynasty quickly collapsed from rampant rebellions, and the northern border's military establishments were abandoned. With China now emboiled in a chaotic civil war, the Xiongnu gained the opportunity to become unified under Modu Chanyu, who assassinated his father Touman Chanyu and seized power. He then expanded his territory by defeating and evicting the rival Donghu and Yuezhi, re-invaded the fertile Ordos grassland, and quickly rallied a powerful tribal confederacy that ruled over a vast territory across Central and North Asia.

    Han dynasty and the Xiongnu Empire had a very bitter relationship. When the Chu-Han war concluded, Emperor Gao of Han recognized the threat posed by its hostile northern neighbor and launched a massive campaign in 200 BC. However, after falling for a feigned defeat, Emperor Gao led a small detachment away from his main forces and was lured into an ambush encircled by 300,000 elite Xiongnu horse archers. The siege was relieved seven days later only after messengers were sent to bribe the Shanyu's wife. Following this failure, Emperor Gao realized that the nation, just recovered from a massive civil war, was not yet strong enough to confront the Xiongnu. He therefore resorted to the so-called "marriage alliance", or heqin (和親), in order to ease hostility and buy time for the nation to "rest and recover" (休養生息). Despite the periodic humiliation of appeasement and gifting, the Han borders were still frequented by Xiongnu raids for the next seven decades, with warning beacon fires visible from as near as Ganquan Palace during Emperor Wen's reign.

    During Emperor Wu's reign, he decided to solve the Xiongnu problem once and for all. Han China had sufficient economic recovery to support a full-scale war, and most importantly, the supply of warhorse were abundant. However, due to the influence from his powerful grandmother, Emperor Wu was unable to change any foreign policies and decided to go along with the status quo. He approved a heqin himself to Gunchen Chanyu in 140 BC during his first year of reign.

    End of de jure peace

    Further information: Battle of Mayi

    In 133 BC, at the suggestion of Wang Hui (王恢), the minister of foreign affairs (大行令), Emperor Wu decided proactively set a trap for Xiongnu. The idea was very similar to the "bait and ambush" strategy used by the famed Zhao general Li Mu during the late Warring State period. Under the plan, a powerful local trader, Nie Yi (聶壹), would falsely claim allegiance to Gunchun Chanyu, offering to kill the magistrate of the border town Mayi (馬邑, in modern Shuozhou, Shanxi) and open the city gate for Xiongnu to enter and loot. The Han army would secretly deploy 300,000 men around Mayi area, led by Li Guang (李廣), Gongsun He (公孫賀), Han Anguo (韓安國) and supported by Wang Hui and Li Xi (李息), in preparation to ambush the Chanyu once the Xiongnu raiders moved into the town.

    The plan worked at the start — Nie Yi hang the severed head of an executed prisoner over the city gate, and the Chanyu bought the bait and advanced on Mayi with his cavalry. However, the plan then ironically failed because the concealment attempt was too excessive. When the Chanyu closed in on Mayi, he saw fields full of cattle but with no herdsmen, and grew increasingly suspicious, and ordered his men to halt advance. Xiongnu scouts then captured a Han soldier from a local outpost, who confessed the entire plan. Shaken that there were 300,000 Han soldiers waiting to ambush him, the Chanyu quickly abandoned the raid and withdrew. Because of this sudden change, the Han forces were still moving into position and scattered at this point, unable to concentrate in time to catch the Xiongnu. Wang Hui, the commander of the entire operation, had only 30,000 troops under his direct command — too few to stop the Xiongnu from breaking out, so he hesitated and ordered the Han forces not to pursue. As a result, neither side suffered any casualties.

    This aborted ambush operation, known as the Mayi Scheme (馬邑之謀), not only failed to achieve any military success, but also revealed the young Emperor Wu's hawkish stance. In retaliation, Xiongnu would increase their border attacks the next few years. This in reality handed a propaganda victory to the pro-war faction's cause and solidified their control in the Han court, as now any wishful thinking for peace with Xiongnu was unrealistic. With the de jure "peace" between the Han and Xiongnu now shattered, the "marriage/gift for peace" policy was also officially abandoned.

    Back at the imperial court, Wang Hui's political enemies blamed him for the plan's failure and his reluctance to pursue the retreating Xiongnu army. Emperor Wu was also angry at Wang Hui because not only he did not achieve the victory he was promised, now the Han dynasty had prematurely ignited an open conflict with Xiongnu. Wang Hui was impeached and imprisoned, and he bribed Prime Minister Tian Fen in the hope of obtaining a parole. When Emperor Wu still refused to spare him, he then committed suicide in pride

    Wei Qing's campaigns

    The failure of the Mayi operation made Emperor Wu realize the difficulty for Han infantry to establish advantage against the more mobile Xiongnu cavalry, he became interested in switching the Han army's doctrine from the traditionally more defensive chariot/infantry warfare to a highly mobile and offensive cavalry-against-cavalry warfare. At the same time, he was also disappointed at the performance of existing generals, including the famous and seasoned veterans Li Guang, and began to look for younger generations of military hopefuls. In doing so, he expanded and trained officers from his royal guards. One such talent was Wei Qing, the half-brother of his favorite concubine Wei Zifu, who was also serving as his chief of staff/chief councillor and head of security service.

    In 129 BC, Xiongnu attacked the Shanggu Commandery (上谷郡, roughly modern-day Zhangjiakou, Hebei). Emperor Wu planned for Li Guang, Han Anguo, Gongsun He and Gongsun Ao (公孫敖) to lead four separate columns against Xiongnu. However, Han Anguo (who was politically against war with Xiongnu) fell from his carriage and injured his leg, so Emperor promoted Wei Qing in his place instead. The four generals then sortied, each leading 10,000 men, with Li Guang setting from Yanmen (雁門, modern-day Youyu County, Shanxi), Gongsun Ao from Dai Commandery (代郡, modern-day, Yu County, Hebei), Gongsun He from Yunzhong (雲中, modern-day Togtoh County, Inner Mongolia), and Wei Qing from Shanggu. Li Guang and Gongsun Ao both suffered major losses at Xiongnu's hands, while Gongsun He failed to encounter and engage the enemy. Wei Qing, however, distinguished himself by raiding Xiongnu's holy site Longcheng (龍城, roughly modern-day Ulanqab), killing over 700 Xiongnu soldiers in the process. As a reward for the victory (the first proper victory against Xiongnu in Han history), Wei was promoted to a higher command and created an acting Marquess of Guannei (關內侯).

    In 128 BC, Consort Wei Zifu gave birth to Emperor Wu's first son, Liu Ju, and was created Empress soon after. Later that year, Wei Qing, who was now officially a trusted member of Emperor Wu's extended family, led 30,000 cavalries from Yanmen Commandery, killing thousands of Xiongnu soldiers.

