Emperor Liu Yan

Liu Yan (劉龑; 889 –June 10, 942 ), né Liu Yan (劉巖), also known as Liu Zhi (劉陟) (from ~896 to 911) and briefly as Liu Gong (劉龔), formally Tianhuang Dadi (天皇大帝) with the temple name Gaozu (高祖), was the first emperor of the Chinese five dynasties and ten kingdoms Period state southern han.


Liu Yan was born in 889, during the reign of Emperor Zhaozong of Tang. His father Liu Zhiqian (also known as Liu Qian) was then the prefect of Feng Prefecture (封州, in modern Zhaoqing, Guangdong ) and was married to a Lady Wei, the niece of Wei Zhou (韋宙), a prior military governor (Jiedushi) of Lingnan East Circuit (嶺南東道, headquartered in modern Guangzhou, Guangdong ), which Feng Prefecture belonged to. However, he also secretly had a concubine outside the home, a Lady Duan, and it was to Lady Duan that Liu Yan was born. When Lady Wei found out, she killed Lady Duan, but could not bear to kill the infant Liu Yan, and she took him back home to be raised as her own, as a younger brother to her own sons Liu Yin and Liu Tai (劉台).

As Liu Yan grew up, it was said that was tall and capable in both horsemanship and archery. After Liu Yin became the commander of the army of the circuit (which had been renamed Qinghai (清海)) by that point under the military governor Li Zhirou the Prince of Xue in 896, Liu Yan was also given the title of military advisor to Li Zhirou as the Prince of Xue, and his name was changed from Liu Yan to Liu Zhi.

Service under Liu Yin

In 901, Li Zhirou's successor Xu Yanruo died, leaving a recommendation to Emperor Zhaozong that Liu Yin be made acting military governor, and Liu Yin subsequently took that title. Liu Zhi continued serving under his brother, and was first recorded to have participated in a campaign in 902, when Lu Guangchou, who controlled the Qian Prefecture (虔州, in modern Ganzhou, Jiangxi ) region as Qian's prefect, attacked Qinghai , capturing Shao Prefecture (韶州, in modern Shaoguan, Guangdong ) and giving it to his son Lu Yanchang, and then putting Chao Prefecture (潮州, in modern Chaozhou, Guangdong ) under siege. Liu Yin personally led an army and repelled Lu Guangchou from Chao, and then prepared to attack Shao. Under Liu Zhi's advice (as Liu Zhi believed that a direct attack would not be successful due to the strength of Lu Yanchang's army), he put Shao under siege to try to wear out Lu Yanchang's defense, but the strategy backfired when, due to high water levels on the river, the Qinghai army's food supplies were disrupted. Lu Guangchou then launched a relief army from Qian, repelling Liu Yin from Shao.

Meanwhile, Emperor Zhaozong commissioned the chancellor Cui Yuan as the new military governor of Qinghai , but Cui, while on the way to Qinghai , heard about popular uprisings in the region and also was worried that Liu Yin would not yield the position to him, and therefore returned to then-capital Luoyang. Subsequently, after Liu Yin bribed the powerful warlord Zhu Quanzhong the military governor of Xuanwu Circuit (宣武, headquartered in modern Kaifeng, Henan ), who had the Tang imperial court under his physical control by that point, Emperor Zhaozong's son and successor Emperor Ai of Tang commissioned Liu Yin as full military governor in 904. Liu Zhi served as Liu Yin's deputy military governor. It was said that at that time, in addition to the continued conflict with Lu Guangchou, substantial portions of the region were controlled by other warlords — Qu Hao at Jiao Prefecture (交州, in modern Hanoi, Vietnam); Liu Shizheng (劉士政) at Gui Prefecture (桂州, in modern Guilin, Guangxi ); Ye Guanglüe (葉廣略) at Yong Prefecture (邕州, in modern Nanning, Guangxi ); Pang Juzhao (龐巨昭) at Rong Prefecture (容州, in modern Yulin , Guangxi ); Liu Changlu (劉昌魯) at Gao Prefecture (高州, in modern Maoming, Guangdong ); and Liu Qian (劉潜, different person than Liu Zhi's father) at Xin Prefecture (新洲, in modern Yunfu, Guangdong ). In addition, east of the Pearl River, there were some 70 camps of people who did not recognize Liu Yin's authorities. It was said that after Liu Yin entrusted the military matters to Liu Zhi, Liu Zhi gradually had these warlords expelled or forced into submission, such that he became known as the preeminent general in the Lingnan region.

