Wang Mang

Middle reign: agrarian rebellions

For a while, despite the failures of Wang's policies, the people were generally obedient. About 17, as the burdens from the wars and the corruption continued to increase, however, several agrarian rebellions started and took hold, partly also because of a major famine in Jing Prefecture (modern Hubei , Hunan , and southern Henan ). The more significant ones include:

Guatian Yi (瓜田儀), who occupied territory in modern Suzhou , Jiangsu .

Mother Lü, whose son was a minor civil servant who was wrongly killed by the county magistrate. She gathered a group of desperate young men and killed the county magistrate, and then went out to the sea to become pirates, but later returned to land when her forces became larger.

Zhang Ba (張霸), who occupied territory in modern Jingzhou, Hubei .

Yang Mu (羊牧), who occupied territory in modern Xiaogan, Hubei .

Diao Zidu (刁子都), who roved through modern western Shandong and northern Jiangsu .

The very important Lülin Mountain (綠林山, in modern Yichang, Hubei ) rebels, who were led by Wang Kuang (王匡) and Wang Feng (王鳳, not to be confused with Wang Mang's uncle of the same name). Because both Wang Kuang and Wang Feng were from Xinshi (新市, in modern Jingmen, Hubei ), these rebels were also known as Xinshi rebels.

The also very important Chimei (赤眉, "red eyebrows") rebels, who were led by Fan Chong (樊崇), who roved through large swaths of territory in modern southern Shandong and northern Jiangsu . (They got their names because, in order to distinguish themselves from government forces attacking them, they painted their eyebrows red.)

Wang sent messengers issuing pardons in hope of causing these rebels to disband. Once the messengers returned to Chang'an, some honestly reported that the rebels had gathered because the harsh laws made it impossible for them to make a living and therefore they were forced to rebel. Some, in order to flatter Wang Mang, told him that these were simply evil resisters who needed to be killed, or that this was a temporary phenomenon. Wang listened to those who flattered him and generally relieved from their posts those who told the truth. Further, Wang made no further attempts to pacify the rebels, but instead decided to suppress them by force.

At this time, Wang made another strategic mistake involving Xiongnu. In 18, Chanyu Xian died, and his brother Yu (輿) became chanyu. He wanted to consider peace with Xin, and he sent one of his key officials and a nephew of his to serve as ambassadors to Chang'an. In response, Wang Mang sent Wang Zhaojun's brother Wang She (王歙) to meet with Princess Yun and her husband Xuyu Dang. At the meeting, however, Xin forces surprised and kidnapped the princess and her husband and took them to Chang'an. Wang Mang created Xuyu chanyu and envisioned placing him on the Xiongnu throne by force. This ended any hope of peace with Xiongnu.

In 20, Wang Mang made a sudden change of his presumed heir—of sorts. He suddenly deposed Crown Prince Lin, under the rationale that disaster would come from the fact that Crown Prince Lin was younger than his brother Lord An, and should not have been crown prince. He then created Lord An the Prince of Xinqian and Wang Lin the Prince of Tongyiyang.

In 21, Empress Wang died. After her death, Wang Mang discovered that one of Empress Wang's ladies in waiting, Yuan Bi (原碧), with whom he had an affair, had also had an affair with Crown Prince Lin, and that she had conspired with Crown Prince Lin to kill Wang Mang, in light of Wang Lin's demotion. Wang Mang ordered Wang Lin to commit suicide by poison, but Wang Lin refused, and killed himself by sword. Later that year, Wang An died as well. Wang Mang then announced that he had in fact two sons by female servants, whom he then created dukes.

Late reign

Agrarian revolts

In 22, Wang Mang finally saw (as many of his officials had tried to tell him earlier) that the agrarian rebellions were posing a much greater threat to his rule than the Xiongnu. He commissioned two of his key officials, Wang Kuang (王匡, not to be confused with the Lülin leader of the same name) and Lian Dan to attack agrarian rebellions, with the Chimei being their first target. Wang and Lian had some initial successes, but Wang insisted on having them keep fighting without resting, and the fatigued forces eventually collapsed.

In the same year, Lülin forces suffered a major plague, killing about half of the rebels. This caused them to divide. One branch headed west to the region of modern Jingzhou, Hubei, while the other headed north to the region of the modern Nanyang, Henan .

Liu's revolt merge with Lülin agrarian revolt

Around this time, the most ambitious of the rebels would emerge. Liu Yan, a descendant of a distant branch of the Han imperial clan, who lived in his ancestral territory of Chongling (舂陵, in modern Xiangfan, Hubei ), had long been disgusted by Wang Mang's usurpation of the Han throne, and had long aspired to start a rebellion. His brother Liu Xiu, by contrast, was a careful and deliberate man, who was content to be a farmer. Around this time, there were prophecies being spread about that the Lius would return to power, and many men gathered about Liu Yan, requesting that he lead them. He agreed, and further joined forces with the branch of Lülin forces who had entered the proximity, and they began to capture territory instead of simply roving and raiding. (It was said that many of the neighborhood young men were initially hesitant to join the rebels, but when they saw that Liu Xiu, whom they considered wise and careful, joining as well, they agreed to.) In 23, under Liu Yan's leadership, the joint forces had a major victory over Zhen Fu (甄阜), the governor of the Commandery of Nanyang, killing him. They then besieged the important city of Wancheng (the capital of Nanyang).

