Three Kingdoms History: Liu Bang (Gaozu)

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Liu Bang (Gaozu or Gaodi)
Lived (256-195 BC), Ruled (206/202-195 BC)

Han Ruler and Emperor Biographies
Authoring and Translation by
Edited by Tuyet Wu

Liu Bang (Gaozu or Gaodi)

A pleasant and broad-minded man, well known for his generosity and willingness to help others was Liu Bang. Liu Bang (memorable name Wei) was born to peasant parents in Pei County of Jiangsu Province during the late Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC). As an adult, Liu Bang served as an official, responsible for the Sishui River.

In the year 209 BC, the Qin Emperor Ying Zheng passed away and his second son Hu Hai took over the throne. Emperor Hu Hai was even of inferior quality than his late father. He neglected his responsibilities as emperor and allowed the eunuch Zhao Gao to govern the country on his behalf.

Not long after Emperor Hu Hai’s ascension, an uprising began, led by Chen Sheng and Wu Kuang. Xiang Liang and Xiang Yu from Jiang Dong, Ying Bu from Po Yang and Peng Yue from Yu Je all joined the uprising against the Qin Dynasty.

Liu Bang could no longer stand by helplessly. He returned to his hometown, and with the help of Xiao He, Cao Can, Fan Kuai, and Zhou Bu managed to round up three thousand volunteer troops. He bestows the title of Pei Gong and led his army to capture Hu Ling and Fang Yu.

In the later part of the year 209 BC, Cheng Sheng was killed and Xiang Liang took over his armies. Later on in Xue Di, Xiang Liang made the Prince of Chu's grandson the new leader of Chu.

Liu Bang moved his forces to Xue Di and aligned himself with the Chu forces. Xiang Liang welcomed him and enlarged Liu Bang’s armed forces to five thousand men.

Xiang Liang was killed while on a reinforcement mission in the north. The Prince of Chu sent Xiang Yu to help in the north, and sent Liu Bang to attack the Qin from the west.

Liu Bang, with the help of his advisors Zhang Liang and Li Shiqi easily captured Wan castle, and later Wu pass. His armies marched through to Xian Yang (Chang An). In the Qin Palace, the eunuch Zhao Gao killed the Emperor Hu Hai. However, Zi Ying succeeded the throne after taking revenge for the late Emperor by killing Zhao Gao.

In the year 206 BC, Liu Bang breaks through the forces at Xian Yang and Zi Ying surrendered the palace. Liu Bang abandoned the harsh Qin laws, reduced taxes, and instituted three regulations to protect the common people; this made Liu Bang very popular with the people.

After Liu Bang’s victory over the Qin, Xiang Yu arrived at Xian Yang and with an army of four hundred thousand troops, camped at Xin Feng and Hong Meng. Xiang Yu’s advisor Fan Zheng secretly plotted Liu Bang’s assassination by requesting Xiang Yu to invite Liu Bang for a banquet at Hong Meng.

Liu Bang refused the invitation, but Zhang Liang told Liu Bang that he must attend due to the size of Xiang Yu’s armed forces. Liu Bang accepted the invitation. At the banquet, Xiang Yu’s cousin Xiang Zhuang tried to assassinate Liu Bang, but was stopped by Xiang Yu’s uncle Xiang Bo and Fan Kuai.

In the same year, Xiang Yu proclaimed himself Prince of Western Chu (Xi Chu Ba Wang) and entitled eighteen Warlords of Chu. Liu Bang was given the title Prince of Han (Han Wang) and moved into the lands of Ba-Shu (Yizhou). Liu Bang left behind his father and wife who were captured by Xiang Yu.

Xiang Yu did not stay in Xian Yang; he left three former Qin Generals: Zhang Han, Sima Xin, and Dong Yi to guard the Liang and Yong provinces, and returned to his Capital: Peng.

When Liu Bang entered Ba-Shu, he ordered his men to burn the Jian path to show that he would not return to Xian Yang.

In Han Zhong, Liu Bang focused his efforts on developing new agricultural methods for the people and trained his troops. He accumulated vast wealth and used it to increase his military power.

Zhang Liang, Han Xin, and Xiao He helped form a plan of attack for Liu Bang. When Liu finished his preparations, he sent his armies secretly past Chen Chang and launched a surprise attack on the Liang and Yong provinces.

Zhang Han, Sima Xin, and Dong Yi surrendered to Liu Bang, and the Han forces reclaimed Xian Yang. At the same time, Tian Rong was dissatisfied with Xiang Yu and started a revolt; he joined forces with the Prince of Zhao and attacked Chu.

Xiang Yu led his forces east to crush the revolt. In the meantime, he ordered the Prince of Jiu Jiang, Ying Bu, to escort the Chu Emperor (former King of Chu) to Peng and assassinated him along the way.

