Personal stamp of Liu He
|Emperor of the Han dynasty|
|Reign||18 July – 14 August 74 BC|
|King of Changyi|
|Marquis of Haihun|
Changyi, Han Empire
Haihun County, Yuzhang Commandery, Han Empire
Liu He (Chinese: 劉賀; pinyin: Liú Hè; ?–59 BC) was an emperor of the Chinese Han dynasty with the era name Yuanping (Chinese: 元平; pinyin: Yuánpíng). Originally King (or Prince) of Changyi (Chinese: 昌邑王; pinyin: Chāngyì Wáng), he was installed by the powerful minister Huo Guang as emperor in 74 BC, but deposed only 27 days later, and omitted from the official list of emperors. He lost his original kingdom of Changyi and was demoted to the rank of marquis. He was given the new fief of Haihun in modern Jiangxi Province, and therefore became known as the Marquis of Haihun (Chinese: 海昏侯).
Background and career as King of Changyi
His grandmother was Lady Li, a favoured concubine of Emperor Wu of Han. His father, Liu Bo (劉髆), King Ai of Changyi (昌邑哀王) died in 88 BC, and he inherited his father's kingdom in 86 BC. (Historical records imply that he was a toddler at that time.) Liu Bo was a son of Emperor Wu of Han. After Emperor Wu's crown prince Liu Ju committed suicide in 91 BC, Liu Bo was among the candidates for the title of crown prince; the title ultimately went to young Liu Fuling, who succeeded Emperor Wu as Emperor Zhao of Han.
There are issues in gaining an accurate picture of Liu He and his life as King of Changyi because it is based on material written about him after he was deposed, and may very well be biased and/or fabricated.
In his teenage years, the mayor of the kingdom's capital, Wang Ji (王吉), offered honest criticism of Liu He's inappropriate behaviour, urging him to be more studious and humble. Liu He appreciated Wang's report and rewarded him, but did not change his ways. Similarly, when Liu He associated with people of ill reputation who engaged in vulgarity and wasteful spending, the commander of his guards, Gong Sui (龔遂) begged him to change his ways, and Liu He agreed, but soon after dismissed the guards that Gong had recommended and brought his previous companions back. Gong could do nothing about it.
Accession to the throne
When Prince He's uncle Emperor Zhao died in 74 BC without a son, the regent Huo Guang rejected Liu Xu (劉胥), the Prince of Guangling and the only surviving son of Emperor Wu, from the succession, because Emperor Wu himself did not favour Prince Xu, who was known for being impulsive in his actions. He therefore turned to Prince He, who was Emperor Wu's grandson. Prince He was very pleased with this decision, and immediately departed from his capital Shanyang (山陽, in modern Jining, Shandong) and headed for the imperial capital Chang'an, at such a frenetic pace that his guards' horses fell dead from exhaustion. Wang Ji urged him against racing at such speed, reasoning that it was inappropriate during a time of mourning, but Prince He brushed aside the suggestion. Along the way, he ordered local government officials to offer him a special kind of chicken (known for their ability to crow for a long time) and women. (During periods of mourning, he would have been required to abstain from sexual relations.) When Gong confronted him about it, he blamed it on the director of his slaves, who was then executed.
When Prince He arrived at the capital, he first stayed at the Changyi mission to the capital. He then attended a formal session of mourning for Emperor Zhao, before accepting the throne.
Brief reign as emperor
Once he became emperor, Prince He immediately began to give rapid promotions to his subordinates from Changyi. He also failed to observe the period of mourning properly. Rather he feasted day and night and went out on tours. Gong became concerned, but was unable to get Prince He to change his ways.
Prince He's behaviour as emperor surprised and disappointed Huo Guang, who pondered his options. At the suggestion of the agricultural minister Tian Yannian (田延年), Huo began to consider deposing the new emperor. He consulted with General Zhang Anshi (張安世) and Prime Minister Yang Chang (楊敞), who agreed to the plan; Yang agreed upon the urgings of his wife Sima Ying, a daughter of Sima Qian.
Removal from the throne
Just 27 days into the new emperor's reign, Huo and the other officials took action. They summoned a meeting of high level officials and announced the plan to depose the emperor, forcing those other officials to go along with the plan or be killed. In a group, they went to Empress Dowager Shangguan's palace to report to her about Prince He's offences and their plan. She agreed with their plan, and ordered that Prince He's Changyi subordinates be immediately barred from the palace. These subordinates (some 200 individuals) were then arrested by Zhang. She then summoned Prince He, who did not know what was going to happen. He only knew something was wrong when he saw Empress Dowager Shangguan seated on her throne and wearing a formal dress made of jewels, and the officials lined up next to her.
