Three Kingdoms History: Emperor Shao (Liu Bian)

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Emperor Shao (Liu Bian)Emperor Shao (Liu Bian)
少帝 (劉辯)

Comprehensive Officer Biography
Translated & Authored by

Place of Birth: Luoyang, Si Li Province
Lifespan: AD 173 – 190 (17 Years)
Titles: Lord Shi, King of Hongnong, Emperor Shao
Family: Empress He (mother), Emperor Ling (father), Empress-Dowager Dong, Lady Jun of Wuyang (grand-mothers), Emperor Huan, Marquis of Wuyang (grand-fathers), Emperor Xian (half-brother), He Miao, He Jin (uncles), Aunt (married to the son of Zhang Rang)

Liu Bian was the son of the Han Emperor Ling, and his head concubine Lady He. He had a younger half-brother, Liu Xie, borne from the Beauty Wang, but Lady He poisoned the Beauty Wang out of jealousy. Emperor Ling had several other children, but all of them died when they were still young (1). In an effort to protect his children, Emperor Ling sent Liu Bian to live with a Taoist named Shi Zimiao, and thus he came to be named Lord Shi. His brother Liu Xie was sent to live with the Empress-Dowager Dong, the mother of Emperor Ling, and thus he came to be named Lord Dong. Emperor Ling had always favoured Liu Xie for his intelligence and way of speech, Liu Bian was easily frustrated, and often confused (2)

(1) Emperor Ling and his father Emperor Huan were famous for having a lot of concubines and children. However, during this period of time, infant death was very common. In the case of Emperors, the death of their children was considered to be an ill omen and would forebode disaster in the Empire.
(2) HHS: Zhang Fan [in Houhan Ji] notes: "The young Emperor Xian resembles his father." Shi Fa notes: "Whenever [Liu] Xie spoke, they would find he was wise and had great foresight."

In the sixth year of Central Stability, AD 189, Emperor Ling was gravely ill, and he had not officially named an heir for his position. The Lady He was now Empress and the chief wife, but Liu Xie was favoured as the heir by his grand-mother. Out of precaution, Emperor Ling put Liu Xie under the protection of Jian Shi (3). On May 13th of that year, Emperor Ling passed away. On May 15th, Liu Bian ascended the throne as Emperor Shao, and the Empress He became the Empress-Dowager. The reign title was changed to Prosperous Radiance (Guangxi), and a general amnesty was proclaimed (4).

(3) Jian Shi, a eunuch, held formal control over the current military forces. It was tradition that the Emperor would make the first son of his chief wife the heir, however, in Han tradition, the Emperor could chose any of his sons as successors. Perhaps Emperor Ling did not directly assign Liu Xie as heir out of fear for Empress He and her brother He Jin. Thus he entrusted the care of his youngest son to one of eunuchs.
(4) An amnesty back then was usually only given out in the first year of rule of a new Emperor. Heavy sentences or exiles would be lifted or reduced, sometimes people would even get a full pardon. This system was highly criticised in the later Han, and did not really have that much significance.

Liu Xie was thus made King of Bohai, and General of the Rear Yuan Wei was made Grand Tutor (5). Later, he changed his brother’s title to King of Chen Liu. His uncle, He Jin, was still General-in-Chief, and Empress-Dowager He held court in the name of her son. On May 27th, He Jin had the eunuch Jian Shi executed, and thus control of the military fell into his hands. With Emperor Shao on the throne, Empress-Dowager He in the court, and He Jin in command, the He family took over almost complete control of the Empire. Emperor Shao’s grandmother, Empress-Dowager Dong, did not approve of He Jin, and she would openly berate Empress He, and threaten to have her brother killed by Dong Zhong. Thus He Jin drafted a memorial for the removal of Empress-Dowager Dong from the palace. The Emperor approved, and she was sent away. On June 7th, He Jin stripped Dong Zhong of his rank, after which the general comitted suicide. On July 7th, Emperor Shao’s grandmother Empress-Dowager Dong died. On July 17th, Emperor Shao lead the funeral procession for his late father Emperor Ling, who was then burried at Wenling.

(5) For more iformation on the rank given to Liu Xie, see note 5 to the biography of Empress He.

