Chen Shubao

Chen Shubao (陳叔寶) (553–604), often known in history as Houzhu of Chen (陳後主, literally "Chen's final lord"), posthumous name Duke Yang of Changcheng (長城煬公), courtesy name Yuanxiu (元秀), nickname Huangnu (黃奴), was the last emperor of the Chinese chen dynasty. At the time of his ascension, Chen was already facing military pressure by sui dynasty on multiple fronts, and, according to traditional historians, Chen Shubao was an incompetent ruler who was more interested in literature and women than in the affairs of the state. In 589, Sui forces captured his capital Jiankang and seized him, ending Chen and unifying China after nearly three centuries of division, which started during the reign of Emperor Hui of Jin. He was taken to the Sui capital Chang'an, where he was treated kindly by Emperor Wen of Sui until his death in 604, during the reign of Emperor Wen's son Emperor Yang of Sui.


Chen Shubao was born in 553, when his father Chen Xu was serving as a mid-level official under Emperor Yuan of Liang at Emperor Yuan's capital Jiangling. His mother was Chen Xu's second wife Liu Jingyan, and he was Chen Xu's oldest son.

In 554, western wei attacked Jiangling and captured it, executing Emperor Yuan. Emperor Yuan's nephew Xiao Cha was created the Emperor of Liang and given Jiangling as his capital, but a large segment of Jiangling's population and Emperor Yuan's officials, including Chen Xu and Chen Xu's cousin Chen Chang, were taken to the western wei capital Chang'an. For reasons lost to history, Lady Liu and Chen Shubao were not taken to Chang'an, but left at Rangcheng (穰城, in modern Nanyang, Henan ).

In 557, Chen Xu's uncle (Chen Chang's father) Chen Baxian established chen dynasty (as Emperor Wu), with his capital at Jiankang. He requested that western wei's successor state northern zhou return Chen Chang and Chen Xu to him, but northern zhou, while initially agreeing, did not do so during Emperor Wu's lifetime. In 559, Emperor Wu died, and Chen Xu's older brother Chen Qian the Prince of Linchuan, as Emperor Wu's only close male relative in the realm, took the throne as Emperor Wen. In 560, northern zhou began making overtures to return Chen Xu to Chen. In 562, Emperor Wen, who had remotely created Chen Xu the Prince of Ancheng, traded the city of Lushan (魯山, in modern Wuhan, Hubei ) to northern zhou in exchange for Chen Xu's return. Initially, Chen Shubao and his mother Princess Liu were not returned, but after further negotiations by Emperor Wen, were returned. Chen Shubao was designated as Chen Xu's heir apparent. He held minor offices during Emperor Wen's reign.

In 566, Emperor Wen died and was succeeded by his son Chen Bozong the Crown Prince (as Emperor Fei). The high level officials that Emperor Wen left in charge, including Chen Xu, eventually became locked in a power struggle, and in 567, Chen Xu killed Liu Shizhi (劉師之) and Dao Zhongju (到仲舉) and seized control of power. In winter 568, he had an edict issued in the name of Emperor Wu's wife Grand Empress Dowager Zhang Yao'er, deposing Emperor Fei and making him emperor. In spring 569, he took the throne (as Emperor Xuan). Chen Shubao was created crown prince, and his mother Princess Liu was created empress.

As crown prince

In fall 569, Chen Shubao married Shen Wuhua, the daughter of the official Shen Junli (沈君理), as his wife and crown princess. However, eventually he came to favor his concubine Consort Zhang Lihua.

As crown prince, Chen Shubao was known for his love of literature and feasting. He therefore wanted to have the official Jiang Zong (江總), who was talented in literature, serve as his chief of staff, and he requested that Kong Huan (孔奐), the minister of civil service, to make it so. Kong declined, citing that Jiang, while talented, lacked steadiness and would not be able to correct Chen Shubao. Chen Shubao then personally made the request to his father Emperor Xuan, and Emperor Xuan, while he hesitated due to Kong's opposition, eventually agreed. Eventually, however, because Jiang and Chen Shubao overly feasted, including instances where Chen Shubao wore civilian clothing to sneak out of the palace to visit Jiang's mansion, Emperor Xuan removed Jiang from his post.

