Emperor Ling of Han

Emperor Ling of Han (156/157 – 13 May 189), personal name Liu Hong, was the 12th and last powerful emperor of the Eastern Han dynasty. Born the son of a lesser marquis who descended directly from Emperor Zhang (the third Eastern Han emperor), Liu Hong was chosen to be emperor in February 168 around age 12 after the death of his predecessor, Emperor Huan, who had no son to succeed him. He reigned for about 21 years until his death in May 189.

Emperor Ling’s reign saw another repetition of corrupt eunuchs dominating the eastern Han central government, as was the case during his predecessor’s reign. Zhang Rang, the leader of the eunuch faction (十常侍), managed to dominate the political scene after defeating a faction led by Empress Dowager Dou’s father, Dou Wu, and the Confucian scholar-official Chen Fan in October 168. After reaching adulthood, Emperor Ling was not interested in state affairs and preferred to indulge in women and a decadent lifestyle. At the same time, corrupt officials in the Han government levied heavy taxes on the peasants. He exacerbated the situation by introducing a practice of selling political offices for money; this practice severely damaged the Han civil service system and led to widespread corruption. Mounting grievances against the Han government led to the outbreak of the peasant-led Yellow Turban Rebellion in early 184.

Emperor Ling’s reign left the Eastern Han dynasty weak and on the verge of collapse. After his death, the Han Empire disintegrated in chaos for the subsequent decades as various regional warlords fought for power and dominance. (See End of the Han Dynasty.) The Han dynasty ended in late 220 when Emperor Ling’s son, Emperor Xian, abdicated his throne – an event leading to the start of the Three Kingdoms period in China.

AI Summary and Notes

  • Emperor Ling of Han, also known as Liu Hong, was the fifth emperor of the Eastern Han Dynasty in ancient China.
  • He ascended the throne at a young age in 168 AD, and as a result, the actual power was largely in the hands of regents and court officials.
  • Emperor Ling’s reign was marked by political corruption, factionalism, and the influence of eunuchs in the government.
  • The Yellow Turban Rebellion, one of the significant uprisings in Chinese history, erupted during his reign in 184 AD, highlighting the growing social unrest and dissatisfaction with the ruling regime.
  • The rebellion and other internal issues weakened the Han Dynasty’s control and paved the way for regional warlords to gain power, leading to the later Warlord Era.
  • Emperor Ling’s reliance on eunuchs for governance and his failure to address the empire’s problems contributed to the decline of the Eastern Han Dynasty’s authority.
  • He died in 189 AD, and the imperial power struggles that followed further destabilized the dynasty, leading to its eventual collapse in 220 AD.
  • Emperor Ling’s reign is often seen as a turning point in Han Dynasty history, as it marked the beginning of its decline and set the stage for the subsequent Three Kingdoms period.

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