Prince of Hongnong

The Prince of Hongnong (176-190) (simplified Chinese: 弘农王; traditional Chinese: 弘農王; pinyin: Hóngnóng Wáng; also translated as "King of Hongnong"), was briefly an emperor of China during the han dynasty. He is also known as "Emperor Han Shao" (literally "young emperor"), a name which he shares with several other emperors with brief reigns. He came to power in 189 and was deposed and then poisoned by Dong Zhuo in 190.

Family background

Liu Bian, the future Prince of Hongnong, was born in 176, to Emperor Ling and his then-concubine, Consort He. According to traditional historians, prior to him, Emperor Ling had other sons, but they all died young. Therefore, based on the superstitutions of the time, Emperor Ling believed that his sons needed to be raised outside the palace by foster parents. Prince Bian was therefore entrusted to the magician Shi Zimiao (史子眇) and known by the circumspect title "Marquess Shi" (based on another superstition that a lesser title of reference would ward off evil spirits). (Later, when his younger brother Liu Xie was born to Consort Wang, Prince Xie was raised by his grandmother Empress Dowager Dong and known by the circumspect title "Marquess Dong.")

Due to her having given birth to Emperor Ling's oldest surviving son, Prince Bian's mother Consort He was created empress in 180. Despite this, perhaps partly again due to superstitution and partly because Emperor Ling viewed his behavior as being insufficiently solemn, Prince Bian was never created crown prince, and at times Emperor Ling seriously considered creating the younger Prince Xie crown prince.

When Emperor Ling died in 189, a powerful eunuch that he trusted, Jian Shuo, wanted to first kill Empress He's brother He Jin and then make Prince Xie emperor, and so he set up a trap at a meeting he was to have with He. He Jin discovered the plot, and preemptorily declared Prince Bian emperor. Empress He became empress dowager, and she and her brother He Jin became the key figures at court, although a number of the eunuchs remained very powerful.

Brief reign

A confrontation quickly brewed. In the summer of 189, He Jin, plotting with Yuan Shao and Yuan Shu, as well as a number of other young officials, planned to act against Jian. Jian tried to persuade his fellow powerful eunuchs, including Zhao Zhong and Song Dian (宋典), to go along with his plan to arrest and kill He Jin. However, Zhao and Song were persuaded by another eunuch, Guo Sheng (郭勝) -- a friend of the Hes—to turn down Jian's suggestions. He Jin then arrested Jian and executed him, taking over the forces under his control.

The Hes then had a confrontation with yet another power center. Emperor Ling's mother, Grand Empress Dowager Dong, and her nephew Dong Chong (董重) were displeased at the Hes' power grab, and Grand Empress Dowager Dong often argued with Empress Dowager He, once threatening to have Dong Chong decapitate He Jin. He Jin took preemptive action and had Empress Dowager He issue an edict exiling her mother-in-law back to Hejian (in modern Baoding, Hebei ), where her husband's fief was and Dong Chong arrested. Dong Chong committed suicide, and Grand Empress Dowager Dong died soon thereafter—with most historical accounts concluding that she died from fear, but some suggested that she committed suicide. This event caused the Hes to be very unpopular among the people.

In autumn 189, Yuan Shao suggested to He Jin that the eunuchs be slaughtered—a proposal that Empress He immediately rejected, as the plan would have required that Empress He interact with normal men on a regular basis, a requirement that she found offensive and immodest. Empress Dowager He's mother Lady Xian and brother He Miao (何苗) also opposed the plan, reasoning that they owed much to the eunuchs. He Jin was therefore hesitant to carry out his plan, and he and Yuan Shao hatched an alternative plan that would later prove disastrous—instructing generals outside the hospital to declare rebellions and demanding that the eunuchs be slaughtered, in order to force Empress He to do so. One of the generals that He Jin so instructed was Dong Zhuo, then in command of the battle-tested Liang Province (涼州, modern Gansu ) forces—not remembering that Dong Zhuo had previous records for disobeying direct orders and undue harshness.

As Dong approached the capital with his forces, Empress Dowager He was forced to order the powerful eunuchs to leave the palace and return to their marches. (Most of these powerful eunuchs were created marquesses by Emperor Ling.) However, after the eunuchs' leader, Zhang Rang pleaded with his daughter-in-law (Empress Dowager He's sister), Empress Dowager He relented and summoned them back to the palace. The eunuchs then found out that He Jin in fact planned to exterminate them, and they tricked He Jin into falling into an ambush and getting killed. He Jin's associates, led by Yuan Shao, then surrounded the palace, and the eunuchs took Empress Dowager He, the young emperor, and Prince Xie hostage, although Empress Dowager He soon escaped. Meanwhile, Yuan Shao had the other eunuchs mass-executed, and also killed He Miao for not having cooperated with He Jin.

Two days later, the several eunuchs holding the emperor and Prince Xie hostage, knowing that they were in desperate straits, took the emperor and the prince and fled north toward the river. With government officials Lu Zhi and Min Gong (閔貢) on their heels, the eunuchs, led by Zhang Rang, released the emperor and Prince Xie and committed suicide by jumping into the Yellow River. As Min and Lu were escorting the emperor and the prince back to the capital Luoyang, they were intercepted by Dong Zhuo's forces. As Dong came up to meet them, the young emperor was so shocked that he spoke incoherently and could not answer Dong Zhuo's questions. The younger Prince Xie, however, had no such difficulty in describing the events. Dong became impressed by the younger prince, and, because he shared the same name with the late Grand Empress Dowager Dong, began to consider deposing the emperor and replacing him with Prince Xie.

Dong quickly took over the capital by using his forces to intimidate others. Yuan Shao and Cao Cao, then in command of the palace guards, saw that they could no longer control their forces, which had been so intimidated by the stronger Liang Province forces that they were not following orders, fled the capital. Dong then ordered the young emperor deposed (and created the Prince of Hongnong), and Empress Dowager He was forced to agree. Prince Xie was declared emperor (as Emperor Xian). The Prince of Hongnong's mother Empress Dowager He was soon poisoned to death by Dong.


For months, it appeared that Dong, now in complete control of the central government, was going to leave the former emperor alone. That would not last, however. In early 190, after a coalition of provincial officials and exiles, led by Yuan Shao, rebelled against his authority, Dong became weary of keeping the Prince Bian alive. Less than a month after the rebellion started, Dong ordered his subordinate Li Ru to force the prince to drink poisoned wine, although Li did permit the prince to say farewell to his wife Consort Tang and his concubines before doing so. He was buried in the tomb originally intended for the late eunuch Zhao Zhong and given the posthumous name Prince Huai.

Personal information


Emperor Ling of Han


Empress He


Consort Tang, later given honorific title of Princess of Hongnong

Last update 04-04-2012

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