Huo and the top officials then offered their articles of impeachment against Prince He, and these articles were read out loud to the Empress Dowager. Empress Dowager Shangguan verbally rebuked Prince He. The articles of impeachment listed as the main offences (in a total of 1127 examples of misconduct) that Prince He committed during his 27-day reign as an emperor:
- Refusal to abstain from meat and sex during the period of mourning
- Failure to keep the imperial safe secure
- Improperly promoting and rewarding his Changyi subordinates during the period of mourning
- Engaging in feasts and games during the period of mourning
- Offering sacrifices to his father during the period of mourning for his uncle
Empress Dowager Shangguan approved the articles of impeachment and ordered Prince He deposed. He was then transported under heavy guard back to the Changyi mission. Both Prince He and Huo offered personal apologies to each other.
As part of the articles of impeachment, the officials asked that Empress Dowager Shangguan to exile Prince He to a remote location. However, she did not do so, but rather returned him to Changyi without any titles, although he was given a small fief of 2,000 families who would pay tribute to him. His four sisters were also awarded smaller fiefs of 1,000 families respectively.
Prince He's Changyi subordinates were accused of failing to keep his behaviour in check and were almost all executed. Wang and Gong were spared because of their prior advice to him, but were ordered to undergo hard labour. The only other official spared was Prince He's teacher Wang Shi (王式), who successfully argued that he tried to use his teachings of poems to show Prince He what was proper and what was improper. Some historians argued that the reason why the Changyi officials were dealt with so harshly was that Huo was convinced that they were plotting with Prince He to have him killed, but there is no conclusive evidence of either such a plot or that the harsh treatment was as the result of such a plot or suspected plot.
Huo later settled on Liu Bingyi (劉病已), the commoner grandson of the former Crown Prince Liu Ju, an uncle of Prince He, as the new emperor, and he ascended to the throne 27 days later as Emperor Xuan. For years, although Prince He was powerless and without titles, Emperor Xuan was suspicious of him, but a report by Zhang Chang (張敞), the governor of the Commandery of Shanyang, in 64 BC, in which Zhang downplayed Prince He's level of intelligence, alleviated those concerns.
In 63 BC, Emperor Xuan created Prince He the Marquess of Haihun, a county located in modern Jiangxi. It is considered that Emperor Xuan continued to be concerned about Prince He despite Zhang's report, and therefore chose to send him far away from his former principality. The former emperor died in 59 BC as a marquess, survived by 16 wives and 22 children. His son Liu Daizong (劉代宗) was not initially allowed to inherit his title, but ultimately was allowed to do so during the reign of Emperor Yuan.
The tomb of Marquis of Haihun was found in 2011 and the excavation is ongoing. The tomb is located in the northern part of Xinjian in Jiangxi. About 20,000 artefacts have been unearthed from the tomb. Among the unearthed artifacts, there are more than 300 gold objects, 2 million copper coins, a mirror containing the earliest known image of Confucius. In 2019, scholar Jue Guo contested the prevailing identification of the artifact as a “dressing mirror,” claiming it was in fact a talisman. Also the long lost Qi version of the Analects was found in the tomb. An application has been submitted for the tomb of the Marquis of Haihun listed as a World Heritage Site.
- Liu Bo, Prince Ai of Changyi (昌邑哀王 劉髆; d. 88 BC), the fifth son of Liu Che
- Liu Chongguo (劉充國)
- Liu Fengqin (劉奉親)
- Liu Daizong, Marquis of Haihun (海昏侯 劉代宗)
- "Excavation of Haihunhou Tomb in China Completed". New Historian. Retrieved 22 February 2017.
- "Identity of Han-Dynasty marquis confirmed". Chinanews.com. Retrieved 22 February 2017.
- "Confucius depicted on mirror". The Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Archived from the original on 22 February 2017. Retrieved 22 February 2017.
- Jue Guo, “The Life and Afterlife of a Western Han ‘Covered Mirror��� from the Tomb of Marquis of Haihun (59 B.C.E.)”, Journal of Chinese History, 2019, 3, 203–232.
- "Qi version of 'Analects of Confucius' discovered in Haihunhou tomb". The Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Archived from the original on 16 January 2017. Retrieved 22 February 2017.
Liu HeDied: 59 BC
Emperor Zhao of Han
| Emperor of China
with Huo Guang (74 BC)
Emperor Xuan of Han
| King of Changyi
88 – 74 BC
|Merged in the Crown|
|New creation|| Marquis of Haihun
73 BC – 59 BC
Title next held byLiu Daizong, Marquis Li