One of these campaigns was described as in or around 910 (by which time Liu Yin was a vassal of the new later liang dynasty, which Zhu had established as its Emperor Taizu, and carried the title of Prince of Nanping or Nanhai), when Liu Zhi attacked Liu Changlu at Gao Prefecture. Liu Changlu repelled his attack, but figured that he would not be able to indefinitely hold out against the Liu brothers, and therefore, along with Pang, offered to submit to Ma Yin the Prince of Chu. Ma sent troops to safely escort Liu Changlu and Pang back to his territory and had his general Yao Yanzhang (姚彥章) take up garrison at Rong Prefecture.

In 911, Liu Yin grew deathly ill. He submitted a petition recommending Liu Zhi as acting military governor, and died shortly after. Liu Zhi took over the circuit. Shortly after, later liang dynasty's Emperor Taizu made Liu Zhi full military governor. His name was changed back to Liu Yan.

As military governo

It was said that Liu Yan, while serving as military governor, frequently invited members of the intelligentsia who had fled from the Central Plain to serve on his staff, and often made the prefects of the circuit's prefectures, so among the prefects there were no military officers.

Meanwhile, also in 911, Lu Guangchou's son and successor Lu Yanchang was assassinated by his officer Li Qiu, who subsequently died and was succeeded by another officer, Li Yantu. As Li Qiu had considered killing Lu Guangchou's chief strategist Tan Quanbo, Tan claimed to be ill and retired from the Qian Prefecture army. Hearing of this, Liu Yan dispatched an army to attack Shao Prefecture and captured it; its prefect Liao Shuang (廖爽) fled to Chu, allowing Liu Yan to take Shao under his control. Meanwhile, he also again attacked Rong Prefecture. Yao Yanzhang was unable to stand up against his attacks despite being aided by a Chu relief force commanded by Xu Dexun, so Yao took the people and left Rong Prefecture, allowing Liu to take control of the Rong Prefecture region, as well as Gao Prefecture. Hearing of the war between two of his vassals, later liang dynasty's Emperor Taizu sent a delegation led by the official Wei Jian (韋戩) to try to mediate a peace between Ma and Liu. Liu responded by sending a large tribute of gold, silver, rhinoceros horns, ivory, and other assorted jewels and spices, to Emperor Taizu

In late 912, Emperor Taizu was assassinated and succeeded by his son Zhu Yougui the Prince of Ying. In early 913, Zhu Yougui bestowed the honorary title of acting Taifu (太傅, "emperor's professor") on Liu. He was subsequently defeated in a countercoup led by his brother Zhu Youzhen the Prince of Jun and committed suicide. Zhu Youzhen, who took the throne and changed his name to Zhu Zhen, then gave Liu the title of not only military governor of Qinghai , but also of Jianwu Circuit (建武, headquartered at Yong Prefecture), and also created him the Prince of Nanping, a title previously held by Liu Yin.

Also in 913, Liu Yan sought a marital alliance with Ma Yin, and Ma agreed. In 915, Liu sent a delegation to Chu's capital Changsha to welcome Ma's Empress Ma daughter as his bride, and Ma sent his brother Ma Cun (馬存) to escort her to Qinghai . Meanwhile, Liu was dissatisfied that he was only given the title of Prince of Nanping, while another later liang dynasty vassal, Qian Liu, carried the greater title of Prince of wuyue. He made a request to Zhu Zhen that he be created the similarly-honored title of Prince of Nanyue and be given a further title as commander of the circuits. When Zhu Zhen refused, Liu commented:

Now the Central Plain is in confusion. No one knows who is the true Son of Heaven with the Mandate of Heaven. How can I send emissaries over the mountains and the seas to serve a false dynasty?