    In 127 BC, Wei Qing led a 40,000-strong cavalry from Yunzhong Commandery, then maneuver to Gaoque (高闕, modern-day Urad Rear Banner) to Longxi region (modern-day Gansu), and totally outflanking and surrounding the forces of Xiongnu's Princes of Loufan (樓煩王) and Baiyang (白羊王), killing 2,300 and capturing 3,017 Xiongnu soldiers as well as over a million cattle. According to records from Shiji and Hanshu, the battle was so swift and one-sided that the Han forces "returned with all warriors intact" (全甲兵而還), implying a near-zero casualty rate. The Han recapture of this territory forced the two Xiongnu tribes to withdraw from the fertile Hetao region (the Ordos steppe), and dealt devastating blow to their economy. The city of Shuofang (朔方城) was built, and later became a key stronghold for offensive and defensive campaigns against Xiongnu. For this achievement, Wei Qing was created the Marquess of Changping (長平侯), and his subordinates Su Jian (蘇建, father of the great Han patriot Su Wu) and Zhang Cigong (張次公) were also created marquesses.

    In 124 BC, Xiongnu's Right Worthy Prince (右賢王) made harassing raids against Shuofang in attempt to recapture the Hetao area. Wei Qing responded by launching a crushing long-distance night assault from Gaoque with 30,000 men, completely surprising and surrounding the Worthy Prince's main camp. Not only did the Han forces send the Worthy Prince running for his life from his drunken slumber (with only his own concubine following), they also took about 15,000 captives including a dozen Xiongnu nobles, and millions of cattle. This was by far the greatest victory against Xiongnu, and with the Worthy Prince's tribe routed and evicted, the threat of invasion on the capital Chang'an was removed for good. For this victory, Wei was made the Generalissimo (大將軍) of All Armed Forces, and his march was enlarged. His three young sons Wei Kang (衛伉), Wei Buyi (衛不疑), and Wei Deng (衛登) were also made marquesses (an offer later refused by Wei Qing), as well as seven generals under his command.

    In 123 BC, Wei Qing set off from Dingxiang (定襄, modern-day Qingshuihe County) and returned with several thousand enemy kills. A month later, Wei Qing again launched from Dingxiang, but would fight a relatively inconclusive battle. Although he was able to kill or capture more than 10,000 Xiongnu soldiers, part of his vanguard forces, a 3,000-strong regiment commanded by generals Su Jian and Zhao Xin (趙信, a surrendered former Xiongnu prince), encountered a Xiongnu force led by Yizhixie Chanyu (伊稚斜單于), and was outnumbered and annihilated. Zhao Xin defected on the field with his 800 ethnic Xiongnu subordinates, while Su Jian escaped after losing all his men in the desperate fighting. Due to the loss of Su's detachment, Wei Qing's troops did not earn any promotion, even though they scored more gains than losses. However, his young nephew Huo Qubing distinguished himself in battle by leading 800 men, capturing numerous Xiongnu nobles and killing 2,023 soldiers (including the Chanyu's grandfather), and was subsequently made a marquess.

    Huo Qubing's campaigns

    In 121 BC, Emperor Wu deployed Huo Qubing twice in that year against Xiongnu in the Hexi Corridor. During spring, Huo Qubing led 10,000 cavalry, fought through five Western Regions kingdoms within 6 days, advanced over 1,000 li over Mount Yanzhi (焉支山), killed about 9,000 enemies, and captured the Golden Statue used by Xiongnu for holy rituals.

    During the summer of the same year, Xiongnu attacked Dai Commandery and Yanmen. Li Guang, who was in charge of defending Right Beiping (右北平, modern-day Ningcheng County, Inner Mongolia), launched a not-so-successful counteroffensive supported by Zhang Qian (張騫). At the same time, Huo Qubing set off from Longxi with over 10,000 cavalry, supported by Gongsun Ao, who set off from Beidi Commandery (北地郡, modern-day Huan County, Gansu). Despite Gongsun Ao lost track and did not keep up later, Huo Qubing fought over 2,000 li without backup, all the way past Juyan Lake to Qilian Mountains, killing over 30,000 Xiongnu soldiers and capturing a dozen of Xiongnu princes.

    The loss inflicted by Huo Qubing was felt hard by the Xiongnu, who sang:

    Huo Qubing's victories dealt heavy blows to the tribes of the Xiongnu princes of Hunxie (渾邪王) and Xiutu (休屠王), who was occupying the Hexi Corridor. Out of frustration, Yizhixie Chanyu wanted to mercilessly execute those two princes as punishment. Feared for his own safety, the Prince of Hunxie contacted the Han dynasty in autumn of 121 BC to negotiate surrender. After being unable to persuade the his fellow prince to do the same, he killed the Prince of Xiutu and ordered Xiutu's forces to also surrender. When the two tribes went to meet the Han forces, Xiutu's forces rioted. Seeing the situation changed, Huo Qubing headed to the Xiongnu camp by himself, ordered the Prince of Hunxie to calm his men and stand down, before forcefully putting down 8,000 Xiongnu men who refused to disarm, effectively quelling the riot. The Hunxie tribe was then resettled into the Central Plain.

    The surrender of the Xiutu and Hunxie tribes stripped Xiongnu of any control over the Western Regions, depriving them a large grazing area. As a result, the Han dynasty successfully opened up the Northern Silk Road, allowing direct trade access to Central Asia. This also provided new supply of high-quality horse breeds from Central Asia, including the famed Ferghana horse (ancestors of the modern Akhal-Teke), further strengthening the Han army. Emperor Wu then reinforced this strategic asset by establishing five commanderies and constructing a length of fortified wall along the border of the Hexi Corridor, colonized the area with 700,000 Chinese soldier-settlers.[4]

    Achieving strategic dominance

    Further information: Battle of Mobei

    After the series of defeats by Wei Qing and Huo Qubing, Yizhixie Chanyu (伊稚邪) took Zhao Xin's advice and retreated his tribes to the north of the Gobi Desert, hoping that the barren land would serve as a natural barrier against Han offensives. Emperor Wu however, was far from giving up, and planned a massive expeditionary campaign in 119 BC. Han forces were deployed in two separate columns, each consisting of 50,000 cavalry and over 100,000 infantry, with Wei Qing and Huo Qubing serving as the supreme commander for each.

    Emperor Wu, who had been distancing Wei Qing and giving the younger Huo Qubing more attention and favor, hoped for Huo to engage the stronger Chanyu's tribe and preferentially assigned him the most elite troopers. The initial plan called for Huo Qubing to attack from Dingxiang and engage the Chanyu, with Wei Qing supporting him in the east from Dai Commandery to engage the Left Worthy Prince (左賢王). However, a Xiongnu prisoner of war confessed that the Chanyu's main force was at the east side. Unaware that this was actually a false information by Xiongnu, Emperor Wu ordered the two columns to switch routes, with Wei Qing now setting off on the western side from Dingxiang, and Huo Qubing marching on the eastern side from Dai Commandery.

    Battles at the eastern theater were quite straightforward, as Huo Qubing's forces were far superior to their enemies. Huo Qubing advanced over 2,000 li and directly engaged the Left Worthy Prince in a swift and decisive battle, quickly encircled and overran the Xiongnu, killing 70,443 men, and capturing three lords and 83 nobles, while suffering a 20% casualty rate that was quickly resupplied from local captures. He then went on to conduct a series of rituals upon arrival at the Khentii Mountains (狼居胥山, and the more northern 姑衍山) to symbolize the historic Han victory, then continued his pursuit as far as Lake Baikal (瀚海), effectively annihilating the Xiongnu clan. A separate division led by Lu Bode (路博德), set off on a strategically flanking route from Right Beiping, joined forces with Huo after arriving in time with 2,800 enemy kills. The combined forces then returned in triumph.