In spring 582, Emperor Xuan grew ill, and Chen Shubao, along with his brothers Chen Shuling (陳叔陵) the Prince of Shixing and Chen Shujian (陳叔堅) the Prince of Changsha, attended to Emperor Xuan in the palace. The ambitious Chen Shuling, however, had design on the throne, and when Emperor Xuan died, while Chen Shubao was mourning over Emperor Xuan's casket, Chen Shuling pulled out a sharpened knife and stabbed Chen Shubao's neck. Chen Shubao fell to the ground unconscious. Empress Liu tried to stop Chen Shuling, but was also stabbed several times. The lady in waiting Lady Wu, however, then grabbed Chen Shuling, allowing Chen Shubao to get up and escape. Meanwhile, Chen Shujian grabbed Chen Shuling and tied him to a pillar, but as Chen Shujian then sought Chen Shubao's permission to kill Chen Shuling, Chen Shuling slipped away and mobilized his personal troops to start a coup along with his cousin Chen Bogu (陳伯固) the Prince of Xin'an (Emperor Wen's son). They were soon defeated, however, and both were killed in battle. Chen Shuling's sons were forced to commit suicide, and Chen Bogu's sons were reduced to commoner rank.

Three days after the coup attempt, Chen Shubao, still severely wounded, took the throne. He honored his mother Empress Liu as empress dowager. He created his wife Crown Princess Shen empress, and his oldest son Chen Yin (who, while not born of Empress Shen, was raised by her) crown prince.


Initially, Chen Shubao was still recovering from his injuries, and Empress Dowager Liu governed as regent, assisted by Chen Shujian. (As Chen Shubao did not favor Empress Shen, she was not allowed to attend to him during his recovery period; rather, Consort Zhang did. ) After Chen Shubao recovered—and while it is not clear how long it took him to recover, it seemed to be a period of months—Empress Dowager Liu returned imperial authorities to him and did not again govern.

When Emperor Xuan died, northern zhou's successor state sui dynasty had been attacking Chen, but upon hearing about Emperor Xuan's death, Emperor Wen of Sui (Yang Jian) decided that it was improper to attack a state that had just lost its emperor, and so withdrew his forces, and in fact sent ambassadors to mourn Emperor Xuan's death, and his letter to Chen Shubao referred to himself by name—a sign of humility, but Chen Shubao's return letter included the sentence, "May it be that when you govern your state, all things can be well, and that between heaven and earth, there wil be peace and quiet. " The sentence was viewed as arrogant and condescending by Emperor Wen and his key official Yang Su and made them displeased. Despite this, however, for the next few years, the states exchanged ambassadors often and generally had peaceful relations, although Sui's Emperor Wen was gradually building up military power on the Yangtze River and planning for eventual attack against Chen.

In spring 583, displeased that Chen Shujian was, in his view, becoming overly powerful, Chen Shubao, encouraged by his associates Kong Fan (孔範) and Shi Wenqing (施文慶), made Chen Shujian the governor of Jiang Province (江州, roughly modern Jiujiang, Jiangxi ) to remove him from power. (He subsequently kept Chen Shujian at the capital by promoting him to the honorary post of Sikong (司空), but did not restore Chen Shujian to power. ) Meanwhile, despite the fact that Chen Shubao was still supposed to be in mourning period for Emperor Xuan, he was spending much time in feasting. When the official Mao Xi (毛喜) tried to persuade him to change his ways, Chen Shubao demoted Mao and sent him out of the capital.

Around the new year 584, Chen Shujian, in fear, prayed to the spirits, hoping that he would be restored to grace. When this was discovered, Chen Shubao considered executing Chen Shujian, but after Chen Shujian reminded him how Chen Shujian was responsible for saving him from Chen Shuling, Chen Shubao spared him but removed him from his posts.

