The Emperor Yang Guang of Sui was one of the worst among ancient Chinese emperors to have ruled. He was a tyrant that loved to misuse the state’s treasury and caused a lot of harm to his people by imposing heavy taxes on them. Though, Yang Guang undertook a few big projects like the reconstruction of the Great Wall, and the building of the Grand Canal, yet his rule wasn’t admired by many. The emperor was infamous for his vices like womanizing and drinking. He spent half of his time with his concubines and wasted away a large sum of money on his luxurious journeys to Jiangdu. It was in 618 that the emperor hung himself to death following a coup.
Hongwu was the title taken by the rebel leader Zhu Yuanzhang who started the Ming Dynasty but he was not a royal born. Instead, Hongwu was everything but a noble man. He was an orphan and led a very difficult life and later went on to become a Buddhist monk. Hongwu’s quest took him along the way to become the leader of a rebel army when he captured Daidu, the capital city of the Mongols. Daidu is now known as Beijing. Looking at the pitiful condition of people under the Mongoloid rule, he decided to eliminate them and restore Chinese culture. Hongwu, according to some historians was a remarkable man who put an end to the Mongol rule and brought about many a reforms. But some historians have a mixed view and have reported that he was a paranoid emperor who couldn’t tolerate if anyone dared to criticize him in public. He punished people by flogging and sentencing them to death.
Like most Chinese emperors, Emperor Huizong or Zhao Ji was also inclined towards pleasure and fine things in life that included having relations with hundreds of concubines and pursuing literature and art. A painter, Zhao Ji was known for numerous affairs of which his affair with one famous prostitute called Li Shishi was the talk of the town back then. His foolishness led him to become the reason for the fall of the Northern Song and the capture of the capital city Kaifeng by Jin army.
Not all Chinese dynasties had the ill fate of being branded with incompetent and foolish rulers, some of them like the Tang Dynasty had an able emperor named Xuanzong who ruled for 43 years and brought about many reforms. While, he took measures for safe guarding the frontiers of his empire, he also took measures to control bureaucracy and incompetence related to it. The emperor in his later years began a relationship with his former daughter in law cum concubine called Yang Guifei who had quite an influence on him. Its because of her and her politics that the emperor had to escape the city along with her. After her death at the hands of an official, Xuanzong ultimately renounced his throne in grief.
The most notorious emperor title can definitely be given to Zhengde who was infamous for his insatiable craving for women. The emperor in-fact could have set a world record at the most number of rapes committed in ancient China. He shocked everyone when he along with his army marauded the city of Yangzhou, kidnapping and raping countless women, both young as well as widows. He was feared by people so much so that the parents of single women would grab on to single men for getting them married. He kidnapped so many women that he had to keep all of them at a palace called Leopard Quarter as they could not fit inside the Imperial Palace.
Ancient China was ruled by emperors for almost 2000 years, but with one and only exception of Wu Zetian, an empress who became the official emperor of China, rising from the ranks of a concubine, to becoming the first and only female emperor. Wu was a conspiring woman who killed her own baby and put the blame on Empress Wang, the wife of Emperor Gaozong, leading to her dethronement in 655. Wu Zetian soon took the place of Wang and became the empress. A murderer, she went on to execute Wang and one of her rivals named Xiao and remorselessly got their feet and hands chopped off. She stuffed their bodies inside wine jars until they drowned. A violent ruler, Wu Zetian in some ways also contributed towards the society by making many changes like bringing reforms in the civil services examination.
Ancient China was ruled by numerous emperors out of which some were branded as incapable, foolish, violent and sadistic, while a few of them were actually believed to have brought many reforms for the upliftment of the people. The stories that we have covered today will let you know exactly why we mentioned these 13 Chinese emperors out of the many others.