An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Liu Shan 劉禪, the last ruler of the Shu-Han 蜀漢

Dec 29, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

Liu Shàn 劉禪 (a special reading instead of Liu Chan, r. 223-263 CE), courtesy name Gongsi 公嗣, childhood name Adou 阿斗, was the second and last ruler of the Han empire in the province of Shu 蜀 (modern Sichuan) during the Three Empires period 三國 (220-280), the empire of Shu-Han 蜀漢 (221-263). He is therefore also called "The later or last ruler" (Houzhu 後主).

He was a son of Liu Bei 劉備 (r. 221-222), the "First ruler" (xianzhu 先主) and Empress Gan 甘皇后. Liu Shan was appointed heir apparent when his father proclaimed himself King or Prince of Hanzhong 漢中 (modern Hanzhong, Shaanxi) in 219 CE. In 223 CE, when he mounted the throne, he took the daughter of General of Cavalry (qi jiangjun 騎將軍) Zhang Fei 張飛 (d. 221) as his empress. He entrusted all government affairs to Zhuge Liang 諸葛亮 (181-234), Marquis of Wuxiang 武鄉侯, who had already served his father.

After Zhuge's death, Jiang Wan 蔣琬 (d. 246) and Fei Yi 費禕 (d. 253) were made counsellors and perpetuated the kind of politics formed by Zhuge Liang. In 238 CE Liu Shan's son Liu Rui 劉璿 (224-264) was named crown prince. Later on Liu Shan was influenced by the eunuch Huang Hao 黄皓, and the Shu-Han dynasty suffered a growing decline. Liu Shan did not care for government at all.

General Jiang Wei 姜維 (202-264) was continuously beaten in his campaigns against the empire of Wei 魏. In 267 CE, Sima Zhao 司馬昭 (211-265), the potentate of the Wei empire, sent out general Deng Ai 鄧艾 (197-264) with a large army to conquer Shu. The capital Chengdu 成都 (modern Chengdu, Sichuan) was encircled, and Liu Shan surrendered. He was forced to move to the capital of Wei, Luoyang 洛陽 (modern Luoyang, Henan) and demoted to the status of Duke of Anle 安樂公.

One day, when Liu Shan was banqueted by the all-powerful general Sima Zhao, the host had dances of Shu performed in order to please his guest. While his entourage was deeply moved, Liu Shan alone laughed out of joy. The erstwhile emperor said that he was delighted by the music and did not think of his ancient empire at all. In later ages, Liu Shan was therefore named with his childhood name Adou in order to express his silly and irresponsible character. He died in Luoyang in 271 CE and was also buried there.

Chen Quanli 陳全力, Hou Xinyi 侯欣一, eds. (1988). Diwang cidian 帝王辭典 (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin jiaoyu chubanshe), 55.