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Template:About Template:More footnotes Template:Chinese-name Template:Infobox royalty Template:Chinese Emperor Gao (256 BC or 247 BC – 1 June 195 BC), commonly known within China by his temple name Gaozu (Template:Zh, Wade-Giles: Kao Tsu), personal name Liu Bang, was the first emperor of the Han Dynasty, ruling over China from 202 BC to 195 BC. Liu was one of the few dynasty founders in Chinese history who emerged from the peasant class (another major example being Zhu Yuanzhang of the Ming Dynasty). In the early stage of his rise to prominence, Liu was addressed as "Duke of Pei", with the "Pei" referring to his hometown of Pei County. He was also granted the title of "King of Han" by Xiang Yu, when the latter split the former Qin empire into the Eighteen Kingdoms. Liu was known by this title before becoming Emperor of China.


Birth and early lifeEdit

Liu was born in a peasant family in Zhongyang, Fengyi, Pei County (present-day Feng County, Jiangsu). His parents' names were not recorded in history and they were referred to as "Liu Taigong" (劉太公; Old Sir Liu) and "Liu Ao" (劉媼;[1] Old Madam Liu). It is said that before Liu's birth, his mother was taking a nap one day when she dreamt of a divine being. Just then, there was lightning and thunder and the sky darkened. Liu's father went to see his wife and saw a dragon beside her. Shortly after that, Liu's mother became pregnant and gave birth to Liu Bang.

Liu had a high nose, whiskers and a beard, bearing some resemblance to a dragon in appearance. He had 72 dark spots on his left leg as well.Template:Citation needed The young Liu was outspoken, charismatic and of great forbearance and tolerance. However, Liu enjoyed loafing, disliked reading and showed no interest in farming, hence his father often chided him as a "little rascal". Liu persisted in his idling ways and depended on his brother's family for food and lodging. When he grew older, he was appointed as a patrol officer and forged close relationships with the officials in the county office, earning himself a little reputation in his hometown. While having drinks with his friends in the local taverns, they would notice a silhouette of a dragon on him whenever he was drunk.Template:Citation needed The tavern owners felt that Liu was an extraordinary person and provided him with drinks each time free of charge.

One day back in his hometown, a respectable man known as Lord Lü, who had recently moved to Pei County, was visited by the most famous men in town. Xiao He, who was in charge of helping Lü collect the gifts from the visitors, announced, "Those who do not offer more than 1,000 coins in gifts shall be seated outside the hall." Liu went there without bringing a single cent and said, "I offer 10,000 coins." Lü saw Liu and was impressed with him on first sight, that he immediately stood up and welcomed Liu into the hall to sit beside him. Xiao told Lü that Liu was not serious, but Liu ignored him and chatted with Lü. Lü said, "I used to predict fortunes for many people but I've never seen someone so exceptional like you before." Lü then offered his daughter Lü Zhi's hand-in-marriage to Liu and they were wed. Lü Zhi bore Liu a son (future Emperor Hui of Han) and a daughter (future Princess Luyuan).

Insurrection against the Qin DynastyEdit

Once, Liu was put in charge of escorting some convicts to Mount Li to build the Mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang. During the journey, many prisoners fled and Liu feared for his life, because allowing convicts to escape was a capital crime at that time. Liu then released the remaining prisoners and became a fugitive, with some of the men he released voluntarily agreeing to follow him. In legend, they encountered a gigantic white serpent that killed some people with its poisonous breath. Liu slew the serpent that night and encountered an old woman weeping by the road the next morning. When Liu's men asked her why she was crying, she replied, "My child, the son of the White Emperor, has been slain by the son of the Red Emperor.", and disappeared mysteriously. After hearing the old woman's strange words, Liu's men believed that he was destined to become a ruler in future and became more impressed with him. The event was called "Uprising of the Slaying of the White Serpent" (斬白蛇起義).