In 584, Chen Shubao built three particularly luxurious pavilions within his palace—Linchun Pavilion (臨春閣), Jieqi Pavilion (結綺閣), and Wangxian Pavilion (望仙閣), residing himself at Linchun Pavilion, while having Consort Zhang reside at Jieqi Pavilion and Consorts Gong and Kong share Wangxian Pavilion. He often spent his days feasting with his concubines, headed by Consort Zhang, as well as those ladies in waiting and officials who had literary talent (including Jiang Zong, whom he made prime minister, Kong Fan, and Wang Cuo (王瑳)), having those officials and ladies in waiting sing or write poetry to praise his concubines' beauty. Two of the particularly known songs, Yushu Houting Hua (玉樹後庭花) and Linchun Yue (臨春樂), were written to praise the beauties of Consorts Zhang and Kong.

It was said that Chen Shubao lacked interest and understanding in important governmental matters, and that because he could not comprehend matters well, he would often hold Consort Zhang on his lap and have Consort Zhang, who was considered intelligent, read and rule on the petitions submitted to him. Meanwhile, Consort Kong and Kong Fan, who were not related, began to refer to each other as sister and brother, and used their relationship to further their power as well, so Consorts Zhang and Kong became exceeedingly powerful. To finance Chen Shubao's construction projects, taxes were raised, and soldiers and the officials, who were previously immune to taxes, were also required to pay them, causing general discontent from those classes. Further, at Kong Fan's urging, Chen Shubao transferred much of the military command to civilian officials, further causing the generals to be disgruntled.

In spring 585, Zhang Dabao (章大寶) the governor of Feng Province (豐州, roughly modern Fuzhou , Fujian ), accused of corruption and on the verge of being replaced by Li Yun (李暈), instead ambushed Li and killed him, starting a rebellion. Zhang was however soon defeated and killed.

In fall 587, while Emperor Jing of Western Liang (Xiao Cong, Xiao Cha's grandson) was at the Sui capital to meet with Sui's Emperor Wen, the Liang officials Xiao Yan (蕭巖, Emperor Jing's uncle) and Xiao Huan (蕭瓛, Emperor Jing's brother), in fear that the Sui general Cui Hongdu (崔弘度) was actually intending to attack the Liang capital Jiangling, surrendered to Chen Shubao's cousin Chen Huiji (陳慧紀) the Marquess of Yihuang with the people of Jiangling. Chen Shubao accepted the surrender and made Xiao Yan and Xiao Huan provincial governors—acts that Emperor Wen (who, in response, abolished Liang and seized its remaining territory) considered provocation, making him continuing his preparation to attack Chen in earnest.

In spring 588, Chen Shubao, believing Consorts Zhang's and Kong's accusations that Chen Yin resented him for not favoring Empress Shen, deposed Chen Yin and created him the Prince of Wuxing, instead creating Consort Zhang's son Chen Shen crown prince. He also considered deposing Empress Shen and replacing her with Consort Zhang, but did not get a chance to do so before Sui launched a major attack in spring 588 as well. By winter 588, the Sui attack was in full operation, with three major prongs commanded by Emperor Wen's sons Yang Guang and Yang Jun, and Yang Su, and with Yang Guang in overall command of the operation, assisted by Gao Jiong. Reports from the upper Yangtze, however, were being suppressed by Shi Wenqing and Shen Keqing (沈客卿) and never reached Chen Shubao, as Shi, not realizing the seriousness of the Sui threat, did not want anything to interfere with his own plans to become the governor of Xiang Province (湘州, roughly modern Changsha, Hunan ). Yang Su, who attacked from the upper Yangtze, therefore faced no serious opposition and soon controlled the upper Yangtze, not allowing any Chen forces which might have wanted to head downstream to aid the capital to be able to get through.

In spring 589, the Sui general Heruo Bi (賀若弼) crossed the Yangtze from Guangling (廣陵, in modern Yangzhou, Jiangsu ), and the Sui general Han Qinhu (韓擒虎) crossed the Yangtze at Caishi (采石, in modern Ma'anshan, Anhui ), without opposition from Chen forces and sandwiching the Chen capital Jiankang. Only then did Chen Shubao realize the seriousness of the situation, but instead of resisting in earnest, he panicked, leaving Shi in effective control of the situation. Eventually, the general Xiao Mohe convinced Chen Shubao that he should be allowed to engage Heruo, despite opposition from the general Ren Zhong (任忠). Heruo defeated Xiao Mohe and captured him, and the rest of Chen troops collapsed, allowing the Sui forces to enter the capital. In panic and abandoned by his officials, Chen Shubao hid in a well with Consorts Zhang and Kong, but was discovered and captured. When he was brought before Heruo, he was so fearful that he prostrated himself before Heruo—an act that brought words of contempt from Heruo. However, he and his household were generally treated well by the Sui generals, although Gao, blaming Consort Zhang for Chen's collapse, executed her. Some of the Chen generals continued to resist, but were quickly defeated, particularly because at the Sui forces' request, Chen Shubao wrote letters to the Chen generals ordering them to surrender. Chen was at its end. Soon, the Sui army escorted Chen Shubao and his household to the Sui capital Daxing (大興, near Chang'an).

