Cao Rui (Emperor Ming of Wei)

Cao Rui (pronunciation (help·info)) (204 or 205 – 22 January 239), courtesy name Yuanzhong, was the second emperor of the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period. His parentage is in dispute: his mother, Lady Zhen, was Yuan Xi’s wife, but she later remarried Cao Pi, the first ruler of Wei. Based on conflicting accounts of his age, Pei Songzhi calculated that, in order to be Cao Pi’s son, Cao Rui could not have been 33 (by East Asian age reckoning) when he died as recorded, so the recorded age was in error; late-Qing scholar Lu Bi and Mou Guangsheng argued instead that Cao Rui was Yuan Xi’s son.

Cao Rui’s reign was viewed in many different ways throughout Chinese history. He devoted many resources to building palaces and ancestral temples, and his reign saw the stalemate between his empire, Shu Han, and Eastern Wu become more entrenched. His building projects and his desire to have many concubines (who numbered in the thousands) greatly exhausted the imperial treasury.

On his deathbed, he has no biological son. He passed the throne to his adopted son Cao Fang and entrusted him to the regency of Cao Shuang and Sima Yi. This would prove to be a fatal mistake for his clan, as Cao Shuang monopolized power and governed incompetently, eventually drawing a violent reaction from Sima Yi, who overthrew him in a coup d’état (Incident at the Gaoping Tombs). Sima Yi became in control of the Wei government from AD 249, eventually allowing his grandson Sima Yan to usurp the throne in AD 266. After his death, Cao Rui was posthumously honored as “Emperor Ming” with the temple name “Liezu”.

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