    The western theater, on the other hand, proved far more dramatic despite not regarded with much expectation from Emperor Wu. Wei Qing's force was comparatively weaker as it consisted mainly of leftover troops from Huo Qubing's preferential picks. Wei Qing also had other liabilities — he had five generals under his command that required assignments, including an old but enthusiastic Li Guang. Li Guang was promised a vanguard position earlier by Emperor Wu, who also secretly messaged Wei Qing not to give Li Guang any important mission roles as he was well known to be jinxed with "bad fortunes". Wei Qing then assigned Li Guang to join forces with the detachment of Zhao Shiqi (趙食其), who was in charge of the column's right wing, and conduct a flanking route on the east side. This arranged angered Li Guang, who protested and stormed out of the main camp.

    After marching over 1,000 li, Wei Qing's army was surprised to encounter the Yizhixie Chanyu's main forces, who had been long waiting in anticipation to ambush their adversary. The odds were against the Han forces, as they were exhausted from just crossing the desert, and were outnumbered, especially since the eastern division failed to arrive on the battlefield in time. Not giving the Han forces any time to regroup, the Chanyu ordered a first wave of attack with a 10,000-men cavalry. Wei Qing responded quickly by ordering his troops to arrange heavily armored chariots, known as Wugang Wagons (武剛車), into ring formations, effectively creating wagon forts that provided protection against Xiongnu cavalry charges. Furthermore, he deployed a 5,000-strong cavalry among the chariot rings to reinforce the array, eradicating any Xiongnu horsemen who were not shot down by Han archers and crossbowmen. This countermeasure was very effective in neutralizing the initial momentum of Chanyu's assault, and bought time for the Han forces to recover energy. The battle then solidified into a stalemate which lasted until dusk, when a sandstorm obscured the battlefield. Knowing that this was his chance, Wei Qing ordered his main cavalry to encircle the Chanyu's army with a pincer attack using the low visibility as cover. The Xiongnu soldiers, already fatigued after a day of unsuccessful attempt to breach the Han army's lines, now had their morale broken by the sight of Han soldiers attacking them in the darkness. Seeing that his forces were getting overrun, Chanyu escaped under the escort of only a few hundred men. The Han forces killed over 19,000 enemies and pursued the remainder over 200 li to the Khangai Mountains, besieged and captured the Zhao Xin Fortress (趙信城, located in the Orkhon Valley), where all of Xiongnu's supplies were stationed. After a day of resupply, Wei Qing's forces burned the Xiongnu stronghold to the ground before returning in triumph.

    The eastern division commanded by Li Guang and Zhao Shiqi, got lost in the desert and missed the battle entirely. After they rejoined the main force, Li and Zhao were summoned to a court-martial to explain why they failed to accomplish orders and put the entire battle strategy at risk. Li Guang, frustrated and humiliated that he missed the last chance to obtain enough battle distinctions for a marquisate title, committed suicide to preserve his honor.

    This battle, known as the Battle of Mobei (漠北之戰), was a decisive victory for the Han dynasty. With both the Chanyu and Left Worthy Prince's tribes defeated and weakened, Han China now held strategic dominance over Xiongnu. Yizhixie Chanyu himself went missing for over 10 days, resulting in his tribe presuming his death and installed a new leader who had to be removed after the he finally reappeared, further destabilizing the Xiongnu confederacy. For the Xiongnu, any military loss would reflect directly on their economy, and now knowing that the Han forces was capable of expedition across the desert, they retreated further north into the Siberian regions, suffering starvation due to livestock (their vital food resource) loss from harsh climates and miscarriages during reproductive seasons. The battle was however also costly for the Han dynasty — the Han army lost almost 80% of their warhorses due to combat and non-combative causes, including plague caused by the Xiongnu contamination of water supply with dead cattle. The cost of the war led the central Han government to introduce new levies, increasing the burden on average peasants, and the population census of the empire dropped significantly due to famines and people going rogue to flee the taxes.

    Li Guangli's campaigns

    Cessation of military actions

    Invasion of the Korean Peninsula

    Emperor Wu made an invasion of the Korean Peninsula by establishing the Commandery of Canghai (蒼海), but abandoned it in 126 BC. Some of his military colonies survived into the 4th century, leaving behind various particularly well preserved funerary artifacts.[3] However, this did not turn out to be a successful expansion of territorial control.

    Diplomacy and exploration

    Emperor Wu dispatching Zhang Qian to Central Asia from 138 to 126 BCE, Mogao Caves mural, 618–712 CE.

    The exploration into Xiyu was first started in 139 BC, that Emperor Wu commissioned Zhang Qian to seek out the Kingdom of Yuezhi, which had been expelled by Xiongnu from the modern Gansu region, to entice it to return to its ancestral lands with promises of Han military assistance, in order to fight against Xiongnu together. Zhang was immediately captured by Xiongnu once he ventured into the desert, but was able to escape around 129 BC and eventually made it to Yuezhi, which by then had relocated to Samarkand. While Yuezhi refused to return, it and several other kingdoms in the area, including Dayuan (Kokand) and Kangju, established diplomatic relationships with Han. Zhang was able to deliver his report to Emperor Wu when he arrived back in the capital Chang'an in 126 BC after a second and shorter captivity by Xiongnu. After the Prince of Hunxie surrendered the Gansu region, the path to Xiyu became clear, and regular embassies between Han and the Xiyu kingdoms commenced.

    Han Wudi sent ambassadors to the Dian Kingdom in Yunnan. Bronze sculpture depicting Dian people, 3rd century BCE.

    Another expansion plan, this one aimed at the southwest, was soon initiated as well. The impetus for this expansion was aimed at eventual conquest of Nanyue, which was viewed as an unreliable vassal, by first obtaining the submission the southwestern tribal kingdoms — the largest of which was Yelang (modern Zunyi, Guizhou) — so that a route for a potential back-stabbing attack on Nanyue could be made. The Han ambassador Tang Meng (唐蒙) was able to secure the submission of these tribal kingdoms by giving their kings gifts, and Emperor Wu established the Commandery of Jianwei (犍為, headquarters in modern Yibin, Sichuan) to govern over the tribes, but eventually abandoned it after being unable to cope with native revolts. Later, after Zhang Qian returned from the western region, part of his report indicated that by going through the southwestern kingdoms, embassies could reach Shendu (India) and Anxi (Parthia) easier. Encouraged by the report, in 122 BC, Emperor Wu sent ambassadors to try to again persuade Yelang and Dian (滇, modern eastern Yunnan) into submission.

    Magic and religion

    Emperor Wu worshipping two statues of Golden Man (or Buddha?) in 121 BC, Mogao Caves, Dunhuang, ca. 8th century CE.([5])

    It was also during this time that Emperor Wu began to show a fascination with immortality, and he began to associate with magicians who claimed to be able to, if they could find the proper ingredients, create divine pills that would confer immortality. However, he himself punished others' use of magic severely. In 130 BC, for example, when Empress Chen was found to have retained witches to curse Consort Wei and to try to regain Emperor Wu's affections, he had her deposed and the witches executed.


    In 128 BC, Consort Wei bore Emperor Wu his first-born son, Liu Ju. She was created empress later that year, and he was created crown prince in 122 BC.