A new imperial pretender

By this point, many other rebel leaders had become jealous of Liu Yan's capabilities, and while a good number of their men admired Liu Yan and wanted him to become the emperor of a newly declared han dynasty, they had other ideas. They found another local rebel leader, also of Han imperial descent, Liu Xuan, who was considered a weak personality, and requested that he be made emperor. Liu Yan initially opposed this move and instead suggested that Liu Xuan carry the title "Prince of Han" first (echoing the founder of the han dynasty, Emperor Gao). The other rebel leaders refused, and in early 23, Liu Xuan was proclaimed emperor. Liu Yan became prime minister.

The Battle of Kunyang

In the spring of 23, a major military confrontation sealed Wang Mang's fate. He sent his cousin Wang Yi (王邑) and his prime minister Wang Xun (王尋) with what he considered to be overwhelming force, some 430,000 men, intending to crush the newly reconstituted Han regime. The Han forces were at this point in two groups—one led by Wang Feng, Wang Chang (王常), and Liu Xiu, which, in response to the arrival of the Xin forces, withdrew to the small town of Kunyang (昆陽, in modern Pingdingshan, Henan ) and one led by Liu Yan, which was still besieging Wancheng. The rebels in Kunyang initially wanted to scatter, but Liu Xiu opposed it; rather, he advocated that they guard Kunyang securely, while he would gather all other available troops in surrounding areas and attack the Xin forces from the outside. After initially rejecting Liu Xiu's idea, the Kunyang rebels eventually agreed.

Liu Xiu carried out his action, and when he returned to Kunyang, he began harassing the besieging Xin forces from the outside. Wang Yi and Wang Xun, annoyed, led 10,000 men to attack Liu Xiu and ordered the rest of their troops not to move from their siege locations. Once they engaged in battle, however, after minor losses, the other units were hesitant to assist them, and Liu Xiu killed Wang Xun in battle. After that, the Han forces inside Kunyang burst out of the city and attacked the other Xin units, and the much larger Xin forces suffered a total collapse. The soldiers largely deserted and went home, unable to be gathered again. Wang Yi had to withdraw with only several thousand men back to Luoyang. This was a major blow to Xin, psychologically; from this point on, there would be no hope for it.

Conquest of the capitals

Emperor Gengshi then commissioned two armies, one led by Wang Kuang, targeting Luoyang, and the other led by Shentu Jian (申屠建) and Li Song (李松), targeting Chang'an directly. All the populace on the way gathered, welcomed, and joined the Han forces. Shentu and Li quickly reached the outskirts of Chang'an. In response, the young men within Chang'an also rose up and stormed Weiyang Palace, the main imperial palace. Wang died in the battle at the palace (by Du Wu (杜吳)), as did his daughter Princess Huanghuang (the former empress of Han). After Wang died, the crowd fought over the right to have the credit for having killed Wang, and tens of soldiers died in the ensuing fight. Wang's body was cut into pieces, and his head was delivered to the provisional Han capital Wancheng, to be hung on the city wall. However, the angry people took it off the wall and kicked it around, and someone cut his tongue off. Eventually, the head was preserved and kept in a court vault, until it was destroyed in a fire in the jin dynasty.

Reasons for Wang Mang's failure

Wang's reforms have been said to be a foreshadowing of socialism. The reasons why he failed were complicated. The qing dynasty historian Zhao Yi (趙翼) made the following remarks, which, while perhaps overly derogating of Wang, were not inaccurate:

The first of Wang Mang's failures was to seize all private land under the wangtian system and prohibiting land transactions. If a person's land exceeded 0.6 square kilometers, then he must distribute them to neighbors or relatives. Those who dared to oppose it were exiled to the wild borderland. He also prohibited people from saving and using the Han coins that the people considered reliable, and he also exiled those who violated this policy. Therefore, farmers and tradesmen lost their livelihood. Further, those who were severely punished for trading land or trading Han coins were innumerable. He then created the six monopolies, ordering local governments to monopolize liquor, salt, and iron, and he created taxes on the goods coming out of mountains, forests, and lakes. These are all policies that angered the Chinese.