Thereafter, Liu stopped sending tributes and emissaries to the later liang dynasty court.

In fall 917, Liu went further and declared himself emperor of a new state of Yue, at his capital of Panyu (which he renamed Xingwang). He posthumously honored his grandfather Liu Anren (劉安仁), father Liu Qian, and brother Liu Yin as emperors. He commissioned the later liang dynasty emissaries Zhao Guangyi and Li Yinheng (who were previously detained by Liu Yin), as well as his deputy military governor Yang Dongqian, chancellors.

Rise to power

The tang dynasty, which had controlled all of China, for about three centuries, fell in 907. Liu Yan's brother, Liu Yin, had been named regional governor by the Tang court in 905, two years before its fall. He assumed the title Prince of Nanping in 909. After his brother's death in 911, he succeeded him as king of Nanhai. Six years later, he declared himself emperor of Great Yuè (大越). He renamed the kingdom southern han two years later in 919.


Liu Yan reigned over the southern han kingdom until his death in 943. Due to the geographic location of the kingdom, not only did Liu have to deal with Chinese kingdoms such as southern tang, Min, and Chu, but non-Chinese peoples, most notably the Vietnamese, who only recently threw off the Chinese yoke. In 939, Liu Yan decided that it was time to bring the Vietnamese back into the Chinese orbit. However, despite the fact that the Vietnamese had yet to truly organize into a strong polity, the southern han forces were unsuccessful in subduing the Vietnamese.

While he reigned ably on the domestic front during his two and a half decades in power, his rule was unremarkable. He was not able to turn Guangzhou into one of the centers of Southern learning and culture that Hangzhou, Nanjing, and Chengdu had emerged into.

Personal information


Liu Zhiqian or Liu Qian, posthumously honored Emperor Shengwu with the temple name of Daizu


Lady Duan, Liu Zhiqian's concubine


Empress Ma, daughter of Ma Yin, the prince of Chu

Major Concubines

Consort Zhao, mother of Prince Hongdu, later consort dowager


Liu Yaoshu (劉耀樞), the Prince of Yong (created 932), died early

Liu Guitu (劉龜圖), the Prince of Kang (created 932), died early

Liu Hongdu (劉弘度), later renamed Liu Fen, initially the Prince of Bin (created 932), later the Prince of Qin (created 932), later emperor

Liu Hongxi (劉弘熙), later renamed Liu Sheng, the Prince of Jin (created 932), later emperor

Liu Hongchang (劉弘昌), the Prince of Yue (created 932, killed by Liu Sheng 944)

Liu Hongbi (劉弘弼), the Prince of Qi (created 932, killed by Liu Sheng 947)

Liu Hongya (劉弘雅), the Prince of Shao (created 932, killed by Liu Sheng 945)

Liu Hongze (劉弘澤), the Prince of Zhen (created 932, killed by Liu Sheng 944)

Liu Hongcao (劉弘操), initially the Prince of Wan (created 932), later the Prince of Jiao (created and killed in battle 938)

Liu Honggao (劉弘杲), the Prince of Xun (created 932, killed by Liu Sheng 943)

Liu Hongwei (劉弘暐), the Prince of En (created 932, killed by Liu Sheng 947)

Liu Hongmiao (劉弘邈), the Prince of Gao (created 932, killed by Liu Sheng 954)

Liu Hongjiǎn (劉弘簡) (note different tone than his brother), the Prince of Tong (created 932, killed by Liu Sheng 947)

Liu Hongjiàn (劉弘建) (note different tone than his brother), the Prince of Yi (created 932, killed by Liu Sheng 947)

Liu Hongji (劉弘濟), the Prince of Bian (created 932, killed by Liu Sheng 947)

Liu Hongdao (劉弘道), the Prince of Gui (created 932, killed by Liu Sheng 947)

Liu Hongzhao (劉弘照), the Prince of Yi (created 932, killed by Liu Sheng 947)

Liu Hongzheng (劉弘政), the Prince of Tong (created 932, killed by Liu Sheng 955)

Liu Hongyi (劉弘益), the Prince of Ding (created 932, killed by Liu Sheng 947)

Last update 18-06-2012

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