    Liu An prepares coup

    In 122 BC, Liu An, the Prince of Huainan (a previously trusted adviser of Emperor Wu, and closely enough related to have imperial pretensions), and his brother Liu Ci (劉賜), the Prince of Hengshan, were accused of plotting treason. They committed suicide, and their families and many alleged co-conspirators were executed.

    Another Xiongnu war

    In 119 BC, Emperor Wu launched a new attempt to permanently defeat the Xiongnu empire, by making a major excursion against Xiongnu's headquarters. Wei and Huo's forces were able to make a direct assault on Chanyu Yizhixie's forces, nearly capturing him and annihilating his army. It was at this battle, however, that the famous general Li Guang, whose fortunes had been effectively sabotaged by Wei's strategic plan (who, as the supreme commander, had ordered Li to take a flanking route through a region without Xiongnu forces but which lacked food and water, resulting in Li's forces becoming lost and unable to join the main forces), committed suicide after being told that he would be court-martialed for his failures. Even though both Wei and Huo were successful, Emperor Wu particularly praised Huo and rewarded him with many others; it was from this point on that Huo began to receive primacy over the forces over his uncle Wei. After Xiongnu suffered these heavy losses, the Chanyu sought heqin peace with Han again, but broke off peace talks after Han made it clear that it wanted Xiongnu to become a vassal instead.

    Despotism at home

    Around the same time, perhaps as a sign of what would be to come, Emperor Wu began to trust governing officials who were harsh in their punishments. For example, one of those officials, Yi Zong (義縱), when he became the governor of the Commandery of Dingxiang (part of modern Hohhot, Inner Mongolia), executed 200 prisoners even though they had not committed capital crimes — and then executed their friends who happened to be visiting as well. Emperor Wu came to believe that this would be the most effective method to maintain social order and so put these officials in power. A famous wrongful execution happened in 117 BC, the victim of which was the minister of agriculture Yan Yi (顏異). Yan had previously offended the emperor by opposing a plan to effectively extort double tributes out of princes and marquesses — by requiring them to place their tributes on white deer skin, which the central government would sell them at an exorbitantly high price. Later, Yan was falsely accused of committing a crime, and during the investigation, it became known that once, when a friend of Yan's criticized a law promulgated by the emperor, Yan, while not saying anything, moved his lips. Yan was executed for "internal defamation" of the emperor, and this caused the officials to be fearful and willing to flatter the emperor.

    Further territorial expansion, old age, and paranoia

    Starting about 113 BC, Emperor Wu appeared to begin to display further signs of abusing his power. He began to incessantly tour the commanderies, initially nearby Chang'an, but later extending to much farther places, worshipping the various gods on the way, perhaps again in the search of immortality. He also had a succession of magicians whom he honored with great things, even, in one case, making one a marquess and marrying a daughter to him. (That magician, Luan Da (欒大), after he was exposed to be a fraud, however, was executed.) Emperor Wu's expenditures on these tours and magical adventures put a great strain on the national treasury and caused difficulties on the locales that he visited, twice causing the governors of commanderies to commit suicide after they were unable to supply the emperor's entire train.

    In 112 BC, a crisis in the Kingdom of Nanyue (modern Guangdong, Guangxi, and northern Vietnam) would erupt that would lead to military intervention by Emperor Wu. At that time, the King Zhao Xing (趙興) and his mother Queen Dowager Jiu (樛太后) — a Chinese woman whom Zhao Xing's father Zhao Yingqi (趙嬰齊) had married while he served as an ambassador to Han — were both in favor of becoming incorporated into Han. This was opposed by the senior prime minister Lü Jia (呂嘉), who wanted to maintain the kingdom's independence. Queen Dowager Jiu tried to goad the Chinese ambassadors into killing Lü, but the Chinese ambassadors were hesitant to do so. When Emperor Wu sent a 2,000-men force, led by Han Qianqiu (韓千秋) and Queen Dowager Jiu's brother Jiu Le (樛樂), to try to assist the king and the queen dowager, Lü staged a coup d'etat and had the king and the queen dowager killed. He made another son of Zhao Yingqi, Zhao Jiande (趙建德), king. He then annihilated the Han forces under Han and Jiu. Several months later, Emperor Wu commissioned a five-pronged attack against Nanyue. In 111 BC, the Han forces captured the Nanyue capital Panyu (番禺, modern Guangzhou) and annexed the entire Nanyue territory into Han, establishing ten commanderies.

    Later that year, one of the co-kings of Minyue (modern Fujian), Luo Yushan, fearful that Han would next attack his kingdom, made a preemptive attack against Han, capturing a number of towns in the former Nanyue and in the other border commanderies. In 110 BC, under Han military pressure, his co-king Luo Jugu (駱居古) assassinated Luo Yushan and surrendered the kingdom to Han. However, Emperor Wu did not establish commanderies in Minyue's former territory, but moved its people to the region between Yangtze and Huai Rivers.

    Later that year, Emperor Wu, at great expense, carried out the ancient ceremony of fengshan (封禪) at Mount Tai — ceremonies to worship heaven and earth, and to offer a secret petition to the gods of heaven and earth, presumably seeking immortality. (He decreed that he would return to Mount Tai every five years to repeat the ceremony, but only did once, in 98 BC; still, many palaces were built for him and the princes to accommodate the anticipated cycles of the ceremony.)

    It was around this time that, in reaction to the large expenditures by Emperor Wu that had exhausted the national treasury, his agricultural minister Sang Hongyang (桑弘羊) conceived of a plan that many dynasties would repeat later, by creating national monopolies for salt and iron. The national treasury would further purchase other consumer goods when the prices were low and sell them when the prices were high at profit, thus replenishing the treasury while at the same time making sure the price fluctuation would not be too great.

    In 109 BC, Emperor Wu would start yet another territorial expansion campaign. Nearly a century ago, a Chinese General named Wiman had taken the throne of Gojoseon and had established Wiman Joseon at Wanggeom-seong (王險), modern Pyongyang), which became a nominal Han vassal. A conflict would erupt in 109 BC, when Wei Man's grandson King Ugeo (衛右渠, 위우거) refused to permit Jin's ambassadors to reach China through his territories. When Emperor Wei sent an ambassador She He (涉何) to Wanggeom to negotiate right of passage with King Ugeo, King Ugeo refused and had a general escort She back to Han territory — but when they got close to Han borders, She assassinated the general and claimed to Emperor Wu that he had defeated Joseon in battle, and Emperor Wu, unaware of his deception, made him the military commander of the Commandery of Liaodong (modern central Liaoning). King Ugeo, offended, made a raid on Liaodong and killed She. In response, Emperor Wu commissioned a two-pronged attack, one by land and one by sea, against Joseon. Initially, Joseon offered to become a vassal, but peace negotiations broke down by the Chinese forces' refusal to let a Joseon force escort its crown prince to Chang'an to pay tribute to Emperor Wu. Han took over the Joseon lands 108BC and established four commanderies.

    Also in 109 BC, Emperor Wu sent an expeditionary force against the Kingdom of Dian (modern eastern Yunnan), planning on conquering it, but when the King of Dian surrendered, Dian was incorporated into Han territory with the King of Dian being permitted to keep his traditional authority and title. Emperor Wu established five commanderies over Dian and the other nearby kingdoms.

