Liu Bian

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Liu Bian
Emperor of the Han dynasty
Reign15 May – 28 September 189
PredecessorEmperor Ling
SuccessorEmperor Xian
RegentHe Jin
Dong Zhuo
Prince of Hongnong (弘農王)
Tenure28 September 189 – 6 March 190
Died6 March 190 (aged 13–14)
ConsortsConsort Tang
Family name: Liu (劉)
Given name: Bian (辯)
Posthumous name
Prince Huai of Hongnong (弘農懷王)
HouseHan dynasty
FatherEmperor Ling
MotherEmpress Lingsi
Liu Bian
Traditional Chinese劉辯
Simplified Chinese刘辩
Prince of Hongnong
Traditional Chinese弘農王
Simplified Chinese弘农王
Emperor Shao of Han
Traditional Chinese漢少帝
Simplified Chinese汉少帝

Liu Bian (176[a] – 6 March 190), also known as Emperor Shao of Han and the Prince of Hongnong, was the 13th emperor of the Eastern Han dynasty in China. He became emperor around the age of 13 upon the death of his father, Emperor Ling, and ruled briefly from 15 May to 28 September 189 before he was deposed, after which he became known as the "Prince of Hongnong". His emperor title, "Emperor Shao" (literally "young emperor"), was also used by other emperors who were in power for very short periods of time. In March 190, he was poisoned by Dong Zhuo, the warlord who deposed him and replaced him with his younger half-brother, Liu Xie (Emperor Xian).

Family background[edit]

Liu Bian was born in 176 to Liu Hong (Emperor Ling) and one of his consorts, Lady He. At the time of his birth, he was Emperor Ling's only son because the emperor's other sons who were born before Liu Bian died prematurely. As Emperor Ling believed that he lost his previous sons due to bad luck, he ordered Shi Zimiao (史子眇), a Taoist, to raise his newborn son; Liu Bian was given the title "Marquis Shi" (史侯).[1][2] Liu Bian's mother, Lady He, became empress in 180.[3] In 181, another of Emperor Ling's consorts, Beautiful Lady Wang (王美人), gave birth to a son, Liu Xie. Empress He, in her jealousy, had Beautiful Lady Wang poisoned to death. The motherless Liu Xie was raised by his grandmother, Empress Dowager Dong, and given the title "Marquis Dong" (董侯).[4]

When his subjects asked him to name one of his sons as crown prince, Emperor Ling had a dilemma between Liu Bian and Liu Xie, his only two surviving sons. He felt that Liu Bian was unfit to be emperor because he was frivolous and unable to command respect, so he preferred Liu Xie. However, he was also worried that if he chose Liu Xie, Empress He would turn to her half-brother, He Jin, for help. He Jin held the position of General-in-Chief (大將軍) and was a highly influential figure in the imperial court. He ultimately did not name either of his sons as crown prince.[5]


When Emperor Ling became critically ill in 189, he secretly entrusted an eight-year-old Liu Xie to a close aide and eunuch, Jian Shuo. Upon the emperor's death, Jian Shuo attempted to lure He Jin into a trap in the palace, assassinate him, and then install Liu Xie on the throne. Jian Shuo's plan to make Liu Xie emperor ultimately failed, so a 13-year-old Liu Bian was enthroned and became historically known as Emperor Shao. Empress He, as the emperor's mother, became empress dowager and attended imperial court sessions alongside her son. As Emperor Shao was still young, General-in-Chief He Jin and Grand Tutor Yuan Wei (袁隗) served as his regents.[6][7]

In the summer of 189, after learning that Jian Shuo wanted to assassinate him, He Jin and his supporters launched a preemptive move against the eunuch and had him arrested and executed.[8] Months later, Yuan Shao suggested to He Jin to eliminate the eunuch faction and consolidate power. Although Empress Dowager He strongly objected to He Jin's plan, the General-in-Chief, acting on Yuan Shao's advice, attempted to push his idea. He instigated a few regional warlords to lead their troops into the vicinity of Luoyang, the imperial capital, and openly demand that the eunuchs be executed – in the hope of pressuring Empress Dowager He into agreeing. The empress dowager, however, sided with and protected the eunuchs.[9] In retaliation, the eunuchs hatched a plot to assassinate He Jin: they issued a fake imperial order in Empress Dowager He's name, instructing He Jin to enter the imperial palace, where he fell into an ambush and was killed by the eunuchs.[10]

