Emperor Jing had a complicated personality. He continued his father Emperor Wen's policy of general non-interference with the people, reduced tax and other burdens, and promoted government thrift. He continued and magnified his father's policy of reduction in criminal sentences. His light governance of the people was due to the Taoist influences of his mother, Empress Dou. He was also criticized for general ungratefulness to others, including harsh treatments of Zhou Yafu, the general whose abilities allowed his victory in the Rebellion of the Seven States, and his wife Empress Bo.
Emperor Jing was born to Emperor Wen, then Prince of Dai, and Consort Dou, one of his favorite consorts, in 188 BC. He was his father's oldest son. After his father became emperor in 180 BC, then-Prince Qi was made crown prince in 179 BC. At the same time, his mother was made empress.
In his childhood as crown prince, Prince Qi was praised for being compassionate. He was deeply influenced by his mother Empress Dou, who was a Taoist and required all of her children and grandchildren to study Taoist doctrines. He also developed deep bonds with his older sister Princess Liu Piao (劉嫖) and his younger brother Liu Wu (劉武), both also born of Empress Dou.
As Prince Qi grew in age, as was customary, he established his own household, and a member of his household, Chao Cuo (晁錯), known for his intelligence and ruthless efficiency as well as his rhetorical talent, became a trusted adviser of Prince Qi.
In 157 BC, Emperor Wen died, and Prince Qi became emperor. In accordance with Emperor Wen's will, the period of mourning was shortened. Emperor Jing's grandmother Empress Dowager Bo became grand empress dowager, and Empress Dou became empress dowager. Prince Qi's wife, Crown Princess Bo (a member of his grandmother's clan) became empress.
These "era names" are not true "era names" in the sense that the era name system, as instituted by Emperor Jing's son Emperor Wu, had not come into place. Emperor Jing, in accordance to prior imperial calendaring systems, would have simply referred to the number of years in his reign, but for unknown reasons reset the count twice, thus requiring historians to refer to them separately.Qianyuan (前元 qían yuán) 156 BC – 150 BC
Zhongyuan (中元 zhōng yúan) 149 BC – 144 BC
Houyuan (後元 hòu yúan) 143 BC – 141 BC
Emperor Jing largely continued his father's policy of non-interference with the people and reduction of tax and other burdens. Under Jing, taxes were cut in half, to one-thirtieth of the crop. He continued his policy of reducing criminal penalties, and in 156 BC, in reaction to the reality that his father's abolition of corporal punishments of cutting off nose and feet were in fact causing more people to die from whipping, reduced the number of whips that criminals would receive. (He would later reduce the penalty again in 144 BC.) He also continued his father's policy of heqin (marriage treaties) with Xiongnu, which largely avoided large conflicts with that northern neighbor. However, one immediate issue confronting Emperor Jing was the power possessed by princes of collateral lines of the imperial clan. The princes often built up their own military strengths and resisted edicts issued by the emperor. This was already an issue in Emperor Wen's days, but Emperor Wen did not take any decisive actions on the issue.
Emperor Jing did not designate a crown prince for the first few years of his reign, because Empress Bo did not have any sons. His mother, the Dowager Empress Dou, wanted him to make his younger brother Liu Wu, the Prince of Liang, the crown prince, but this did not happen because of opposition by officials. However, Liu Wu was given many privileges not given to other princes.
The issue of dealing with powerful princes would soon erupt into a war later known as the Rebellion of the Seven States. Emperor Jing already had an inimical relationship with his cousin-once-removed (the nephew of his grandfather Emperor Gao) Liu Pi (劉濞), the prince of the wealthy Principality of Wu (modern southern Jiangsu, northern Zhejiang, southern Anhui, and northern Jiangxi), which enjoyed, among other natural resources, abundant copper and salt supplies. While Emperor Jing was crown prince, Liu Pi's heir apparent Liu Xian (劉賢) had been on an official visit to the capital Chang'an, and they gambled together by playing the liubo board game (heavily tied to divination and predictions of the future). While playing the board game, Liu Xian offended then-Crown Prince Qi, and Prince Qi threw the wooden board at Liu Xian, killing him. Liu Pi thus had great hatred for the new emperor.
Chao Cuo's advice for Emperor Jing was to, using as excuses offenses that princes have committed which had generally been ignored by Emperor Wen, cut down the sizes of the principalities to make them less threatening. Chao explicitly contemplated the possibility that Wu and other principalities may rebel, but justified the action by asserting that if they were going to rebel, it would be better to let them rebel earlier than later, when they might be more prepared. Under this theory, Emperor Jing, in 154 BC, carved out one commandery each from the Principalities of Chu (modern northern Jiangsu and northern Anhui) and Zhao and six counties from the Principality of Jiaoxi (roughly modern Weifang, Shandong), before carving two commanderies out of Wu.
