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Liang Ji 梁冀

Jan 10, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald

Liang Ji 梁冀 (died 159 BCE), courtesy name Bozhuo 伯卓, was a powerful minister of the mid-Later Han period 後漢 (25-220 CE) . His father Liang Shang 梁商 was a General-in-chief (da jiangjun 大將軍) of Emperor Shun 漢順帝 (r. 125-144), and his two sisters were the main consorts of the emperors Shun and Huan 漢桓帝 (r. 146-167), respectively.

Liang Ji was first appointed gentleman attendant at the palace gate (Huangmen shilang 黃門侍郎), then palace attendant (shizhong 侍中), Leader of the court gentlemen brave as tigers (huben zhonglangjiang 虎賁中郎將), commandant of infantry (bubing xiaowei 步兵校尉) and then Chamberlain for the Imperial Insignia (zhijinwu 執金吾).

In 136 CE Liang Ji, as a brother of the Empress, was appointed metropolitan magistrate (yin 尹) of Henan, factual mayor of the capital Luoyang 洛陽 (modern Luoyang, Henan). Five years later his father died, and Liang Ji interited the post of General-in-chief and so was the most powerful person of the empire. He decided over the enthronement of three emperors and decided over the fate of Han China during a period of more than 20 years. Liang Ji was one of the most powerful kinsmen of an empress (waiqi 外戚) during the whole Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE).

After the unexpected and early death of Emperor Chong 漢沖帝 (r. 144-145 CE), Empress Dowager Liang 梁太后 and her brother decided to enthrone Emperor Zhi 漢質帝 (r. 145-146 CE). The new ruler was displeased with Liang Ji's arrogance and criticised him. The powerful minister thereupon decided to poison the emperor and enthroned Emperor Huan. The young emperor emperor was a puppet of Liang Ji, while he himself was not only regent for the child emperor but also accumulated wealth and honours.

Liang Ji openly discarded the three highest ministers, the "Three Dukes" (sangong 三公) and himself decided which memorial was to reach the emperor. The servants and guards of Emperor Huan were appointed by Liang Ji so that the young ruler had no chance to conspire against the mighty regent. The wife of Liang Ji was given the title of Lady Xiangyi 襄邑君 and was given an estate with an income equal to a senior princess (zhang gongzhu 長公主). His son Liang Yin 梁胤 was granted the title of Marquis of Xiangyi 襄邑侯, his grandson Liang Tao 梁桃 as Marqis of Chengfu 城父候, and the chief eunuch Qin Gong 秦宮 was appointed regional inspector (cishi 刺史), one of the highest local offices.

The family Liang produced three marquesses, three empresses, six court ladies (guiren 貴人), two generals, seven ladies with an own estate, and three grand princesses (shang gongzhu 尚公主). A lot of distant relatives and adherents of the Liang family were appointed to posts all over the imperial palace and the central government.

Liang Ji proved being so powerful that all tributes from througout the empire were first to be presented to him before the rest of what Liang Ji had not taken was given to the emperor. He amassed a large fortune, possessed mansions, parks and forests, and was able to nourish thousands of retainers. Liang Ji used to confiscate the properties of rich persons with the charge of some crime. Persons of high moral standing were forced to sell him their service. His younger sister Liang Nüying 梁女瑩 was given consort to Emperor Huan.

In his powerful position, Liang Ji was also able to weep away all persons that criticized him. The governor (taishou 太守) of the commandery of Liaodong 遼東, Hou Meng 侯猛, for instance, did not pay him hommage when he was appointed, and was therefore charged guilty and cruelly executed by Liang Ji. The court gentleman Yuan Zhu 袁著 was beaten to death when he criticized Liang Ji for his indecent way of life. Yuan's friend Hao Jie 郝絜 and Hu Wu 胡武 and all their relatives and retainers were executed as members of the "Yuan faction". Liang Ji did not even shy back from executing highest ministers like Li Gu 李固 and Du Qiao 杜喬 that had opposed him in his plan to enthrone the young Prince Liu Zhi 劉志, Marquis of Liwu 蠡吾侯, as emperor (i.e. Emperor Huan).

The Grand Astologer (taishi ling 太史令) Chen Shou 陳授 interpreted a solar eclipe as caused by Liang Ji' misdoings, and was put to death. Liang also dared to make court lady Deng Mengnü 鄧猛女 his own daughter and killed her brother-in-law Bing Zun 邴尊, when the latter criticized this insolent decision. A lot of these crimes were committed after the death of his sister, the Empress Dowager, in 150 CE, and the death of his empress, the sister of Liang Ji.

Deeply enraged over the continuing crimes, Emperor Huan decided to get rid of Liang Ji. He conspired with with of his most entrusted eunuchs, the most important being Shan Chao 單超, and ordered the Director of Eunuch Attendants (Huangmen ling 黃門令) Ju Ai 具璦 and the Metropolitan Commandant (sili xiaowei 司隷校尉) Zhang Biao 張彪 to enclose Liang Ji's mansion. Liang Ji was forced to render back his official seals and was made Township Marquis of Bijingdu 比景都鄉侯. On the way to his new, small estate, Liang Ji and his wife committed suicide.

The other members of the Liang family were put to death, their retainers were tatooed as criminals. Late Empress Liang Nüying had been buried in the tomb mound Yiling 懿陵, but now she was posthumously demoted to the rank of a lady (guiren 貴人), and the mausoleum was solely used for herself. The properties of Liang Ji were sold at a bargain and brought an immense amount of money to the state treasury, so that it was even possible to reduce taxes for a while.

Tong Qi 童起 (1992). "Liang Ji 梁冀", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Vol. Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 2, 576-576.