Emperor An of Han

Emperor Ān of Hàn, ch. 漢安帝, py. hàn ān dì, wg. Han An-ti, (94–125) was an emperor of the Chinese Hàn Dynasty and the sixth emperor of the Eastern Hàn period ruling from 106 to 125. He was the grandson of Emperor Zhang.

When her infant stepson Emperor Shang succeeded to the throne in 106, Empress Dowager Deng kept the eventual Emperor Ān, Prince Hu, then 12, in the capital Luòyáng as the successor to the throne as insurance against the infant emperor's death. Prince Hu ascended to the throne when Emperor Shang died in August or September 106; however, Empress Dowager Deng still remained as the regent until her death in 121. Thereafter, Emperor Ān removed many of her relatives from government, and many of them committed suicide, probably under duress.

Emperor Ān did little to revive the withering dynasty. He began to indulge himself in women and heavy drinking and paid little attention to affairs of state, instead leaving matters to corrupt eunuchs. In this way, he effectively became the first emperor in Hàn history to encourage corruption. He also trusted his wife Empress Yan Ji and her family deeply, despite their obvious corruption. At the same time, droughts ravaged the country while peasants rose up in arms. In 125, Emperor Ān died while travelling to Nanyang. He was only 31.

Family background and ascension to the throne

Then-Prince Hu was born in 94, to Prince Liu Qing of Qinghe and his concubine, Consort Zuǒ Xiǎo É (左小娥). Prince Qing was the older brother of Emperor He, and had once been crown prince under their father Emperor Zhang until the machinations of Emperor Zhang's wife Empress Dou led to his removal and his mother Consort Song's death. During Emperor He's reign, however, he was a trusted advisor to the emperor, and he had a major role in Emperor He's coup d'état against Empress Dou's domineering brother Dou Xian in 92.

Consort Zuǒ and her older sister Dà É (左大娥) were both confiscated and made court servant girls when they were young girls, because their uncle Zuǒ Shèng (左聖) had been accused of and executed for making defamatory remarks against the emperor or imperial administration. As they grew older, they became known for beauty and talent and became ladies in waiting in Emperor He's palace; Xiǎo É was particularly known for her knowledge in history and poetry. When Emperor He was going to reward his brothers with some of the ladies in waiting, Prince Qing had already heard about her and therefore specifically requested her and her sister, a request that Emperor He granted. Both Consorts Zuǒ died sometime before Emperor He's death in 106 and were buried in the capital Luòyáng. After Consort Zuǒ's death, Prince Hu was raised by Prince Qing's wife, Consort Gěng (耿姬).

When Emperor He died in 106, his infant son Emperor Shang ascended the throne. Emperor He's brothers, most of whom had remained in the palace Luòyáng, including Prince Qing, were ordered to report to their principalities. However, as an insurance just in case something happened to the infant emperor, Emperor He's wife Empress Dowager Deng kept Prince Qing's son Prince Hu, then 12, and Consort Gěng in the capital. When Emperor Shang died later in 106, the officials largely wanted to make Emperor Shang's brother, Prince Shèng (劉勝) of Pingyuan, emperor, but Empress Deng, who had initially denied Prince Shèng the throne because she believed him to be frequently ill, was concerned that he would bear a grudge against her, and therefore insisted on making Prince Hu the emperor, and he ascended the throne as Emperor Ān.

Early reign: regency by Empress Dowager Deng

After Emperor Ān ascended the throne, however, the real power remained in Empress Dowager Deng's hands, and Emperor Ān's parents Prince Qing and Consort Gěng (who was sent by Empress Dowager Deng to join her husband in the Principality of Qinghe, in modern central Héběi) appeared to have no influence on the administration.

Empress Dowager Deng was generally a capable ruler, and while there were natural disasters and wars with Qiang and South Xiōngnú, she generally coped with those emergencies well. She also carried out many criminal law reforms. During her regency, Emperor Ān appeared to have minimal input into the affairs of state. Meanwhile, he became heavily personally influenced by the eunuchs Jiāng Jīng (江京) and Lǐ Rùn (李閏), and even more so by his wet nurse Wáng Shèng (王聖). He also was heavily influenced by his favorite, Yán Jī (閻姬), whom he created empress in 115—even though she had poisoned to death one of his other consorts, Consort Li, who had given birth to his only son Liú Bǎo (劉保) in 115. While these individuals lacked real power as long as Empress Dowager Deng lived, they were long planning to take power as soon as she would no longer be on the scene. Empress Dowager Deng was somewhat aware of these plans and was offended; she was also disappointed that Emperor Ān, who was considered a precocious and intelligent child, had neglected his studies and become only interested in drinking and women. It is suspected that at some point, she even considered replacing the emperor with his cousin Liú Yì (劉翼), the Prince of Pingyuan, but then decided against it.