Wu did indeed start a rebellion, in alliance with Chu, Jiaoxi, Zhao, and three other smaller principalities—Jiaodong (roughly modern Qingdao, Shandong), Zaichuan (part of modern Weifang, Shandong), and Jinan (modern Jinan, Shandong). Two other principalities that originally agreed to join, Qi (modern central Shandong) and Jibei (modern northwestern Shandong), reneged at the final moment. Wu also sought assistance from the independent kingdoms of Donghai (modern Zhejiang) and Minyue (modern Fujian), and both kingdoms contributed forces. Zhao sought assistance from Xiongnu, but while Xiongnu initially agreed to help, it did not actually enter the war.
In accordance with instructions left by Emperor Wen, Emperor Jing commissioned Zhou Yafu as the commander of his armed forces to face the main rebel force—joint forces of Wu and Chu. However, he soon panicked at the prospect of losing, and at the suggestion of Chao Cuo's enemy Yuan Ang, he executed Chao to try to appease the seven princes, to no avail.
Wu and Chu forces were fiercely attacking the Principality of Liang (modern eastern Henan), whose prince Liu Wu, prince of Liang was Emperor Jing's beloved younger brother, and Emperor Jing ordered Zhou to immediately head to Liang to save it. Zhou refused, reasoning that the proper strategy would involve first cutting off the Wu and Chu supply lines, thus starving them, so he headed to the northeast side of Liang and around the Wu and Chu forces to cut off their supplies. The strategy was effective. Wu and Chu, unable to capture Liang quickly and realizing that their supplies were dwindling, headed northeast to attack Zhou. After being unable to get a decisive victory against Zhou, the Wu and Chu forces collapsed from starvation. Liu Pi fled to Donghai, which killed him and sought peace with Han. Liu Wu, the Prince of Chu, committed suicide. The other principalities involved were all eventually defeated as well.
In 153 BC, because Empress Bo did not have a son, Emperor Jing made his oldest son Liu Rong (劉榮) crown prince. This made Liu Rong's mother, Consort Li (栗姬), who was one of Emperor Jing's favorite concubines, think she would be made empress, particularly after Empress Bo was deposed in 151 BC, following Grand Empress Dowager Bo's death. She hated Emperor Jing's sister Princess Liu Piao, because Princess Piao had often given her brother beautiful women as concubines, drawing Consort Li's jealousy. When Princess Piao wanted to end this dispute by giving her daughter Chen Jiao as wife to Prince Rong, Consort Li refused.
Princess Piao, seeing the precarious state that she would be in if Consort Li became empress dowager one day, carried out an alternative plan. She gave Chen Jiao as wife to Liu Che, the son of Emperor Jing's other favorite concubine, Wang Zhi, the Prince of Jiaodong. She then incessantly criticized Consort Li for her jealousy—pointing out that, if Consort Li became empress dowager, many concubines might suffer the fates of Consort Qi, Emperor Gao's favorite concubine who was tortured and killed by Emperor Gao's wife Empress Dowager Lü after Emperor Gao's death. Emperor Jing eventually agreed, and he deposed Prince Rong from his position in 150 BC. Consort Li died in anger. That year, Consort Wang was made empress, and Prince Che the crown prince.
Prince Rong would not be spared. In 148 BC, he was accused of intruding onto the grounds of his grandfather Emperor Wen's temple when building the walls to his palace. He was imprisoned and not permitted to write to his father. His granduncle Dou Ying (竇嬰, Empress Dowager Dou's brother or cousin) slipped in a knife pen, and he wrote a letter and then committed suicide.
A major incident involving another potential heir, Prince Wu of Liang, erupted in 148 BC as well. Prince Wu, because of his contributions to the victory during the Rebellion of the Seven States, was further given privilege to use imperial ceremonies and colors. Members of his household encouraged him to seek to become crown prince. This was favored by the empress dowager Dou as well, but opposed by the minister Yang Ang, who believed such a move would bring instability to dynastic succession. When Prince Wu sought permission to build a highway directly from his capital Suiyang to Chang'an, Yang, fearing that the highway might be used for military purposes if Liang rebelled, opposed it. Prince Wu had him assassinated. Emperor Jing was extremely angry and sent many investigators to Liang to track down the conspirators, whom Prince Wu eventually surrendered. Emperor Jing, afraid of offending his mother and still affectionate for his brother, pardoned Prince Wu but no longer considered him as possible heir.
