Emperor Shun of Han

Emperor Shun of Han, trad. ch. 漢順帝;, sim. ch. 漢顺帝, py. hàn shùn dì, wg. Han Shun-ti, (115–144) was an emperor of the Chinese han dynasty and the seventh emperor of the eastern han period. He reigned from 125 AD to 144 AD.

Emperor Shun was the only son of Emperor An of Han and after Emperor An died in 125, the Empress Dowager Yan was childless but yearning to hold on to power, forced Prince Bao (whose title of crown prince she had wrongly caused Emperor An to strip in 124) to give up the throne in favour of Liu Yi, the Marquess of Beixiang. Liu Yi died after reigning less than 7 months and eunuchs loyal to Prince Bao, led by Sun Cheng, carrying out a successful coup d'etat against the Empress Dowager, Prince Bao was finally declared emperor at age 10.

The people had great expectations for Emperor Shun, whose reign followed his incompetent and violent father. However, while Emperor Shun's personality was mild, he was just as incompetent as his father in general, and corruption continued without abatement among eunuchs and officials. He also overly entrusted government to his wife Empress Liang Na's father Liang Shang (梁商) -- a mild-mannered man with integrity but little ability—and then Liang Shang's son Liang Ji -- a corrupt and an autocratic man. In general, Emperor Shun's reign was still somewhat of an improvement over his father's, but this minor improvement was unable to stem Eastern han dynasty's continued degradation.

Emperor Shun died at the age of 30 after reigning for 19 years. He was succeeded by his son Emperor Chong.

Family background

Then-Prince Bao was born to Emperor An and his concubine Consort Li in 115, apparently shortly after Emperor An had created his favorite Yan Ji empress. Empress Yan herself was sonless, and in jealousy, she poisoned Consort Li to death, an act that went unpunished. Empress Yan would continue to hold a grudge against Prince Bao, despite his youth.

In 120, Emperor An created Prince Bao crown prince, as he continued to be Emperor An's only son.

Removal as crown prince and enthronement

In 124, some of the people trusted by Emperor An -- eunuchs Jiang Jing (江京) and Fan Feng (樊豐) and his wet nurse Wang Sheng (王聖), for reasons no longer known, falsely accused Crown Prince Bao's wet nurse Wang Nan (王男) and chef Bing Ji (邴吉, not to be confused with Emperor Xuan's prime minister of the same name) of unspecified crimes. Emperor An executed Wang and Bing and exiled their families. The nine-year-old crown prince was greatly saddened. Jiang and Fan, fearful of reprisals later, entered into a conspiracy with Empress Yan (who had always hated Crown Prince Bao as not born of herself) to falsely accuse Crown Prince Bao and his servants of crimes. Emperor An believed them, and demoted Crown Prince Bao to be the Prince of Jiyin.

In 125, Emperor An died suddenly while on a trip to Wancheng (宛城, in modern Nanyang, Henan ). Empress Yan, although Prince Bao was Emperor An's only son and therefore logical heir, resolved to make someone younger to be the emperor so that she could better control him. She therefore made Liu Yi (劉懿), the Marquess of Beixiang, emperor. The 10-year-old Prince Bao was excluded not only from succession but even from the official mourning for his father. Empress Dowager Yan and her brothers dominated the political scene.

Later that year, the young emperor was gravely ill. The eunuch Sun Cheng, loyal to Prince Bao, entered into a conspiracy with Prince Bao's head of household Changxing Qu (長興渠) and other eunuchs to restore Prince Bao. After the young emperor died, Sun and 18 of his fellow eunuchs made a surprise attack on the palace, killing Jiang and forcing Jiang's colleague Li Run (李閏) to join them. They then welcomed Prince Bao to the palace and declared him emperor. For several days, the eunuchs' forces battled with the empress dowager's forces, finally defeating the empress dowager and her brothers. The Yan clan was slaughtered, while Empress Dowager Yan was confined to her palace until her death in 126.