    In 108 BC, Emperor Wu sent general Zhao Ponu (趙破奴) on a campaign to Xiyu, and he forced the Kingdoms of Loulan on northeast border of the Taklamakan Desert and Cheshi (modern Turpan, Xinjiang) into submission. In 105 BC, Emperor Wu gave a princess from a remote collateral imperial line to Kunmo (昆莫), the King of Wusun (Issyk Kol Basin) in marriage, and she later married his grandson and successor Qinqu (芩娶), creating a strong and stable alliance between Han and Wusun. The various Xiyu kingdoms would also strengthen their relationships with Han, in general. An infamous Han war against the nearby Kingdom of Dayuan (Kokand) would soon erupt in 104 BC. Dayuan refused to give in to Emperor Wu's commands to surrender its best horses, Emperor Wu's ambassadors were then executed when they insulted the King of Dayuan after his refusal. Emperor Wu commissioned Li Guangli (李廣利), the brother of a favorite concubine Consort Li, as a general to direct the war against Dayuan. In 103 BC, Li Guangli's army of 26,000 men (20,000 Chinese & 6,000 steppe cavalry),[6] without adequate supplies, suffered a humiliating loss against Dayuan, but in 102 BC, Li with a new army of 60,000 men,[7] was able to put a devastating siege on its capital by cutting off water supplies to the city, forcing Dayuan's surrender 3,000 of its prized horses.[7] This Han victory further intimidated the Xiyu kingdoms into submission.

    Emperor Wu also made attempts to try to intimidate Xiongnu into submission, but even though peace negotiations were ongoing, Xiongnu would never actually submit to becoming a Han vassal during Emperor Wu's reign. In 103 BC, indeed, Chanyu Er would surround Zhao Ponu and capture his entire army — the first major Xiongnu victory since Wei Qing and Huo Qubing nearly captured the chanyu in 119 BC. Following Han's victory over Dayuan in 102 BC, however, Xiongnu became concerned that Han could then concentrate against it, and made peace overtures, but peace negotiations would be destroyed when the Han deputy ambassador Zhang Sheng (張勝) was discovered to have conspired to assassinate Chanyu Qiedihou (且鞮侯). The ambassador, the later-famed Su Wu would be detained for two decades. In 99 BC, Emperor Wu commissioned another expedition force aimed at crushing Xiongnu, but both prongs of the expedition force would fail — Li Guangli's forces became trapped but was able to free itself and withdraw, while Li Ling (李陵), Li Guang's grandson, surrendered at the end after being surrounded and inflicting large losses on Xiongnu forces. One year later, receiving an inaccurate report that Li Ling was training Xiongnu soldiers, Emperor Wu had Li's clan executed. Li's friend, the famed historian Sima Qian (whom Emperor Wu already bore a grudge against because Sima's Shiji was not as flattering to Emperor Wu and his father Emperor Jing as Emperor Wu wanted), who tried to defend Li's actions, was castrated.

    In 106 BC, in order the further better organize the territories, including both the previously-existing empire and the newly conquered territories, Emperor Wu divided the empire into 13 prefectures (zhou, 州), but without governors or prefectural governments at this time — that would come later. Rather, he assigned a supervisor to each prefecture, who would visit the commanderies and principalities in the prefecture on a rotating basis to investigate corruption and disobedience with imperial edicts.

    In 104 BC, Emperor Wu built the luxurious Jianzhang Palace (建章宮) — a massive structure that was intended to make him closer to the gods. He would later reside at that palace exclusively rather than the traditional Weiyang Palace (未央宮), which Xiao He had built during the reign of Emperor Gao.

    About 100 BC, due to the heavy taxation and military burdens imposed by Emperor Wu's incessant military campaigns and luxury spending, there were many peasant revolts throughout the empire. Emperor Wu issued an edict that was intended at suppressing the peasant revolts, by making officials whose commanderies saw unsuppressed peasant revolts liable with their lives — but which had the exact opposite effect, since it became impossible to suppress all of the revolts, and the officials would merely cover up the existence of the revolts. He executed many people made fake coins.[8]

    In 96 BC, a series of witchcraft persecutions would begin. Emperor Wu, who was paranoid over a nightmare of being whipped by tiny stick-wielding puppets and a sighting of a traceless assassin (possibly a hallucination), ordered extensive investigations with harsh punishments. Large numbers of people, many of whom were high officials, were accused of witchcraft and executed, usually with their entire clans. The first trial began with Empress Wei Zifu's elder brother-in-law Gongsun He (公孫賀, the Prime Minister at the time) and his son Gongsun Jingsheng (公孫敬聲, also an imperial official, but under corruption charges), quickly leading to the execution of their entire clan. Also caught in this disaster were Crown Prince Ju's two elder sisters Princess Yangshi (陽石公主, who was said to have a romantic relationship with her cousin Gongsun Jingsheng) and Princess Zhuyi (諸邑公主), as well as his cousin Wei Kang (衛伉, the eldest son of the deceased general Wei Qing), who were all accused of witchcraft and executed in 91 BC. Soon, these witchcraft persecutions would become intertwined in the succession struggles and erupt into a major catastrophe.

    Crown Prince Ju revolt

    In 94 BC, Emperor Wu's youngest son Liu Fuling was born to a favorite concubine of his, Consort Zhao. Emperor Wu was ecstatic in having a child at such an advanced age (62 years old), and because Consort Zhao purportedly had a post-term pregnancy that lasted 14 months long — same as the mythical Emperor Yao — he named Consort Zhao's palace gate "Gate of Yao's mother". This led to speculations that the Emperor, due to his favor for Consort Zhao and Prince Fuling, wanted to make Liu Fuling the crown prince instead. While there was no evidence that he actually intended to do anything as such, over the next few years, conspiracies against Crown Prince Ju and Empress Wei began, under the inspiration of such rumors.

    Up to this point, there had been a cordial but somehow fragile relationship between Emperor Wu and his crown prince, who perhaps was not as ambitious as his father wished, and Wudi, as he grew older, grew less attracted to Ju's mother, Empress Wei Zifu, though continuing to respect her. When Wudi left the capital, he delegated authority to Crown Prince Ju. Eventually, however, the two began to have disagreements over policy, with Ju favoring more lenient policy and Wu's advisers (harsh and sometimes corrupt officials) urging the opposite. After Wei Qing's death in 106 BC and Gongsun He's execution, Prince Ju had no strong allies left in the government, the other officials began to publicly defame and plot against him. Meanwhile, Emperor Wu was becoming more and more isolated, spending time with young concubines, often remaining unavailable to Ju or Wei.

    Conspirators against Prince Ju included Jiang Chong (江充), the newly appointed head of secret intelligence, who had once had a run-in with Ju after arresting one of his assistants for improper use of an imperial right of way. Another conspirator was Su Wen (蘇文), chief eunuch in charge of caring for imperial concubines, who had previously made false accusations against Ju, claiming he was joyful over Wu's illness and had an adulterous relationship with one of the junior concubines.