The late reign of Emperor Jing was marked by an incident for which he was much criticized: the death of Zhou Yafu, who had been instrumental in the victory against the Seven States. As prime minister, Zhou offended nearly every powerful figure around Emperor Jing, in particular his brother Prince Liu Wu and his mother Empress Dowager Dou (for refusing to save Liang first when Liang was sieged by Wu and Chu forces), and his wife Empress Wang and her brother Wang Xin (王信), whom Emperor Jing wanted to make a marquess but whose candidacy Zhou rebuffed. By 143 BC, he was retired when his son, in anticipation of his death, purchased retired armor and weapons from the imperial armory to serve as burial decorations. Zhou's son refused to pay the delivery workers, and the delivery workers, in retaliation, accused the Zhous of treason. Emperor Jing had Zhou Yafu arrested and interrogated, and the interrogator, when told by Zhou that the armor and weapons were for burial purposes, accused him of "underground treason"—i.e., ready to commit treason against the spirits of the emperors after he himself dies. Zhou committed suicide in prison.
Emperor Jing died in 141 BC and was buried in the Han Yang Ling Mausoleum in Chang'an. He was succeeded by Crown Prince Che (as Emperor Wu).
His reign, along with that of his father Emperor Wen, known as the Rule of Wen and Jing, was considered to be one of the golden ages in Chinese history. However, it is also apparent from his actions that he lacked the warmth and openness his father had, and in many ways his reign was marked by political intrigue and treachery. Emperor Jing can also be credited for furthering the study of Taoist text after he recognized the Tao Te Ching as a Chinese classic during his rule.
In 2016, the discovery of the earliest tea traces known to date from the mausoleum of Emperor Jing in Xi'an was announced, indicating that tea was drunk by Han Dynasty emperors as early as 2nd century BC.Father
Emperor Wen of Han
Empress Bo (deposed 151 BC)
Empress Wang Zhi, mother of Emperor Wu and Princesses Pingyang, Nangong, and Longlü
Zhou Ren, noted as official companion to the emperor in the Book of Han by Ban Gu, and said by Ban Gu to have been showered with honors, passed on to heirs, thanks to "secret games" shared with the emperor in the imperial bedroom
Consort Li (d. 150 BC), mother of Prince Rong, De, and E
Consort Cheng, mother of Prince Yu, Fei, and Duan
Consort Jia, mother of Prince Pengzu and Sheng
Consort Tang, mother of Prince Fa
Consort Wang, mother of Prince Yue, Ji, Cheng, and Shun
Liu Rong (劉榮), Crown Prince Li (made crown prince in 153 BC, deposed 150 BC), later Prince Min of Linjiang (made prince in 150 BC), committed suicide 148 BC
Liu De (劉德), Prince Xian of Hejian (made prince in 155 BC, d. 130 BC)
Liu E (劉閼), Prince Ai of Linjiang (made prince in 155 BC, d. 153 BC)
Liu Yu (劉餘), Prince of Huaiyang (made prince in 155 BC), later Prince Gong of Lu (made prince in 154 BC, d. 127 BC)
Liu Fei (劉非), Prince of Runan (made prince in 155 BC), later Prince Yi of Jiangdu (made prince in 154 BC, d. 128 BC)
Liu Pengzu (劉彭祖), Prince of Guangchuan (made prince in 155 BC), later Prince Jingxu of Zhao (made prince in 152 BC, d. 92 BC)
Liu Fa (劉發), Prince Ding of Changsha (made prince in 155 BC, d. 128 BC).
Liu Duan (劉端), Prince Yu of Jiaoxi (made prince in 154 BC, d. 108 BC)
Liu Sheng (劉勝), Prince Jing of Zhongshan (made prince in 154 BC, d. 114 BC).
Liu Che (劉徹), Prince of Jiaodong (made prince in 153 BC), then Crown Prince (made as such 150 BC), later Emperor Wu of Han
Liu Yue (劉越), Prince Hui of Guangchuan (made prince in 148 BC, d. 136 BC)
Liu Ji (劉寄), Prince Kang of Jiaodong (made prince in 148 BC, d. 120 BC)
Liu Cheng (劉乘), Prince Ai of Qinghe (made prince in 148 BC, d. 136 BC)
Liu Shun (劉舜), Prince Xian of Changshan (made prince in 145 BC, d. 114 BC)
Princess Yangxin the Eldest (陽信長公主), firstly married Cao Shi the Marquess of Pingyang and had a son, Cao Xiang, who succeeded his father; married secondly the general and Marquess of Changping Wei Qing; due to her first marriage to the Marquess of Pingyang, she was commonly referred to as Princess Pingyang (平陽公主)
Princess Nangong (南宮公主)
Princess Longlü (隆慮公主)