In 120, Emperor Ān named his only son, Prince Bǎo, crown prince.

Late reign

Empress Dowager Deng died in 121, and Emperor An, at the age of 27, finally had the reins of the imperial administration. He posthumously honored his father Prince Qing as Emperor Xiaode and his mother Consort Zuǒ as Empress Xiaode; his paternal grandmother Consort Song as Empress Jingyin; and his stepmother Consort Gěng with the unique title of "Grand Consort of Gānlíng" (甘陵大貴人, Gānlíng being Prince Qing's tomb) -- a title inferior to his mother's, even though Consort Gěng was his father's wife. He, however, was close to her and her brother Gěng Bǎo (耿寶), and he quickly made his stepuncle a powerful official in his administration.

Initially, Emperor Ān continued to follow Empress Dowager Deng's policies, including leaving members of her clan in important advisorial positions. However, his own close circle of associates, including Jiang, Li, Wang, and Empress Yan, were ready to act. Late in 121, he stripped members of the Deng clan of their posts and fiefs, and many of them committed suicide, probably under duress. Later, he relented and allowed some of the survivors to return, but by that time the Deng clan had been decimated.

In the place of the Dengs, the Song clan of Emperor Ān's grandmother became honored, but wielding much more actual power were the clan of the empress, the Yáns—particularly Empress Yán's brothers Yán Xiǎn (閻顯), Yán Jǐng (閻景), and Yán Yào (閻耀). Also powerful were the eunuchs Jiang and Li, who were created marquesses. They, along with several other eunuchs, as well as Wang and her daughter Bó Róng (伯榮), became extremely corrupt in their ways, without any punishment from Emperor Ān, who ignored all criticism of these individuals. Emperor Ān often listened to their suggestions, while ignoring the advice of his key officials. One of the most outspoken ones, Yáng Zhèn (楊震), the commander of the armed forces, was eventually removed from his post in 124 and committed suicide in protest.

In 121, there were again Qiang and Xianbei rebellions, which would continue to plague Emperor Ān for the rest of his reign. The only border where there were Hàn accomplishments during Emperor Ān's reign was on the northwestern front—the Xiyu (modern Xinjiang and former Soviet central Asia) -- where Ban Chao's son Ban Yong (班勇) was able to reestablish Hàn suzerainty over a number of kingdoms.

In 124, Wang Sheng, Jiang Jing, and another eunuch Fán Fēng (樊豐) falsely accused Crown Prince Bǎo's wet nurse Wáng Nán (王男) and chef Bǐng Jí (邴吉, not to be confused with Emperor Xuan's prime minister of the same name), and Wáng and Bǐng were executed. Crown Prince Bǎo was greatly saddened. Jiang and Fán, fearful of reprisals later, entered into a conspiracy with Empress Yán (who had always hated Crown Prince Bǎo as not born of herself) to falsely accuse Crown Prince Bǎo and his servants of crimes. Emperor Ān believed them, and demoted Crown Prince Bǎo to be the Prince of Jiyin.

In 125, Emperor Ān was on a trip to Wancheng (宛城, in modern Nanyang, Hénán) when he suddenly felt ill and decided to return to Luòyáng. Before he could, however, he died. Empress Yán did not want to allow his son Prince Bǎo to be emperor; instead, she made Liú Yi (劉懿), the Marquess of Beixiang, a grandson of Emperor Zhang and Emperor Ān's cousin, emperor. (How old he was is not recorded in history, but implicitly, he was believed to be far younger than Prince Bǎo, who was 10 at the time. ) The young emperor, however, died later that year, and a number of eunuchs loyal to Prince Bǎo, led by Sun Cheng, carried out a coup d'état and made Prince Bǎo emperor (as Emperor Shun). The Yáns were slaughtered, except for Empress Dowager Yán.

Personal information


Liu Qing (劉慶), Prince Xiao of Qinghe, second son of Emperor Zhang of Han


Consort Zuo Xiao'e (左小娥)


Empress Yan Ji (created 115, d. 126)

Major Concubines

Consort Li, mother of Emperor Shun (poisoned 115)


Liu Bao (劉保), the Crown Prince (created 120, deposed 124), later the Prince of Jiyin (created 124), later Emperor Shun of Han

Last update 04-04-2012

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