When news spread that the Emperor was dead, Liu Bang used it as excuse to ally with the Warlords against Xiang Yu.

In the year 205 BC, Liu Bang attacked Peng with 560,000 troops while Xiang Yu was battling against the traitors in his Kingdom. Xiang Yu quickly returned with his army and slaughtered the Han army.

During the escape from Peng, Liu Bang had two of his children with him, an older daughter, and a younger son. Fearing that Xiang Yu would capture them, Liu Bang pushed them out of his cart and ordered the driver, Xiao Ying, to go on with the retreat. After a while, Xiao Ying saw that the Chu armies were not chasing Liu Bang, so he turned around to rescue the two children.

Liu Bang escaped to Rong Yang, and Xiao He quickly sent reinforcements. Liu Bang realized that he could not match Xiang Yu’s strength and ability, and thus sent Han Xin to attack Wei, Zhao, Yan, and Qi.

Within a year, Han Xin conquered four new territories and surrounded the remaining Chu army. Ying Bu and Peng Yue both left Xiang Yu and joined Liu Bang, causing Xiang Yu to lose his power in the east. During the siege on Xiang Yu’s camp, Xiang Yu used Liu Bang’s wife and father to force Liu Bang to surrender. However, Xiang Yu was deceived by Liu Bang’s offer of peace and foolishly returned the captives to Liu Bang.

In the year 202 BC, Liu Bang signed a treaty with Xiang Yu. They agreed that the west would belong to the Han, and the east belongs to Chu. With this agreement, Xiang Yu lead his troops back to Peng, but Liu Bang who sent Han Xin and Peng Yue to trap his army betrayed him.

Liu Bang’s army then trapped Xiang Yu at He Xia, but Xiang Yu was able to make a desperate escape. He finally committed suicide at Wu Jiang and ended the four-year war between Chu and Han.
Shortly after, Liu Bang proclaimed himself Han Emperor and took Xian Yang as his new capital, then renamed it Chang An. He wanted it to become the grandest city in the world and invested many funds in building a palace.

After establishing the Han Empire, Liu Bang’s fight for power continued. He fought numerous small wars against former allies: Han Xin, Chen Xi, and Peng Yue, in order to consolidate power in west China.

Another power that threatened Liu Bang’s supremacy was a confederation of northern tribes lead by a Turkish speaking tribe called Xiong Nu. The Xiong Nu people were nomadic herders with supplementary agriculture and slaves. The Xiong Nu warriors had been making raids into China for a few years.

Liu Bang knew that his military was not strong enough to defeat the northern tribes, so he bribed the Xiong Nu with food and clothing in exchanged for a peace treaty. He also sent a young woman, who he claimed was a Chinese princess, into marriage with a Xiong Nu prince.

In an effort to create a centralised management for his empire, Liu Bang needed an army of civil servants. Moreover, for reliable control of the empire, Liu Bang installed his brothers, uncles, and cousins as regional princes.

Liu Bang continued to support of the warlords that were in his coalition against the Qin, and made them lesser nobles. Local Qin administrators who supported Liu Bang were left in place, and some friendly nobles were given back their lands.

Drawing on his peasant origins, Liu Bang expressed his discontent with scholars by urinating into the hat of a court scholar. However, he later came to see the benefit in the use of scholars and he made peace with them. Many scholars were Confucianists, and Liu Bang began treating them with greater tolerance, while he continued to outlaw Confucianist denunciations of the legalist point of view.

Besides the Confucianists, Liu Bang kept looking for good civil servants and he found them in families of a new class of farmers called the gentry. Liu bang rejected military men for civil positions, and Liu did not have any trust in merchants, whom were used by pervious Emperors to do administrative tasks.

Instead, he turned to men from landowning families, mostly families that had grown wealthy in recent generations. This new class (the gentry) was to send its most able sons into government careers and let its less able sons run the farms. Additionally, with new interests in opportune marriages, the new class began treating its females with more respect.

Before Liu Bang’s death, he wanted his second son to become the heir to the throne, so he asked his Crown Prince to become a Commander and fight Ying Bu. Knowing that Liu Bang wanted to hill the heir, Empress Lü used a trick to stop her son from going into war. Because of this, Liu Bang was forced to fight Ying Bu himself as Commander of his armies. During this attack, an arrow struck Liu Bang, resulting in a severe injury.

Liu Bang plotted the assassination of Empress Lü and his oldest son but died at the age of sixty-one, when he suffered a relapse from his former injuries, the order for the assassination was therefore never sent out. Liu Bang was immortalized as Emperor Gao-Di.

Copyright © 2002 - 2003 and Tuyet Wu
Major Sources: Shi Ji (Sima Qian)
Ancient Chinese History and Emperors (Brian Williams)
with notes from William Ho and Quentin Tran