After He Jin's death, his subordinates Wu Kuang (吳匡) and Zhang Zhang (張璋), along with Yuan Shao, Yuan Shu and others, led their troops to storm the palace and kill the eunuchs in revenge. They indiscriminately slaughtered anyone who looked like a eunuch; some young men who had no facial hair, in desperation, dropped their pants in front of the soldiers to prove that they were not eunuchs. During the attack, the eunuchs took Emperor Shao, the Prince of Chenliu (Liu Xie) and Empress Dowager He hostage and tried to flee from the palace. Lu Zhi intercepted the eunuch Duan Gui (段珪) and saved the empress dowager from him.[11] He Jin's younger brother, He Miao, who was sympathetic towards the eunuchs, was killed by Wu Kuang and Dong Min (董旻). Over 2,000 people died in the attack.[12]

Emperor Shao and Liu Xie, who were taken out of the palace by the eunuchs during the chaos, were eventually found near the riverbank and saved by Lu Zhi and Min Gong (閔貢).[13] As Lu Zhi and Min Gong were escorting the emperor and prince back to the imperial palace, they were intercepted by forces under the command of Dong Zhuo, one of the warlords initially summoned by He Jin to put pressure on Empress Dowager He. When Dong Zhuo met them, Emperor Shao was so shocked that he could not express his thoughts clearly. In contrast, Liu Xie had no difficulty in describing what happened and, in Dong Zhuo's impression, behaved more like an emperor than Emperor Shao. Dong Zhuo thus conceived the idea of deposing Emperor Shao and replacing him with Liu Xie.

Deposal and death[edit]

After escorting the emperor and prince back to Luoyang, Dong Zhuo took advantage of the power vacuum created by the conflict between He Jin and the eunuch faction to seize control of the central government and imperial court. Many officials and the imperial troops stationed in Luoyang felt intimidated by the elite, battle-tested soldiers whom Dong Zhuo brought along with him from Liang Province. Dong Zhuo eventually had Emperor Shao deposed and replaced with Liu Xie, who became historically known as Emperor Xian. The former Emperor Shao was given the honorary title "Prince of Hongnong". Later that year, Dong Zhuo had Empress Dowager He poisoned to death in Yong'an Palace (永安宮).[14][15]

In early 190, after a coalition of warlords launched a campaign against Dong Zhuo in the name of freeing Emperor Xian and the central government from his control, Dong Zhuo became worried that the warlords might restore the Prince of Hongnong to the throne and hence threaten the legitimacy of the government he controlled in Luoyang. Within a month after the campaign started, Dong Zhuo sent his adviser Li Ru to force the prince to commit suicide by drinking poisoned wine. The prince was allowed to bid his wife, Consort Tang, and other concubines farewell before succumbing to his fate. However, in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the former emperor writes a poem that upsets Dong Zhuo who then sends Li Ru to kill him. He was buried in a tomb originally constructed for the eunuch Zhao Zhong and later posthumously honoured as "Prince Huai of Hongnong" (弘農懷王).

Era name[edit]

  • Zhaoning (昭寧; Zhāoníng) (15 May – 28 September 189)


Consorts and Issue:


Liu Kai (d. 131)
Liu Shu
Empress Xiaomu
Liu Chang
Empress Xiaoyuan
Emperor Ling of Han (156–189)
Empress Xiaoren (d. 189)
Liu Bian (176–190)
He Zhen
Empress Lingsi (d. 189)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ (長七尺一寸。生皇子辯,養於史道人家,號曰史侯。) Houhanshu vol. 10 (Part 2).
  2. ^ (道人謂道術之人也。獻帝春秋曰:「靈帝數失子,不敢正名,養道人史子眇家,號曰史侯。」) Annotation in Houhanshu vol. 10 (Part 2).
  3. ^ (光和三年,立為皇后。) Houhanshu vol. 10 (Part 2).
  4. ^ (四年,生皇子恊,后遂酖殺美人。 ... 董太后自養協,號曰董侯。) Houhanshu vol. 10 (Part 2).
  5. ^ (初,何皇后生皇子辯,王貴人生皇子協。羣臣請立太子,帝以辯輕佻無威儀,不可為人主,然皇后有寵,且進又居重權,故乆不決。) Houhanshu vol. 69.
  6. ^ (六年,帝疾篤,屬協於蹇碩。碩旣受遺詔,且素輕忌於進兄弟,及帝崩,碩時在內,欲先誅進而立協。及進從外入,碩司馬潘隱與進早舊,迎而目之。進驚,馳從儳道歸營,引兵入屯百郡邸,因稱疾不入。碩謀不行,皇子辯乃即位,何太后臨朝,進與太傅袁隗輔政,錄尚書事。) Houhanshu vol. 69.
  7. ^ (中平六年,帝崩,皇子辯即位,尊后為皇太后。太后臨朝。) Houhanshu vol. 10 (Part 2).
  8. ^ (進素知中官天下所疾,兼忿蹇碩圖己,及秉朝政,陰規誅之。 ... 進乃使黃門令收碩,誅之,因領其屯兵。) Houhanshu vol. 69.
  9. ^ (袁紹復說進曰:「前竇武欲誅內寵而反為所害者, ... 我柰何楚楚與士人對共事乎?」進難違太后意,且欲誅其放縱者。紹以為中官親近至尊,出入號令,今不悉廢,後必為患。 ... 紹等又為畫策,多召四方猛將及諸豪傑,使並引兵向京城,以脅太后。進然之。 ... 進謀積日,頗泄,中官懼而思變。 ... 子婦言於舞陽君,入白太后,乃詔諸常侍皆復入直。) Houhanshu vol. 69.
  10. ^ (八月,進入長樂白太后,請盡誅諸常侍以下,選三署郎入守宦官廬。諸宦官相謂曰:「大將軍稱疾不臨喪,不送葬,今欻入省,此意何為?竇氏事竟復起邪?」又張讓等使人潛聽,具聞其語,乃率常侍段珪、畢嵐等數十人,持兵竊自側闥入,伏省中。及進出,因詐以太后詔召進。入坐省闥,讓等詰進曰:「天下憒憒,亦非獨我曹罪也。先帝甞與太后不快,幾至成敗,我曹涕泣救解,各出家財千萬為禮,和恱上意,但欲託卿門戶耳。今乃欲滅我曹種族,不亦太甚乎?卿言省內穢濁,公卿以下忠清者為誰?」於是尚方監渠穆拔劔斬進於嘉德殿前。讓、珪等為詔,以故太尉樊陵為司隷校尉,少府許相為河南尹。尚書得詔板,疑之,曰:「請大將軍出共議。」中黃門以進頭擲與尚書,曰:「何進謀反,已伏誅矣。」) Houhanshu vol. 69.
  11. ^ (進部曲將吳匡、張璋,素所親幸,在外聞進被害,欲將兵入宮,宮閤閉。袁術與匡共斫攻之,中黃門持兵守閤。會日暮,術因燒南宮九龍門及東西宮,欲以脅出讓等。讓等入白太后,言大將軍兵反,燒宮,攻尚書闥,因將太后、天子及陳留王,又劫省內官屬,從複道走北宮。尚書盧植執戈於閣道䆫下,仰數段珪。段珪等懼,乃釋太后。太后投閣得免。) Houhanshu vol. 69.
  12. ^ (匡遂引兵與董卓弟奉車都尉旻攻殺苗,弃其屍於苑中。紹遂閉北宮門,勒兵捕宦者,無少長皆殺之。或有無須而誤死者,至自發露然後得免。死者二千餘人。) Houhanshu vol. 69.
  13. ^ (張讓、段珪等困迫,遂將帝與陳留王數十人步出穀門,奔小平津。公卿並出平樂觀,無得從者,唯尚書盧植夜馳河上,王允遣河南中部掾閔貢隨植後。貢至,手劔斬數人,餘皆投河而死。明日,公卿百官乃奉迎天子還宮,以貢為郎中,封都亭侯。) Houhanshu vol. 69.
  14. ^ (董卓遂廢帝,又迫殺太后,殺舞陽君,何氏遂亡,而漢室亦自此敗亂。) Houhanshu vol. 69.
  15. ^ (并州牧董卓被徵,將兵入洛陽,陵虐朝庭,遂廢少帝為弘農王而立協,是為獻帝。 ... 董卓又議太后踧迫永樂宮,至令憂死,逆婦姑之禮,乃遷於永安宮,因進酖,弒而崩。) Houhanshu vol. 10 (Part 2).
  1. ^ Most historical records state that Liu Bian was born in 176. However, the Book of the Later Han, in his mother Empress Lingsi's biography, recorded that he died at age 17 in 190, which means he was born in 173. Since the 176 date appears more frequently in historical records, it is assumed to be the correct one.
Emperor Shao
Born: 176 Died: 6 March 190
Regnal titles
Preceded by Emperor of China
Eastern Han
with Empress Dowager He (189)
He Jin (189)
Succeeded by