Liu and his followers sought refuge on Mount Mangdang near Pei County and lived in an outlaw stronghold there. Liu still maintained secret contact with his old friends, such as Xiao He and Cao Shen, in his hometown. In 209 BC, Chen Sheng and Wu Guang rose up in rebellion against the Qin Dynasty, known as the Daze Village Uprising. The magistrate of Pei County considered rebelling as well, so at the advice of Xiao and Cao, he sent Fan Kuai (Liu's relative) to invite Liu and his followers back to Pei to support him. However, the magistrate changed his mind later and denied Liu's party entry into the city. He was worried that Xiao and Cao might open the city gates for Liu so he intended to have them executed, but Xiao and Cao escaped and joined Liu. Liu followed Xiao's suggestion and ordered his men to send letters on arrows fired into the city, urging his townsfolk to surrender and help him. They responded to Liu's call and killed the magistrate, welcoming Liu back into the city. Liu was then addressed as "Duke of Pei" (沛公) or "Lord Pei" by his followers.

In 208 BC, during the reign of Qin Er Shi, the descendants of the royal families of the former Yan, Zhao, Qi and Wei states rose in rebellion against the Qin Dynasty in the name of restoring their states. In Wu (in present-day Jiangsu), Xiang Liang started an uprising as well and installed Mi Xin as King Huai II of Chu. Liu went to join Xiang and served under Chu for some time. After Xiang was killed in action at the Battle of Dingtao, King Huai II sent Xiang's nephew Xiang Yu and Song Yi to lead an army to attack the Qin forces and help Zhao. Liu was granted the title of "Marquis of Wu'an" (武安侯) by the king and put in charge of an army to attack Qin. The king promised that whoever managed to enter Guanzhong (heartland of Qin) first will be granted the title of "King of Guanzhong". In 206 BC, Liu beat Xiang Yu in the race to Guanzhong and arrived at Xianyang, the capital city of Qin. The last Qin ruler Ziying surrendered to Liu and the Qin Dynasty ended. Liu issued strict orders for his troops, forbidding them from killing innocent civilians and pillaging the cities they conquered. The peace and stability in Xianyang was restored temporarily while Liu's army was stationed there.

Chu–Han contentionEdit

Template:Main Template:Inappropriate tone Xiang Yu was dissatisfied that Liu had beat him in the race so he set a trap to kill Liu, after being instigated by his advisor Fan Zeng and a defector from Liu's side, Cao Wushang. Xiang invited Liu to attend a banquet, known as the Feast at Hong Gate, while secretly preparing to kill Liu during the feast. However, Xiang's uncle Xiang Bo, who was a close friend of Liu's strategist Zhang Liang, managed to persuade Xiang to spare Liu's life. Fan then ordered Xiang's cousin Xiang Zhuang to perform a sword dance during the feast and use the opportunity to kill Liu, but Xiang Bo prevented him from doing so. Liu lied that he needed to go to the latrine and escaped back to his camp. Liu and his troops evacuated from Xianyang and retreated westwards later. Xiang Yu led his men into Xianyang and the city turned into a living hell when Xiang's soldiers plundered and pillaged the city, committing atrocities against civilians and destroying the Epang Palace by fire.

Xiang Yu proclaimed himself "Hegemon-King of Western Chu" and split the former Qin empire into Eighteen Kingdoms. The land of Guanzhong, rightfully Liu's according to King Huai II's earlier promise, was granted by Xiang to three surrendered Qin generals instead. Liu was relocated to Hanzhong in the remote Bashu region (in present-day Sichuan) and granted the title of "King of Han" (汉王/漢王). While Xiang was away suppressing the rebellion in Qi, Liu led his troops to seize Guanzhong and several lands, including Xiang's capital city of Pengcheng (present-day Xuzhou) at one point. The forces of Chu and Han then engaged in a power struggle for supremacy over China for about five years, known as the Chu–Han contention, with victories and defeats for both sides in various battles.

