Emperor Gao of Southern Qi

Emperor Gao of Southern Qi ((南)齊高帝) (427–482), personal name Xiao Daocheng (蕭道成), courtesy name Shaobo (紹伯), nickname Doujiang (鬥將), was the founding emperor of the Chinese dynasty Southern Qi. He served as a general under the preceding dynasty Liu Song's Emperor Ming and Emperor Houfei, and, in 477, fearful that the young but cruel Emperor Houfei would kill him, assassinated Emperor Houfei and seized power, eventually taking the throne in 479 to start Southern Qi.


Xiao Daocheng was born in 427. His ancestors traced their line to the famed han dynasty prime minister Xiao He, and if their records were accurate, Xiao Daocheng was 24 generations after Xiao He. During the Jin and Liu Song dynasties, Xiao's ancestors served as low-level officials. His father Xiao Chengzhi (蕭承之) was a general under Emperor Wen of Liu Song, and for his contributions in campaigns against rival northern wei was created the Baron of Jinxing. Xiao Daocheng himself first studied the Confucian classics at the university set up by Emperor Wen and headed by the hermit Lei Cizong (雷次宗) when he was 12, but by age 15 he was serving in the military. He continued serving as a military officer during the reigns of Emperors Wen and Xiaowu (Emperor Wen's son).

Under Emperor Ming of Liu Song

By the time that Emperor Xiaowu's brother Emperor Ming and Emperor Xiaowu's son Liu Zixun were fighting for the throne in 466 after the brief reign and assassination of Emperor Xiaowu's son Emperor Qianfei, Xiao Daocheng was a general, and his allegiance was with Emperor Ming. He participated in the campaign against the army nominally commanded by Liu Zixun's brother Liu Zifang (劉子房) the Prince of Xunyang and governor of Kuaiji Commandery (會稽, roughly modern Shaoxing, Zhejiang ), and he subsequently defeated the army sent south by Xue Andu (薛安都) the governor of Xu Province (徐州, modern northern Jiangsu and northern Anhui ). For these contributions, Emperor Ming created him the Marquess of Xiyang and made him the acting governor of South Xu Province (南徐州, modern western central Jiangsu ). Later, he became the governor of Southern Yan Province (南兗州, modern eastern central Jiangsu ), defending the important city of Huaiyin (淮陰, in modern Huaian, Jiangsu ). It was said that while at this post, he began to engage a group of talented followers.

During Emperor Ming's reign, there were rumors that Xiao Daocheng's facial features were unusual and were signs that he would become emperor. By 471, Emperor Ming, who had already carried out a campaign of killing most of his brothers and some high level officials in fear that they would not be loyal to his son Liu Yu the Crown Prince after his death, became suspicious of Xiao, particularly because there were also rumors that Xiao was secretly communicating with northern wei. Emperor Ming sent his general Wu Xi (吳喜), a friend of Xiao's, with a sealed pot of wine to Huaiyin to deliver to Xiao. Xiao became fearful that the wine was poisoned and was preparing to flee to northern wei. Wu secretly told Xiao that the wine was not poisoned, and drank some himself, before Xiao would dare to drink. Once Wu returned to the capital Jiankang, he assured Emperor Ming that Xiao was loyal, but after details of Wu's leaking the information to Xiao became known to Emperor Ming, Emperor Ming forced Wu to commit suicide, but did not take any actions against Xiao. Soon thereafter he recalled Xiao to Jiankang. Xiao's followers largely suspected that Emperor Ming would kill him and suggested that he resist, but Xiao believed that Emperor Ming would not do so, and therefore returned to Jiankang, where he became a commanding general of Crown Prince Yu's guards. (In secret, Xiao told his followers that he believed that LIu Song would not last much longer, and that he would need their support when opportunity presented itself. ) When Emperor Ming grew gravely ill in 472, on the recommendation of the high level official Chu Yuan (to whom, along with Yuan Can, Emperor Ming entrusted Crown Prince Yu to), who was a friend of Xiao, Xiao became a commanding general of the capital defense force. Emperor Ming soon died, and Crown Prince Yu took the throne as Emperor Houfei.

Under Emperor Houfei of Liu Song

In 474, Emperor Houfei's uncle Liu Xiufan (劉休範) the Prince of Guiyang and governor of Jiang Province (江州, modern Jiangxi and Fujian ), angry that he had not been made the regent, rebelled and made a quick advancement toward Jiankang. At a major military strategy session, although there were a number of high level officials, powerful associates of the emperor, and senior generals present, no one dared to speak first until Xiao Daocheng proposed the strategy of not sending an army out to engage Liu Xiufan but rather defending the strong defensive posts in the outskirts of Jiankang and not actively engaging Liu Xiufan, forcing him into a stalemate and causing him to run out of food supplies. Without significant opposition, Xiao's plan was adopted.