    Many charges were made by Jiang or others of witchcraft against important persons in the Han court. And, Jiang and Su decided on using witchcraft as the excuse to move against Prince Ju. Jiang, with approval from Emperor Wu, who was then at his summer palace in Ganquan (甘泉, in modern Xianyang, Shaanxi), searched through various palaces, ostensibly for witchcraft items, eventually reaching Prince Ju's and Empress Wei's palace. While completely trashing up the palaces with intensive digging, he secretly planted witchery dolls and pieces of cloth with mysterious writings, and then announced that he had found them there during the search. Prince Ju was shocked, knowing that he was framed. His teacher Shi De (石德), invoking the story of Ying Fusu of the Qin dynasty, and raised the possibility that Emperor Wu might already be dead, suggested that Prince Ju start an uprising to fight the conspirators. Prince Ju initially hesitated, want to speed to Ganquan Palace to defend himself before his father. But, when he found out that Jiang's messengers were already on their way, he decided to follow Shi's suggestion.

    Prince Ju sent an individual to impersonate a messenger from Wudi to lure and arrest Jiang and the other conspirators. Su escaped, but Ju accused Jiang of sabotaging his relationship with his father, and personally killed Jiang. Then with his mother's support of his mother, led his guards, enlisted civilians, and prisoners, in preparation to defend himself.

    Su fled to Ganquan Palace and accused Prince Ju of treason. Emperor Wu, not believing it to be true and correctly (at this point) believing that Prince Ju had merely been angry at Jiang, sent a messenger back to Chang'an to summon Prince Ju. The messenger did not dare to proceed to Chang'an, but instead returned and gave Emperor Wu the false report that Prince Ju was conducting a coup. Enraged, Emperor Wu ordered his nephew, Prime Minister Liu Qumao (劉屈犛), to put down the rebellion.

    The two sides battled in the streets of Chang'an for five days, but Liu Qumao's forces prevailed after it became clear that Prince Ju did not have his father's authorization. Prince Ju was forced to flee the capital following the defeat, accompanied only by two of his sons and some personal guards. Apart from a grandson Liu Bingyi, who was barely a month old and thrown into prison, all other members of his family were left behind and killed, and his mother Empress Wei committed suicide when Emperor Wu sent officials to depose her. Their bodies were carelessly buried in suburban fields without proper tomb markings. Prince Ju's supporters were brutally cracked down, and civilians aiding the Crown Prince were exiled. Even Tian Ren (田仁), an official City Gatekeeper who did not stop Prince Ju's escape, and Ren An (任安), an army commander who chose not to actively participate in the crackdown, were accused of being sympathizers and executed.

    Emperor Wu continued to be enraged and ordered that Prince Ju be tracked down, but after a junior official Linghu Mao (令狐茂) risked his life and spoke on Prince Ju's behalf, Emperor Wu's anger began to subside, but he had not yet issued a pardon for Prince Ju. This would later be proven to cost the Crown Prince's life.

    Prince Ju fled to Hu County (湖縣, in modern Sanmenxia, Henan) and took refuge in the home of a poor peasant family. Knowing that their good-hearted hosts could never afford the daily expenditure of so many people, the Prince decided to seek help from an old friend who lived nearby. However, this move exposed their whereabouts, and was soon tracked down by local officials eager for rewards. Surrounded by troops and see no chance of escape, the Prince committed suicide by hanging. His two sons and the family housing them died with him after the government soldiers eventually broke into the yard and killed everyone. The two local officials who led the raid, Zhang Fuchang (張富昌) and Li Shou (李寿), wasted no time to take the Prince's body to Chang'an and claim rewards from Emperor Wu. Emperor Wu, although greatly saddened to hear the death of his son, had to keep his promise and rewarded the officials contributed in the crackdown.

    Late reign and death

    Even after Jiang Chong and Prince Ju both died, however, the witchcraft affairs would continue. One final prominent victim was the general Li Guangli, who was Consort Li's brother and had prior victories over Dayuan and Xiongnu despite causing unnecessary losses with his military incompetence. In 90 BC, while Li was assigned to a campaign against Xiongnu, a eunuch named Guo Rang (郭穰) exposed that Li and his political ally, Prime Minister Liu Qumao, conspired to use witchcraft on Emperor Wu. Liu and his family were immediately arrested and later executed, and Li's family was also under custody. Li, after knowing the news, realised that going home is no longer an option, so he used risky tactics to attempt a major victory against Xiongnu in order to build up a future standoff against Emperor Wu, but failed when some of his senior officers mutinied. On his retreat, he was ambushed by Xiongnu forces, and he defected to Xiongnu. His clan was executed by Emperor Wu not long after. Li himself later fell victim to the infighting with older Han traitors in Xiongnu, especially one named Wei Lü (衛律), who was extremely jealous of the amount of Chanyu's favor Li gained as a new, high-profile defector.

    By this time, however, Emperor Wu had begun to realize that the witchcraft accusations were often false accusations, especially in relation to the Crown Prince rebellion. In 92 BC, when Tian Qianqiu (田千秋), then the superintendent of Emperor Gao's temple, wrote a report claiming that Emperor Gao told him in a dream that Prince Ju should have only been whipped at most, not killed, Emperor Wu had a revelation about what happened, and he had Su burned and Jiang's family executed. He also made Tian prime minister. However, although he claimed to miss Prince Ju greatly (he even built a palace and an altar for his deceased son as a sign of grief and regret), he did not at this time rectify the situation where Prince Ju's only surviving progeny, Liu Bingyi, languished in prison as a child.

    The political scene now greatly changed. Emperor Wu publicly self-criticized and apologized to the whole nation about his past policy mistakes, a gesture known to history as the Repenting Edict of Luntai (輪台悔詔). The Prime Minister Tian he appointed was in favor of resting the troops and the people and promoting agriculture, and under his recommendation, several agricultural experts were made important members of the administration. Wars and territorial expansion generally ceased. These policies and ideals were those supported by Crown Prince Ju, and was finally realised years after he was dead.

    File:Story of Jin Midi.JPG
    The story of Jin Midi. Wu Liang Shrine, Jiaxiang, Shandong province, China. 2nd century AD. Ink rubbings of stone-carved reliefs as represented in Feng Yunpeng and Feng Yunyuan, Jinshi suo (1824 edition), n.p.

    By 88 BC, Emperor Wu was terminally ill, but with Prince Ju dead, there was no clear successor. Liu Dan, the Prince of Yan, was Emperor Wu's oldest surviving son, but Emperor Wu considered both him and his younger brother Liu Xu, the Prince of Guangling, to be unsuitable, since neither respected laws. He decided that the only one suitable was his youngest son, Liu Fuling, who was only six at that time. He therefore also chose a potential regent in Huo Guang, whom he considered to be capable and faithful, and entrusted Huo with the regency of Fuling. He also ordered the execution of Prince Fuling's mother Consort Zhao, in fear that being at her prime age she would become an uncontrollable empress dowager like the previous Empress Lü. At Huo's suggestion, he also made ethnic Xiongnu official Jin Midi and general Shangguang Jie co-regents. He died in 87 BC, shortly after creating Prince Fuling crown prince. Crown Prince Fuling then succeeded to the throne as Emperor Zhao for the next 13 years.