Initially, Chu had an advantage over Han, but the tide turned in favour of the latter in 203 BC, after Xiang and Liu came to an armistice, known as the Treaty of Honggou, that divided China into east and west under their domains respectively. Liu renounced the treaty and attacked Xiang shortly afterwards, taking the latter by surprise and scoring a series of victories in the following battles. Liu's forces defeated Xiang at the Battle of Gaixia in 202 BC and Xiang committed suicide. Chu surrendered and China was unified under Liu's rule.

Establishment of the Han DynastyEdit

In 202 BC, Liu became Emperor of China with support from his subjects, even though he had expressed some reluctance in taking the throne. Liu named his dynasty "Han", historically known as "Western Han Dynasty", and he became known as Emperor Gao (or Gaozu). He built his capital city in Luoyang and appointed Lü Zhi as his empress and his son Liu Ying as the crown prince.

The following year, Gaozu rewarded his subjects who had contributed to the dynasty's founding, but the process prolonged for a year as the subjects started fighting among themselves for the rewards. Gaozu felt that Xiao He's contributions were the greatest, so he granted Xiao the title of "Marquis of Zan" and the greatest amount of food storages. Zhang Liang was granted the title of "Marquis of Liu". Some of Gaozu's subjects expressed their objections because they felt that Xiao did not participate personally in battles so his contributions were not great. Gaozu replied that Xiao was involved in the strategic planning so credit should be given to Xiao because he was the one who set the direction for them to go. Cao Shen was named as the greatest contributor on the battlefield. As for the other subjects, Gaozu rewarded them accordingly to their contributions.


Gaozu was wounded by a stray arrow during a campaign to suppress Ying Bu's rebellion. He fell seriously ill and remained in his inner chambers for a long period of time, ordering his guards to deny anyone entry. After several days, Fan Kuai barged into the chambers to see Gaozu and the other subjects followed behind him. They saw Gaozu lying on his bed with only a eunuch to accompany him. Fan said, "How glorious it was when Your Majesty first led us to conquer the empire and how weary we are now. Your subjects are worried when they learn that Your Majesty is ill, but Your Majesty refuses to see us and prefers the company of a eunuch instead? Have Your Majesty forgotten the incident about Zhao Gao?" Gaozu laughed after hearing that and got out of bed to meet his subjects.

Gaozu's health deteriorated later and Empress Lü hired one of the best physicians to heal him. When Gaozu enquired about his condition, the physician told him that his illness can be cured. However, Gaozu was displeased and he scolded the physician, saying, "Isn't it Heaven's will that I managed to conquer this empire in simple clothing and with nothing but a sword? My life is determined by Heaven, and it will still be useless even if Bian Que was here!" Gaozu refused to continue with his treatment and sent the physician away with some gold. Before his death, Gaozu said Cao Shen can be chancellor after Xiao He dies, and Wang Ling may succeed Cao. Gaozu also said that Wang may be too young to take on his duties so Chen Ping may assist Wang, but Chen is also qualified to take on the responsibilities alone. Gaozu also named Zhou Bo as a possible candidate for the role of Grand Commandant. Gaozu died in Changle Palace on 1 June 195 BC and was succeeded by the crown prince Liu Ying, who became Emperor Hui of Han.



Reducing taxes and corvéeEdit

Gaozu disbanded his armies and allowed his soldiers to return home after becoming the emperor. He issued an order for those under the jurisdiction of his regional kings, stating that those who remained in Guanzhong will be exempted from taxes and corvée for twelve years, whereas those who returned to their respective fiefdoms will be exempted for six years and the state will provide for them for a year. Gaozu also granted freedom to those who had sold themselves into slavery to avoid hunger during the war. In 195 BC, Gaozu issued two imperial decrees, the first to officialize the lowering of taxes and corvée, and the second to fix the amount of tribute paid to the imperial court from the regional kings in the 10th month of every year. The land tax on agricultural production was reduced to a rate of one-fifteenth of crop yield. He also privatized the coinage.