Early reign

At the start of Emperor Shun's reign, the people were hopeful that he would reform the political situation from the pervasive corruption under the Yans. The teenage emperor proved to be a kind but weak ruler, however, and while he trusted certain honest officials, he also trusted many corrupt eunuchs, who quickly grabbed power. In 126, Sun tried to encourage the young emperor to carry out extensive reforms, but was instead removed from the capital for his audacity, although Sun was recalled to the capital in 128, but continued to lack actual influence to affectuate reforms. Another major influence on Emperor Shun was his wet nurse Song E (宋娥), who was described as a kind woman who, however, also lacked abilities, and as she was effectively in the stead of an empress dowager, she was influential but not much of an actual help for Emperor Shun.

Early in Emperor Shun's reign, Ban Chao's son Ban Yong was able to effectively restore Han suzerainty over Xiyu (modern Xinjiang and former Soviet central Asia) kingdoms, but in 127, Ban Yong was falsely accused of being late in a military action and removed from his office. After Ban Yong's removal, the situation in Xiyu gradually deteriorated.

Other than these, however, the time of Emperor Shun was generally one during which the empire rested from previous periods of political turmoil. Although the emperor lacked capability, and corruption continued to run unchecked, his personal kindness allowed the people a measurement of peace.

In 131, Emperor Shun was going to create an empress, and not wanting to play favorites, he considered drawing lots before gods to determine who should be the empress. After his officials discouraged him from this action, he finally selected one of his consorts, Liang Na, as the one he considered most virtuous and most rational, and he created her empress in 132. She was 16 and he was 19. Her father Liang Shang (梁商) became an honored official and was gradually promoted to increasingly important posts.

Late reign

In 135, two major political changes occurred—eunuch-marquesses began to be allowed to pass their marches to their adopted sons, and Liang Shang became the commander of the armed forces and effectively the most powerful individual in the imperial government. Neither of these developments appeared at the time to be major, but had great implications; the former demonstrated that the power of the eunuchs was becoming systemic, and the latter led to the start of the Liangs controlling the imperial government for several administrations.

Liang Shang was, much like his son-in-law, a kind man who lacked real political abilities, even though he himself appeared to be honest and clean. For example, in 138, when there was a conspiracy by some eunuchs to undermine him that Emperor Shun discovered, he advocated leniency, and while Emperor Shun did not completely agree with him, Liang's intercession clearly saved many lives. However, both he and Emperor Shun trusted his son Liang Ji (梁冀) who, unlike his father, was corrupt and violent.

In 136 to 138, there were a number of native rebellions in various parts of southern China. While these were generally put down with relative ease (in particular, the rebels generally surrendered willingly if the corrupt officials they were protesting against were replaced by Emperor Shun), these would foreshadow the much more serious rebellions that would come in the next few decades. Further, in 139, the Qiang again rebelled, and this time the rebellion would not be put down easily and would plague Emperor Shun for the rest of his reign. Indeed, in 141, the Qiang forces annihilated a Han force led by Ma Xian (馬賢) and set fire to the tomb-gardens of a number of western han emperors in the Chang'an region. Further, eventually, the agrarian rebellions started again in Jing (荊州, modern Hunan , Hubei , and southern Henan ) and Yang (揚州, modern Jiangxi , Zhejiang , and central and southern Jiangsu , Anhui ) Provinces and would not be pacified for the rest of Emperor Shun's reign.

Also in 141, Liang Shang died. Inexplicably, Emperor Shun gave his post to his son Liang Ji and gave Liang Ji's post to his younger brother Liang Buyi (梁不疑). Liang Ji proceeded to seize power at every opportunity, and even though Liang Buyi tried to encourage his brother to be moderate in behavior, his pleas fell on deaf ears.

In 144, apparently already ill, Emperor Shun created his only son Liu Bing (劉炳), born of his concubine Consort Yu in 143, crown prince. Later that year, Emperor Shun died, and Crown Prince Bing succeeded him as Emperor Chong. Empress Dowager Liang served as regent, and while she personally appeared capable, her trust in her brother Liang Ji would lead to a major decline of eastern han.

Personal information


Emperor An of Han


Consort Li


Empress Liang Na (created 132, d. 150)

Major Concubines

Consort Yu, mother of Emperor Chong and Princess Sheng


Liu Bing (劉炳), the Crown Prince (b. 143, created 144), later Emperor Chong of Han

Liu Sheng (劉生), the Princess Wuyang (created 138)

Liu Chengnan (劉成男), the Princess Guanjun (created 138)

Liu Guang (劉廣), the Princess Ruyang (created 141)

Last update 04-04-2012

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