    Because Emperor Wu did not create anyone empress after Empress Wei Zifu committed suicide, and left no instruction on who should be enshrined in his temple with him, Huo, after Emperor Wu's death, considered what his wishes would have been, chose to enshrine Consort Li with Emperor Wu. They lie buried in the Maoling mound, the most famous of the so-called Chinese pyramids. Huo Guang sent 500 beautiful women there for the died emperor.[9] Folk tells about 200 of them were executed later for having sex with the guards. Huo's clan were killed later and the emperor's tomb was looted by Chimei.


    Historians have treated Emperor Wu with ambivalence, and there are certainly some contradictory aspects in regard to what is known of him. He roughly doubled the size of the Han empire of China during his reign, and much of the territory which he annexed is now part of modern China. He officially encouraged Confucianism, yet as did Qin Shi Huang, he personally used a legalist system of rewards and punishments to govern his empire.

    Emperor Wu is said to have been extravagant and superstitious, allowing his policies to burden his population. As such he is often compared to Qin Shi Huang.[10] The punishment for perceived failures and disloyalty was often exceedingly harsh. His father paroled many participants of Rebellion of the Seven States from execution, and made some work in constructing his tomb.[11] Wudi killed ten thousands of people and their families over the Liu An affair (淮南之獄), Hengshan (衡山之獄),[12] his witchcraft prosecution (巫蠱之亂or巫蠱之禍), and killed first members of one side, then the other in the Prince Ju revolt (戾太子之亂),.[13]

    He used some of his wives' relatives to fight Xiongnu, many becoming famous generals.

    Entire families (Wei(衛), Huo(霍), Li(李)) were killed in different political cases later.

    He forced his last queen to commit suicide. Out of the twelve prime ministers appointed by Emperor Wu, three were executed and two committed suicide while holding the post; another was executed in retirement. He set many special prisons (詔獄) and caught nearly two hundred thousand people in it.[14]

    Wudi was a great emperor of the Han dynasty and one of the greatest emperors in Chinese history, due to his effective governance which made the Han dynasty one of the most powerful nations in the world.[15]

    Emperor Wu's political reform resulted in the strengthening of the Emperor's power at expense of the prime minister's authority. Also, the post of Shangshu (court secretaries) was elevated from merely managing documents to that of the Emperor's close advisor, and it stayed this way until the end of monarchy era.

    In 140 BC, Emperor Wu of Han conducted an imperial examination of over 100 young scholars. Having been recommended by officials, most of the scholars were commoners with no noble background. This event would have a major impact on Chinese history, marking the official start of the establishment of Confucianism as official imperial doctrine. This came about because a young Confucian scholar, Dong Zhongshu, was evaluated to have submitted the best essay, in which he advocated the establishment of Confucianism. It is unclear whether Emperor Wu, in his young age, actually determined this, or whether this was the result of machinations of the prime minister Wei Wan (衛綰), who was himself a Confucian. However, the fact that several other young scholars who scored highly on the examination (but interestingly enough, not Dong) later became trusted advisors for Emperor Wu would appear to suggest that Emperor Wu himself at least had some actual participation.[16]


    Various important aspects of Han poetry are associated with Han Wudi and his court, including his direct interest in poetry and Wu's patronage of poets. Han Wudi was a patron of literature, who has a number of poems attributed to him.[17] As to the poetry on lost love, some of the pieces attributed to him are beautiful and wonderful, however, critical questions remain on whether Wudi was the actual author of these certain pieces of verse.[17] The following work is on the death of Li Furen, one of his favorite concubines/wives.[18]

    The sound of her silk skirt has stopped.
    On the marble pavement dust grows.
    Her empty room is cold and still.
    Fallen leaves are piled against the doors.
    How can I bring my aching heart to rest?


    Chu ci patronage

    Further information: Chuci

    Wudi is famous poetically for a revival of interest in the poetry of and in the style of the area of the former Chu kingdom during the early part of his reign, in part because of his near relative Liu An.[20] Some of this Chu material was later anthologized in the Chu Ci.

    Other patronage

    Further information: Wu (shaman)

    The Chuci genre of poetry from its origin was linked with Chu shamanism,[21] and Han Wudi both supported the Chu genre of poetry in the earlier years of his reign, and also continued to support shamanically-linked poetry during the later years of his reign.

    Han Gaozu, founder of the Han dynasty had installed shaman cultists from the area of the former state of Jin (in the area of the modern province of Shanxi) as official religious functionaries of his new empire.[22] Emperor Wu worshiped the divinity Tai Yi (or, Dong Huang Tai Yi),[23] a deity to whom he was introduced by his shaman advisers, who were able to provide Wudi with the experience of having this god (and other spiritual entities, such as the Master of Fate, Si Ming) summoned into his presence;[24] and the emperor even went so far as to construct a "House of Life" (shou gong) chapel at his Ganquan palace complex (甘泉, in modern Xianyang, Shaanxi) specifically for this purpose, in 118 BC.[25] One of the religious rituals which Emperor Wu organized was the Suburban Sacrifice,[23] and the nineteen hymns entitled Hymns for Use in the Suburban Sacrifice were written in connection with these religious rites and published during Wu's reign.[26] Wudi employed poets and musicians in writing lyrics and scoring tunes for various performances, and also patronized choreographers and shaman in this same connection for arranging the dance movements and to coordinate the spiritual and the mundane: Han Wudi was quite fond of the resulting lavish ritual performances, especially night time rituals where the multitudinous singers, musicians, and dancers would perform in the brilliant lighting provided by of thousands of torches.[27]

    Development of the fu

    Further information: fu (poetry)

    The fu style typical of Han poetry also took shape during the reign of Han Wudi, and in his court, with poet and official Sima Xiangru as a leading figure. However, Sima's initial interest in the chu ci style later gave way to his interest in more innovative forms of poetry. And, the emperor himself, after his patronage of poets familiar with the Chu ci material or writing in that fashion, during the early part of his reign, later seems to have turned his interest and his court's interest to other literary fashions.[20]

    Music Bureau yuefu

    Further information: Music Bureau and Yuefu

    Another of Emperor Wu's major contribution to poetry was through his organization of the Imperial Music Bureau (yuefu) as part of the official governmental bureaucratic apparatus: the Music Bureau was charged with matters related to music and poetry, as poetry lyrics are a part of music, and traditional Chinese poetry was considered to have been chanted or sung, rather than spoken or recited as prose. The Music Bureau greatly flourished during the reign of Emperor Wu of Han.[28] Han Wudi has been widely cited to have created the Music Bureau in 120 BCE;[29] however, it seems more likely that there was a long-standing office of music and that as part of his governmental reorganization Wu enlarged its size, changed its scope and function, as well as possibly renaming it –– thus seeming and being credited with establishing a new institution, the stated tasks of which were apparently to collect popular songs from various areas within the Han Empire, as well as external sources and to adapt and orchestrate these, as well as to develop new material.[30] Wudi's Music Bureau not only collected folk songs and ballads from where they originated throughout the country, but also collected songs reportedly based on Central Asian tunes or melodies, with new lyrics which were written to harmonize with the existing tunes, and characterized by varying line lengths and the incorporation of various nonce words.[31] In any case, Wudi is widely held to have used the Music Bureau as an important part of his religious innovations and to have specifically commissioned Sima Xiangru to write poetry.[32] Because of the development and transmission of a particular style of poetry by the Music Bureau, this style of poetry has become known as the "Music Bureau" style, or yuefu (and also in its later development referred to as "new yuefu", or "imitation", or "literary yüeh-fu" ).