During Sui Dynasty

Emperor Wen treated Chen Shubao with kindness, and, not willing to subjugate Chen Shubao as an official under him, initially did not give him any official titles—but was dismayed when Chen Shubao, not understanding the rationale, requested a title. Chen Shubao also engaged in heavy drinking, which Emperor Wen initially tried to curb, but later stopped doing so, reasoning that Chen Shubao must have something to do with his time. Emperor Wen sent members of the imperial Chen household out to the provinces, dividing them so that they could not coalesce.

In 594, Emperor Wen, citing the fact that the emperors of northern qi, Liang, and Chen were not being sacrificed to, ordered that the former northern qi prince Gao Renying (高仁英), Chen Shubao, and Xiao Cong be given regular supplies so that they could make periodic sacrifices to their ancestors.

In 604, a few months after Emperor Wen's death and succession by Yang Guang (as Emperor Yang), Chen Shubao died. Emperor Yang posthumously created him the Duke of Changcheng (a title that his granduncle, Chen's Emperor Wu, carried at one point) and gave him the posthumous name of Yang, meaning "slothful. " (Ironically, this would be the posthumous name that Emperor Yang would eventually receive from the succeeding tang dynasty. )

Personal information


Emperor Xuan of Chen


Empress Liu Jingyan


Empress Shen Wuhua (created 582)

Major Concubines

Consort Sun, mother of Crown Prince Yin

Consort Zhang Lihua, mother of Crown Prince Shen and Prince Zhuang (executed by Gao Jiong 589)

Consort Gao, mother of Prince Ni

Consort Lü, mother of Princes Yan and Jing

Consort Gong, mother of Princes Qian and Tian

Consort Zhang, mother of Prince Zhi

Consort Xu, mother of Prince Quan

Consort Kong, mother of Prince Fan

Consort Wang

Consort Ji

Consort Zhang

Consort Xue

Consort Yuan

Consort He

Consort Jiang


Chen Yin (陳胤), initially the Duke of Yongkang (created 578), later the Crown Prince (created 582, deposed 588), later the Prince of Wuxing (created 588)

Chen Ni (陳嶷), the Prince of Nanping (created 583)

Chen Yan (陳彥), the Prince of Yongjia (created 583), later sui dynasty official

Chen Shen (陳深), initially the Prince of Shi'an (created 583, later the Crown Prince (created 588), later sui dynasty and tang dynasty official

Chen Qian (陳虔), the Prince of Nanhai (created 583), later sui dynasty official

Chen Zhi (陳祇), the Prince of Xinyi (created 583), later sui dynasty official

Chen Jing (陳兢), the Prince of Shaoling (created 587), later sui dynasty official

Chen Zhuang (陳莊), the Prince of Kuaiji (created 586), later sui dynasty official

Chen Quan (陳恮), the Prince of Dongyang (created 588), later sui dynasty official

Chen Fan (陳蕃), the Prince of Wu Commandery (created 588), later sui dynasty official

Chen Tian (陳恬), the Prince of Qiantang (created 588)

Chen Zong (陳總)

Chen Guan (陳觀)

Chen Ming (陳明)

Chen Gang (陳綱)

Chen Tong (陳統)

Chen Chong (陳沖)

Chen Qia (陳洽)

Chen Tao (陳縚)

Chen Chuo (陳綽)

Chen Wei (陳威)

Chen Bian (陳辯)

Chen Chou (陳婤), later concubine to Emperor Yang of Sui

Last update 20-06-2012

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