Liu Xiufan's forces soon arrived, and he made a direct assault against Xiao's defensive position. With Xiao's approval, his officers Huang Hui (黃回) and Zhang Jing'er (張敬兒) falsely surrendered to Liu Xiufan, and then further informed Liu Xiufan that Xiao wished to surrender as well. While pretending to secretly convey the information, Zhang and Huang then assassinated Liu Xiufan. However, because they had to then discard Liu Xiufan's head to avoid Liu Xiufan's guards, the news was not known initially, and Liu Xiufan's forces intensified their siege against the various defense positions. Xiao was barely able to hold his position, but Liu Xiufan's general Ding Wenhao (丁文豪) was able to defeat and kill Liu Mian (劉勔) and Wang Daolong (王道隆) and put the palace under siege. Soon, however, news of Liu Xiufan's death became gradually known, and Ding's forces collapsed.

In the aftermaths of Liu Xiufan's defeat, Xiao was promoted, and he, along with Yuan Can, Chu Yuan, and Emperor Houfan's distant uncle Liu Bing, were in charge of the affairs of government and known as the "four nobles" (四貴). In 476, when Emperor Houfei's cousin Liu Jingsu (劉景素) the governor of South Xu Province, who received wrong information that Jiankang had fallen into a state of confusion, started a rebellion, Xiao coordinated the campaign against Liu Jingsu (although he did not personally command troops), and LIu Jingsu was defeated and killed.

In 477, Emperor Houfei, by now aged 14, was growing increasingly impulsive and violent, often wandering outside the palace with his guards and killing all people or animals they encountered. One day, he suddenly charged into Xiao's headquarters, and saw Xiao sleeping naked. He was intrigued by the large size of Xiao's belly, and he woke Xiao up, drew a target on Xiao's belly, and prepared to shoot Xiao with arrows. Xiao pled for his life, and Emperor Houfei's attendant Wang Tian'en (王天恩) pointed out that if he killed Xiao with an arrow, he would lose Xiao's belly as a wonderful target—and so at Wang's suggestion, Emperor Houfei shot Xiao with bone-made round-point arrows and was pleased when he was able to target Xiao's bellybutton successfully. Xiao became fearful after the incident, and he initially discussed with Yuan and Chu the possibilities of deposing the emperor, but could not get them to go along with his plan. Xiao therefore acted on his own, associating with Emperor Houfei's attendants, and eventually getting one of them, Yang Yufu (楊玉夫), to kill Emperor Houfei while Emperor Houfei was asleep. Xiao then forced Yuan and Liu Bing to effectively grant him near-imperial powers, leading to concerns that Xiao would next take the throne.

Under Emperor Shun of Liu Song

Xiao Daocheng made Emperor Houfei's brother Liu Zhun the Prince of Ancheng emperor (as Emperor Shun). In response, the general Shen Youzhi arose with the troops of his Jing Province (荊州, modern central and western Hubei ), accusing Xiao of wanting to usurp the throne. Yuan Can and Liu Bing also believed that that was Xiao's intent, and, as Xiao prepared for a campaign against Shen, secretly planned another uprising within Jiankang to overthrow Xiao. However, Yuan, believing that the plot would not succeed without Chu Yuan's support, told Chu of the plot as well, and Chu, who was friendly with Xiao, quickly informed Xiao. Yuan, not aware of this, continued his preparations, aligning with a number of generals and preparing to rise. However, Liu Bing panicked during the preparation stage, and fled to Yuan's defense post at the fortress of Shitou Cheng several hours in advance of the scheduled time, alarming Xiao and allowing him to further start a counterinsurrection, arresting and killing several generals aligned with Yuan and Liu Bing before they could act. Xiao's troops then sieged Yuan's defenses at Shitou, killing Yuan and Liu Bing.

Meanwhile, the provincial governors that Shen invited to join him all declined and either resisted him or stood by. Shen nevertheless had a strong army, and the imperial army generals were apprehensive about facing him. He initially progressed quickly toward Jiankang, but as he went past Yingcheng (郢城, in modern Wuhan, Hubei ), he was provoked by insults of Liu Shilong (柳世隆), the chief of staff for Liu Zan (劉贊) the Prince of Wuling and governor of Ying Province into stopping and putting the well-fortified Yingcheng under siege.

In 478, with his forces unable to capture Yingcheng, Shen Youzhi's soldiers began to desert. Shen then aggravated the situation by imposing severe punishments on the commanding officers of deserting soldiers—which in turn caused them to desert. Shen's officer Liu Rangbing (劉攘兵) then surrendered to Liu Shilong, causing his forces to collapse. He tried to retreat to Jiangling (the capital of Jing Province), but by the time he did so, Zhang Jing'er, whom Xiao had made the governor of Yong Province (雍州, modern southwestern Henan and southwestern Hubei ) with the intent of having him attack Shen from the rear, had already captured Jiangling and killed Shen Yuanyan, whom Shen Youzhi had left in charge of Jiangling. Shen's remaining army, seeing that Jiangling had fallen, collapsed, and he initially tried to flee, but realizing that his escape route had been cut off, committed suicide. Xiao was now without substantial opposition, particularly after he killed Huang Hui, who had been implicated in conspiracies with Liu Jingsu and Yuan Can earlier, later that year after Huang showed signs of insubordination. He began to put his sons into important posts as well. He also engaged the nobly born official Wang Jian as a key assistant and, with Chu's tacit agreement, started making moves toward the throne, including quietly assassinating Emperor Houfei's brothers. In 479, over a brief time span of two months, he had Emperor Shun create him the Duke of Qi, and then the Prince of Qi, and bestow him the nine bestowments, all progressive steps toward the throne. In summer 479, he forced the fearful Emperor Shun into yielding the throne to him, ending Liu Song and starting Southern Qi, as its Emperor Gao.