    TV and Film

    Emperor Wu, one of the most famous emperors of ancient China, has made appearances in quite a lot of Chinese TV dramas, like:

    Family information

    • Father
    • Mother
    • Siblings
      • Princess Pingyang (平陽公主), also known as Eldest Princess Yangxin (陽信長公主) before marriage to Cao Shi (曹時), the Marquess of Pingyang
      • Princess Nangong (南宮公主)
      • Princess Longlü (隆慮公主)
    • Wives:
    • Concubines:
      • Consort Wang (王夫人), mother of Prince Hong
      • Lady Li (李姬), mother of Princes Dan and Prince Xu
      • Consort Li (李夫人), mother of Prince Bo, posthumously made Empress Wu (孝武皇后) by Huo Guang
      • Lady Yin (尹婕妤), also known as Consort Yin (尹夫人)
      • Lady Xing (邢娙娥), also known as Consort Xing (邢夫人)
      • Lady Zhao (趙婕妤), mother of Liu Fuling, also known as Consort Fist (拳夫人) or Consort Hook (鉤弋夫人), executed/forced suicide 88 BC, posthumously made Empress Dowager Zhao (趙太后) by her son Emperor Zhao
    • Children
      • Eldest Princess Wei (衛長公主), also known as Princess Dangli (當利公主)
      • Princess Zhuyi (諸邑公主), executed 91 BC
      • Princess Shiyi (石邑公主)
      • Liu Ju (劉據, b. 128 BC, d. 91 BC), also known as Crown Prince Wei (衛太子, created 122 BC) or posthumously Crown Prince Li (戾太子), committed suicide 91 BC after being framed and forced into failed uprising
      • Princess Yangshi (陽石公主), executed 91 BC
      • Princess Yi'an (夷安公主), married to her cousin Chen Yu (陳豫), Lord Zhaoping (昭平君) and son of Emperor Wu's sister Princess Longlü
      • Princess Eyi (鄂邑公主), later made Eldest Princess Gai (蓋長公主) after Emperor Zhao's ascension to throne, committed suicide 80 BC after conspiring with Prince Dan, Shangguan Jie (Empress Shangguan's grandfather) and Sang Hongyang in a failed coup against Emperor Zhao and Huo Guang
      • Liu Hong (劉閎), Prince Huai of Qi (齊懷王, created 117 BC, d. 109 BC)
      • Liu Dan (劉旦), Prince La of Yan (燕刺王, created 117 BC), committed suicide 80 BC after failed coup against Emperor Zhao and Huo Guang
      • Liu Xu (劉胥), Prince Li of Guangling (廣陵厲王, created 117 BC), committed suicide 53 BC
      • Liu Bo (劉髆), Prince Ai of Changyi (昌邑哀王, created 97 BC, d. 86 BC)
      • Liu Fuling (劉弗陵), later Emperor Zhao of Han (b. 94 BC, d. 74 BC)
    • Grandchildren
      • Liu Jin (劉進), also known as Prince Grandson Shi (史皇孫), son to Liu Ju and father to Liu Bingyi, killed 91 BC
      • Liu He (劉賀, b. 92 BC, d. 59 BC), the Prince of Changyi (昌邑王) and the son to Liu Bo, ascended to throne 74 BC and deposed 27 days later for committing 1,127 misconducts, later made the Marquess of Haihun (海昏侯, created 63 BC) by Emperor Xuan
    • Great Grandchildren
      • Liu Bingyi (劉病已), son of Liu Jin, originally known as Prince Great-Grandson (皇曾孫), later renamed to Liu Xun (劉詢) after ascension to throne 74 BC as Emperor Xuan of Han (b. 91 BC, d. 49 BC)


    Era names

    • Jianyuan (建元 py. jiàn yuán) 140 BC – 135 BC
    • Yuanguang (元光 py. yuán guāng) 134 BC – 129 BC
    • Yuanshuo (元朔 py. yuán shuò) 128 BC – 123 BC
    • Yuanshou (元狩 py. yuán shòu) 122 BC – 117 BC
    • Yuanding (元鼎 py. yuán dĭng) 116 BC – 111 BC
    • Yuanfeng (元封 py. yuán fēng) 110 BC – 105 BC
    • Taichu (太初 py. tài chū) 104 BC – 101 BC
    • Tianhan (天漢 py. tiān hàn) 100 BC – 97 BC
    • Taishi (太始 py. tài shĭ) 96 BC – 93 BC
    • Zhenghe (征和 py. zhēng hé) 92 BC – 89 BC
    • Houyuan (後元 py. hòu yuán) 88 BC – 87 BC


    1. ^ Had his name changed into the more suitable Che when he was officially made crown prince in April 150 BC.
    2. ^ Literally meaning "martial".
    3. ^ Literally meaning "filial and martial".


    1. ^ This courtesy name is reported by Xun Yue</small>(荀悅) (148–209),
      the author of Records of the Han Dynasty
      (漢紀), but other sources
      do not mention a courtesy name.</span>
    2. ^ a b Paludan, 36
    3. ^ a b c d Paludan, 37
    4. ^ Paludan, 38
    5. ^ However, note that there is no historical record of Emperor Wu actually being aware of Buddhism. The first confirmed contact between a Chinese emperor and Buddhist doctrines would not happen until a century later, during the reign of Emperor Ming. Zizhi Tongjian, vol. 45.
    6. ^ C. Peers, Imperial Chinese Armies: 200 BC – 589 AD, 7
    7. ^ a b C. Peers, Imperial Chinese Armies: 200 BC – 589 AD, 8
    8. ^ Hanshu, vol.24
    9. ^ 漢武故事
    10. ^ Zizhi Tongjian, vol. 22.
    11. ^ 院重大B类课题“东汉洛阳刑徒墓”完成结项
    12. ^ Hanshu, vol.44
    13. ^ Hanshu, vol.45
    14. ^ Zhao Yi's 廿二史劄記, vol. 3
    15. ^ Bo Yang's commentary in the Modern Chinese edition of Zizhi Tongjian, vol. 7, and Zhao Yi (趙翼)'s commentary included therein.
    16. ^ Zizhi Tongjian, vol. 17.
    17. ^ a b Rexroth, 133
    18. ^ Morton, W. Scott. China: "Its History and Culture". p. 54. ISBN 0-07-043424-7. 
    19. ^ Translation, Arthur Waley, 1918 (in One Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems)
    20. ^ a b Hawkes, 29
    21. ^ 39
    22. ^ Hawkes, 98
    23. ^ a b Hawkes, 100
    24. ^ Hawkes, 42 and 97
    25. ^ Hawkes, 118
    26. ^ Hawkes, 119
    27. ^ Hawkes, 97
    28. ^ Birrell, 5-6
    29. ^ Birrell, 7
    30. ^ Birrell, 6-7
    31. ^ Watson, 53
    32. ^ Birrell, 6
    33. </ol>


    Emperor Wu of Han
    Born: 156 BC Died: 86 BC
    Regnal titles
    Preceded by
    Emperor Jing of Han
    Emperor of China
    Western Han
    141–87 BC
    Succeeded by
    Emperor Zhao of Han