Emphasis on ConfucianismEdit

In his early days, Gaozu disliked reading and placed Confucianism in low regard. After he ascended to the throne, he retained the same perspective towards Confucianism as before, until he was enlightened by the scholar Lu Gu. Lu wrote a twelve-volume book titled Xinyu (新語), stressing the benefits of governing the nation by moral virtue rather than by using coercive laws. Lu read each volume to the emperor after he had finished writing it, and Gaozu was deeply impressed. Under Gaozu's reign, the influence of Confucianism increased and gradually replaced Legalism, which dominated and prevailed in the previous dynasty. Confucian scholars, including Lu Gu, were recruited into Gaozu's government and Gaozu also introduced reforms to the legal system, lightening the harsh laws from the Qin Dynasty and reducing the severity of punishments. In 196 BC, after putting down Ying Bu's rebellion, Gaozu's army passed by Shandong (native land of Confucius), where Gaozu personally prepared for a ceremony to pay his respects to the late philosopher.

Dispute over the successionEdit

In his later years, Gaozu began to show greater affection for Concubine Qi and paid less attention to Empress Lü Zhi. He felt that the crown prince Liu Ying (born to the empress), his oldest son and heir apparent to the throne, was too weak to be a ruler. Gaozu had the intention of deposing Liu Ying and replacing him with another son Liu Ruyi (born to Concubine Qi), Prince of Zhao. Empress Lü became worried and asked Zhang Liang to help her son retain his position. Zhang recommended four reclusive wise men, collectively known as the "Four Haos of Mount Shang" (商山四皓) to help Liu Ying.

In 195 BC, after Gaozu returned from suppressing Ying Bu's rebellion, his health worsened and he desired even more to change the crown prince. Zhang Liang tried to dissuade him but Gaozu ignored Zhang, so Zhang retired from state affairs on the excuse that he was ill. The crown prince's tutor Shusun Tong and Zhou Chang protested strongly against Gaozu's decision to replace the crown prince. Zhou said, "I'm not good in arguing, but I know that this is not right. If Your Majesty deposes the crown prince, I won't listen to your orders anymore."[2] Zhou was a straightforward man and he had a stuttering problem, which made his speech even more amusing and Gaozu laughed. After that, the four wise men appeared and Gaozu was surprised to see them because they had refused to serve him before. They promised to help Liu Ying in future if he became the emperor. Gaozu was pleased to see that Liu Ying now had the support of the four men, so he dismissed the idea of replacing the crown prince.

Military campaignsEdit

Template:Main After establishing the Han Dynasty, Gaozu appointed several regional kings to help him govern his empire and granted them fiefs spread throughout the land. There were seven of them; Zang Tu, King of Yan; Hán Xin, King of Hán; Han Xin, King of Chu; Peng Yue, King of Liang; Ying Bu, King of Huainan; Zhang Er, King of Zhao; Wu Rui, King of Changsha. However, Gaozu became worried later that the kings might rebel against him, because they were not from his own clan. He had some of them framed and executed on charges of treason, such as Peng, while others such as Ying and Zang did rebel against him later and were eliminated by him. Only Wu and Zhang were left eventually.

During Qin Shi Huang's reign, the threat of the Xiongnu in the north was already present. Qin Shi Huang sent Meng Tian to lead an army to attack the Xiongnu and defend the northern border, while ordering the construction of the Great Wall to safeguard the Qin empire. Meng achieved success in driving the invaders back north. Following the collapse of the Qin Dynasty, the Xiongnu seized the advantage to advance south and raid the border again. In 201 BC, Hán Xin (King of Hán) surrendered to the Xiongnu and in the following year, Gaozu led his army to attack the Xiongnu. However, the Han forces were no match for the Xiongnu (led by Modu) and Gaozu's army was besieged at Baideng by 300,000 enemy cavalry. Gaozu left safely after he followed Chen Ping's suggestion to bribe Modu's wife with gifts and ask her to request for her husband to lift the siege. As an act of appeasement, Gaozu initiated the policy of heqin, which was, to marry noble ladies from his royal clan and offer yearly tributes to the Xiongnu chieftains in exchange for peace between both sides.