Emperor Shao’s court was being divided by his mother Empress He and his uncle He Jin. The latter tried again and again to remove the eunuchs from the court system. However, Emperor Shao’s other uncle He Miao, and his grandmother Lady Jun of Wuyang had often received bribes from the eunuchs, and were inclined to protect them. Therefore the Empress He would alwas go against He Jin. Yuan Shao, an official under He Jin and nephew of Grand Tutor Yuan Wei, devised many schemes to erradicate the eunuchs, but He Jin was indecisive and would not take drastic measures. At one point, He Jin summoned the regional commanders and had them display their strength to intimidate the eunuchs. At this also, He Jin had sent orders for Dong Zhuo to move his troops into the capital. After receiving his orders, he sent a memorial to the court, asking for permission to execute the eunuchs. Empress He refused to cooperate, and He Jin sent a messenger to stop Dong Zhuo from advancing. Yuan Shao started to gather regional commanders near the palace, and thus the worried Empress He dismissed all of the eunuchs. Yuan Shao sent orders to the regional commanders, stating that He Jin wanted all of the eunuchs returning home to be executed. He Jin would not give his consent, but while he was thinking of what to do, the eunuchs caught wind of the this plan, and tricked Empress He into reinstating them. Yuan Shao grew impatient, and again urged He Jin to get rid of the eunuchs. On September 22nd He Jin came to the court and asked for permission to execute the eunuchs. This was overheard by the eunuchs, who ambushed and killed him the same day. When word got out, Yuan Shu, Wang Kuang and Zhong Zhong, former officers of He Jin, all attacked the Yellow Gates of the inner chambers, looking for the eunuchs. The eunuchs panicked and told the Empress that He Jin had rebelled. They thus took Emperor Shao and the King of Chen Liu and escaped with them to the northern palace (6).

(6) Note six to the biography of Empress He: Additionally, the palace of Luoyang was seperated between a southern and northern part. These parts were connected with each other through a covered passage, which was an elevated passage that allowed court officials and royalty to travel between parts without having to use normal streets. De Crespigny, quoting Bielenstein: Lo-yang.

While escaping with Empress He, the Emperor, and his brother, the eunuchs were confronted with Lu Zhi who recited their wrongdoings. Duan Gui let go of the Empress-Dowager He, who escaped through the side door. Zhang Rang took the Emperor and the King of Chen Liu all the way to Xiaoping crossing. Lu Zhi and Min Gong faced them, and after Lu Zhi had slain several of the men, Zhang Rang and several others drowned themselves. Meanwhile, back at the palace, Yuan Shu and his men had slaughtered almost everyone, giving no regard to age or rank. From his position outside of the capital, Dong Zhuo could see the fires from the Yellow Gate, and immediately moved his troops towards the palace. He encountered the Emperor Shao and the King of Chen Liu, who were traveling back to the palace on horseback, accompanied by Min Gong. As he saw the troops, Emperor Shao immediately became frightened and wept. Dong Zhuo tried to talk to him, but Emperor Shao did not make any sense. The King of Chen Liu however, gave a detailed report of what had happened, and thus Dong Zhuo came upon the idea of replacing Emperor Shao with his younger brother.

On September 25th, the Emperor returned to his palace, an amnesty was declared for the Kingdom, and the reign year was changed to Zhaoning. Dong Zhuo had brought many troops into the capital, and had removed Liu Hong from the position of Minister of Works, and took up the position himself (7). After driving out Yuan Shao, Dong Zhuo held a consultation with all the higher ministers, proposing the dethroning of Emperor Shao and the ascension of Liu Xie. All of the ministers were too terrified to give their opinion, except for Lu Zhi. He said that the current Emperor Shao had done no wrong and was already a grown man, there was no reason for him to be deposed. Dong Zhuo grew angry and wanted to kill Lu Zhi, but the Minister Cai Yong remonstrated him, and Lu Zhi was only dismissed from his office. Together with Grand Tutor Yuan Wei, Dong Zhuo thus decided to dethrone the Emperor. On September 28th, Dong Zhuo went to the palace and had the ribbon and seal removed from Emperor Shao, and gave it to the King of Chen Liu. No-one dared to speak, the new Emperor was inaugurated, and the Empress-Dowager He wept softly. Dong Zhuo then turned to the Empress, accused her of being an unfilial daughter-in-law, blamed her for the death of Empress-Dowager Dong, and had her transferred to a different palace. Emperor Shao became the King of Hongnong, the King of Chen Liu became Emperor Xian, and the reign title was changed to the first year of Beginning Peace.

(7) The rank of Minister of Works (司空), was the third of the Three Dukes. They were the three men directly under the Emperor. They divided their authority over the Nine Ministers.

On September 30th, Dong Zhuo poisoned Empress-Dowager He in her palace, and she thus died. Dong Zhuo also killed Liu Bian’s grandmother, Lady Jun of Wuyang, and threw her body into some bushes along the road. He also dug up the corpse of He Miao, and tore the body apart before leaving it beside the road. Dong Zhuo then seized all of the Imperial treasures, promoted himself to Grand Commandant, and entitled himself as Marquis of Mei. The entire court had fallen into the hands of Dong Zhuo, and the reign years established by Emperor Shao were officialy abolished. In the beginning of the new year (AD 190), Dong Zhuo forced the deposed Emperor to drink poisoned wine. Before he would drink it, he asked his concubines to sing and dance. He died at the age of 17.

Copyright © 2002 – 2004
A Kongming’s Archives Exclusive Production
Major Sources: Zhongguo Lishizhu Professor T.Chen (1965 Peking), Houhan Shu, the Annals of Emperor Ling, To Establish Peace, De Crespigny (1966)