Wang Mang thought he had already brought Xiongnu to the north, Koreans to the east, and Huangzhi tribes to the south to submission, but he had no accomplishments in the west, so he encouraged the Qiang tribes to offer their lands to establish the Commandery of Xihai, but after the Qiang tribes lost their lands, they rebelled. He also demoted the barbaric princes to marquesses. He sent ambassadors to issue a new seal to the Xiongnu chanyu, changing the text of the great seal. Chanyu wanted the old seal, but the ambassadors destroyed it. Chanyu became angry and therefore began to disturb the northern territories. The Prince of Juting also rebelled because he was demoted to marquess status. These are all policies that angered the foreigners.

Because of Xiongnu raids, Wang Mang sent 12 generals and 180 officers to lead a force of 300,000 men. When those who violated the coinage policy and their neighbors were all arrested, Wang made these condemned people soldiers. Men were put into stock cars, while women and children were forced to walk with chains around their necks. Their numbers exceeded 100,000. After they arrived, husbands and wives were separated from each other and given over to other men and women. Local governments were required to transport food from the regions of the Yangtze River and the East Sea to the northern extremes. The troops that arrived first were required to wait for the entire army to be constituted before attacking. Therefore, the generals and the officers became lawless in the northern territories and became a major disaster. The Commanderies of Wuyuan and Dai suffered the most. The forces attacking Juting suffered losses of 50 to 60 percent. These are all policies that, because of Wang Mang's militarism, caused foreign states to be embroiled in enmity with China.

Therefore, as a result, the empire boiled like water, and the people rose against him. Gengshi, Chimei, and Guangwu all claimed to have Liu ancestry to obtain support. Many know that Wang Mang's defeat was because the people missed han dynasty, but they do not know that the reason why the people missed the han dynasty was because of Wang Mang. When Wang Mang first became regent, he accomplished many great deeds to become the basis for his greater evil acts, but these were only acts of ordinary treacherous men. After he usurped the throne, he did not know how to comfort and guide the people, and felt that he could ceaselessly deceive everyone. Therefore, he caused both the Chinese and the foreigners to hate him.

The entire empire was already collapsing, but Wang Mang did not care, but rather buried his head in what is old, believing that once he returned the government structure to the old days, the empire will be peaceful. He only sought to establish proper ceremony and music day and night, and he sought to create explanations for all of the Confucian classics by making tortured interpretations, without spending time on the important affairs of state. Before he could complete his ceremonies and music, he was already killed. This kind of behavior is even more childish than a three year old child. There is a common contemporary idiom, "foolishness is but a form of trickery." But for Wang Mang, his trickery was only a form of foolishness

Personal information


Wang Man (王曼), the early-deceased brother of Empress Wang Zhengjun, second son of Wang Jin, Marquess of Yangping and his wife Li Qin


Qu (渠)


Empress Wang (created 9, d. 21), mother of Wang Yu, Wang Huo, Wang An, Wang Lin, and Princess Huanghuang

Empress Shi (created 23)

Major Concubines

Zhenzhi (增秩), originally a female servant, family name unknown, mother of Wang Kuang

Huaineng (懷能), originally a female servant, family name unknown, mother of Wang Xin and a daughter of Wang's (her name is not part of Unicode and therefore unavailable online)

Kaiming (開明), originally a female servant, family name unknown, mother of Wang Jie


Wang Yu (王宇) (d. 2), opposed Wang Mang and was thus killed along with his wife Lü Yan and Lü Kuan brother of Lü Yan

Yu had six sons named Wang Qian, Wang Shou, Wang Ji, Wang Zong, Wang Shi and Wang Li(王千、王寿、王吉、王宗、王世、王利). Wang Zong, born Wang Huizong(王會宗), would succeed Wang Mang as Marquess of Xindu, but when his conspiracy against Wang Mang was discovered, he committed suicide in 8.

Wang Huo (王獲) (d. 5 BC), forced to commit suicide by Wang Mang

Wang An (王安), initially created the Lord of Xinjia (created 9), then the Prince of Xinqian (created 20) (d. 21)

Wang Lin (王臨), initially created the Crown Prince (created 9), then the Prince of Tongyiyang (created 20) (b. 9 BC, d. 21), forced to commit suicide by Wang Mang

Wang Xing (王興), the Duke of Gongxiu (功修) (created 21)

Wang Kuang (王匡), the Duke of Gongjian (功建) (created 21)

Princess Huanghuang (Empress Xiaoping of Han) (created 10), initlally created the Duchess Dowager of Ding'an (created 9) (d. 23)

Wang Jie (王捷), the Lady of Mudai (created 21)

A daughter by Huaineng (her name is not part of Unicode and therefore unavailable online), the Lady of Muxiu (created 21)

xin dynasty Sovereigns

Personal name

Period of reign

Era names(年號) and their according range of years

Wang Mang


Shijianguo (始建國 shi3 jian4 guo1, "The beginning of a nation's establishment") 9-13

Tianfeng (天鳳 tian1 feng1, "Heavenly Feng") 14-19

Dihuang (地皇 di4 huang2, "Earthly Emperor") 20-23

Read More About Wang Mang


Last update 01-06-2012

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