Template:Unreferenced section In contrast with Xiang Yu, usually depicted as a romantic man of noble origin, Liu was often mentioned as a rogue or street ruffian. Xiang treated his subordinates and peers well even though he was ruthless and cruel towards his enemies. On the other hand, Liu appeared as a charismatic but shrewd leader, who manipulated his subjects for his own purposes while putting on an image of a benevolent and righteous lord. Liu forbid his men from killing civilians and pillaging the cities he conquered, in order to win the support and trust of the people. In direct contrast, Xiang was cruel and condoned the acts of brutality by his followers towards the common people, that accounted for his decline in popularity. Liu's strengths include: his ability to make decisions based on advice from his subjects; making sound judgements when accepting others' views; performing acts that would win him the support of others, and his personal charisma.

After the establishment of the Han Dynasty, Liu initially handsomely rewarded his subjects who helped him gain the throne, but he grew suspicious of them later and doubted their loyalties. Two of his subjects who contributed heavily to the dynasty's founding, Han Xin and Peng Yue, were killed on Empress Lü Zhi's orders and their clans exterminated as well. Despite his various character flaws, Liu treated the people better than the Qin rulers and was a popular monarch during his reign.


Gaozu was the first Chinese emperor to have an intimate male companion, Jiru, as listed in the official histories. As Sima Qian noted, Gaozu, for all his coarseness and blunt manners, was won by the charms of Jiru. Jiru did not have any particular talent or ability, and won prominence simply by his looks and graces. He was by Gaozu's side day and night, and all the high ministers were obliged to apply to them when they wished to speak to the emperor.[3] Gaozu's example of officially elevating a male lover to the top of the administration would be followed by nine more rulers of the Han Dynasty.


  • Parents:
    • Liu Taigong (literally: Old Sir Liu)
    • Liu Ao (literally: Old Madam Liu)
  • Siblings:
  • Spouse:
  • Major concubines:
    • Consort Cao, mother of Liu Fei
    • Consort Qi, mother of Liu Ruyi
    • Consort Wan
    • Consort Guan
    • Consort Bo, mother of Liu Heng
    • Consort Zhao, mother of Liu Chang
    • Consort Zhao Zi'er
  • Children
    • Liu Fei, Prince Daohui of Qi
    • Liu Ying, Crown Prince, later Emperor Hui
    • Liu Jian, Prince Ling of Yan
    • Liu Ruyi, Prince Yin of Zhao
    • Liu Heng, Prince of Dai, later Emperor Wen
    • Liu Hui, Prince of Liang, later Prince Gong of Zhao
    • Liu You, Prince of Huaiyang, later Prince You of Zhao
    • Liu Chang, Prince Li of Huainan
    • Princess Luyuan
  • Grandchildren
    • Liu Xiang, Prince Ai of Qi, son of Liu Fei
    • Liu Zhang, Prince Jing of Chengyang, son of Liu Fei
    • Liu Xingju, Marquess of Dongmou, son of Liu Fei
    • Liu Qi, Crown Prince, later Emperor Jing, son of Liu Heng

Popular cultureEdit

Liu Bang is one of the 32 historical figures who appear as special characters in the video game Romance of the Three Kingdoms XI by Koei.

See alsoEdit


Notes and referencesEdit


External linksEdit

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Template:PersondataTemplate:Link GA bo:ལིའུ་པང་། ca:Emperador Gaozu de Han de:Han Gaozu es:Liu Bang eo:Liu Bang fa:گائوتسو (دودمان هان) fr:Han Gaozu ko:전한 고조 id:Kaisar Gaozu dari Han it:Gao Zu (imperatore Han) lt:Liu Bang nl:Han Gaozu ja:劉邦 no:Han Gaozu pl:Liu Bang pt:Imperador Gaozu de Han ru:Лю Бан simple:Emperor Gaozu of Han sh:Car Gaozu od Hana sv:Liu Bang th:จักรพรรดิฮั่นเกาจู ug:لىيۇ باڭ vi:Hán Cao Tổ zh-classical:漢太祖高皇帝 zh-yue:劉邦 zh:刘邦

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