A major trend that Emperor Gao tried to start after he took the throne was a move against wastefulness and luxury and a move toward frugality. He himself appeared to be fairly frugal, although the actual effects his edicts on those subjects had on his officials and nobles are unclear.

Later in 479, when someone was riding a horse near the mansion of the former Emperor Shun (now the Prince of Ruyin), the guards that Emperor Gao posted to watch over the former emperor panicked, believing someone was about to start a rebellion, and they killed the former emperor themselves. Emperor Gao not only did not punish these guards, but he rewarded them and further carried out a massacre of Liu Song's imperial clan. Later that year, he created his son Xiao Ze, who had by that point already been known as an able general, crown prince, and created his other sons, as well as Xiao Ze's oldest son Xiao Zhangmao, princes.

Meanwhile, Emperor Gao received reports that northern wei was about to make an attack and claim to be trying to reestablish Liu Song on the behalf of Liu Chang (劉昶) the Prince of Danyang, a son of Liu Song's Emperor Wen who had in 465 fled to northern wei over fears that Emperor Qianfei would kill him. Emperor Gao prepared the northern borders in anticipation of a major attack, which northern wei did launch in winter 479. The northern wei attack, however, after northern wei forces made a failed siege of Shouyang. However, realizing that Jiankang was relatively defenseless (as throughout Jin and Liu Song, a wall had never been built around Jiankang), he started a construction project to build a wall around Jiankang. northern wei and Southern Qi forces would continue to have minor border battles for another year, until spring 481, but there would be no further major campaigns by either side.

In spring 482, Emperor Gao died. Crown Prince Ze succeeded him as Emperor Wu.

Era name

Jianyuan (建元 jiàn yuán) 479-482

Personal information


Xiao Chengzhi (蕭承之), Liu Song general, posthumously honored as Emperor Xuan


Chen Daozheng (陳道正) or Chen Daozhi (陳道止), posthumously honored as Empress Xiao


Liu Zhirong (劉智容) (423-472), posthumously honored as Empress Zhao, mother of Crown Prince Ze and Prince Ni

Major Concubines

Consort Xie, mother of Princes Ying and Huang

Consort Luo, mother of Prince Ye

Consort Ren, mother of Prince Gao

Consort Lu, mother of Princes Qiang and Qiu

Consort Yuan, mother of Prince Shuo

Consort He, mother of Princes Jian and Keng

Consort Qu, mother of Prince Jun

Consort Zhang, mother of Princes Feng and Xuan

Consort Li, mother of Prince Rui


Xiao Ze (蕭賾) (b. 440), the Crown Prince (created 479), later Emperor Wu of Southern Qi

Xiao Ni (蕭嶷) (b. 444), Prince Wenxian of Yuzhang (created 479, d. 492)

Xiao Ying (蕭映) (b. 459), Prince Xian of Linchuan (created 479, d. 490)

Xiao Huang (蕭晃) (b. 460), Prince Wei of Changsha (created 479, d. 490)

Xiao Ye (蕭曄) (b. 467), Prince Zhao of Wuling (created 479, d. 494)

Xiao Gao (蕭暠) (b. 468), Prince Gong of Ancheng (created 479, d. 491)

Xiao Qiang (蕭鏘) (b. 469), the Prince of Poyang (created 479, killed by Xiao Luan 494)

Xiao Shuo (蕭鑠) (b. 470), the Prince of Guiyang (created 479, killed by Xiao Luan 494)

Unnamed son, died early

Xiao Jian (蕭鑑) (b. 470), initially the Prince of Guangxing (created 479, later Prince Jian of Shixing (d. 491)

Xiao Jun (蕭鈞) (b. 473), the Prince of Hengyang (created 479, killed by Xiao Luan 494)

Xiao Feng (蕭鋒) (b. 475), the Prince of Jiangxiang (created 481, killed by Xiao Luan 494)

Unnamed son, died early

Unnamed son, died early

Xiao Rui (蕭銳) (b. 476), the Prince of Nanping (created 483, killed by Xiao Luan 494)

Unnamed son, died early

Xiao Keng (蕭鏗) (b. 477), the Prince of Yidu (created 483, killed by Xiao Luan 494)

Xiao Qiu (蕭銶) (b. 478), the Prince of Jinxi (created 486, killed by Xiao Luan 494)

Xiao Xuan (蕭鉉) (b. 480), the Prince of Hedong (created 486, killed by Xiao Luan 498)

Princess Linhai

Princess Huainan

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