Emperor Houshao of Han

Emperor Houshao of Han (died 180 BC), personal name Liu Hong, was the fourth emperor of the han dynasty in China. He was a son of Emperor Hui, likely by a concubine -- although there is some controversy on the subject—and adopted by Emperor Hui's wife, Empress Zhang Yan. At the instigation of his grandmother, Empress Dowager Lü, Empress Zhang had Emperor Houshao's mother put to death.

Very little about Emperor Houshao's life and personality is known. There are only a few major important events in his life that are documented (which does not even include the year of his birth). In 188 BC, his father Emperor Hui died, and his brother Liu Gong succeeded to the throne as Emperor Qianshao. In 187 BC, he was created the Marquess of Xiangcheng. In 186 BC, after his brother Liu Buyi (劉不疑), the Prince of Hengshan, died, he was created the Prince of Hengshan, and his name was changed to Liu Yi, likely because it was considered inappropriate to have one's name (or one's male ancestors' names) share characters with one's titles.

Sometime in or before 184 BC, Emperor Qianshao discovered that he was not in fact now-Empress Dowager Zhang's son and that his mother, like Prince Hong's mother, had been put to death. Emperor Qianshao made the mistake of remarking that when he grew up, Empress Dowager Zhang would pay for this. Grand Empress Dowager Lü, once she heard of this, had him secretly imprisoned within the palace and publicly announced that he was severely ill and unable to receive anyone. After some time, she told the officials that he continued to be ill and incapable of governing, and that he had also suffered a psychosis. She proposed that he be deposed and replaced. The officials complied with her wishes, and he was deposed and put to death. Prince Hong then succeeded his brother to the throne as Emperor Houshao—and as Grand Empress Dowager Lü's puppet. Because Grand Empress Dowager Lü was actually the ruling figure, one thing that is normally done when a new emperor succeeds to the throne—reset the calendar year to one—was not done; rather, the calendar continued from the start of Emperor Qianshao's reign.

In the autumn of 180 BC, Grand Empress Dowager Lü died of an illness. Emperor Houshao, however, still had little actual powers, because the power was still largely controlled by the Lü clan. Indeed, the grand empress dowager's will required him to marry the daughter of her nephew Lü Chan (呂產) and make her empress. The officials of the imperial government, led by Chen Ping and Zhou Bo (周勃), however, formed a conspiracy against the Lü clan, and they were successful in surprising the Lü clan and slaughtering it. Afterwards, they met in a conference and, for the first time, made the assertion that none of the sons of Emperor Hui was actually his. They, admitting that they were concerned that these imperial children, when they grew up, would take vengeance on the officials, resolved to have a replacement emperor. After some dispute, they settled on Emperor Houshao's uncle, Prince Liu Heng of Dai. Prince Heng soon arrived in the capital Xian and was declared emperor, and Emperor Houshao was deposed. Initially, one of the officials involved in the conspiracy, Emperor Houshao's cousin Liu Xingju, the Marquess of Dongmou, merely expelled him from the palace and had him stay at the ministry of palace supplies. Some of the imperial guard still wished to resist the coup d'etat, but were eventually persuaded by the officials to desist. Sometime later that year, Emperor Houshao was executed. Historians implied that his wife, Empress Lü, was also executed, but did not explicitly state so.

Emperor Houshao, considered to be a mere puppet of Grand Empress Dowager Lü, is often omitted from the official list of emperors of the han dynasty.

Last update 28-05-2012

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