An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Liu Bian 劉辯, the Child Emperor

Dec 26, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

Liu Bian 劉辯 (r. 189 CE) was for a few months emperor of the Later Han dynasty 後漢 (25-220 CE). He is known in history as one of the Minor Emperors (shaodi 少帝) ruling the Han empire. He was the son of Emperor Ling 漢靈帝 (r. 167-189) and was only emperor for five months.

He was enthroned in 189 CE when he was no mere than 17 sui old, and therefore Empress Dowager He 何太后 reigned for him. She was aided by Grand Mentor (taifu 太傅) Yuan Wei 袁隗 and her brother He Jin 何進. He Jin conspired with metropolitan commandant (sili xiaowei 司隸校尉) Yuan Shao 袁紹 to get rid of the powerful eunuch clique at the court and therefore asked the Empress Dowager for allowance to use his troops against the eunuchs, but the Empress declined. When he tried to pursue Dong Zhuo 董卓, the powerful military commander in the province of Bingzhou 幷州, to force the Empress to order the execution of the eunuchs, the plan was reveiled, and He Jin was killed.

Yuan Shu 袁術 as Leader of the palace gentlemen (huben zhonglangjiang 虎賁中郎將) thereupon took action, and in the course of the massacre of the eunuchs, the greatest part of the imperial palace burnt down. Zhang Rang 張讓 and Duan Gui 段珪 kidnapped the emperor and the young Prince of Bohai 渤海 (later Chenliu 陳留), Liu Xie 劉協, and fled. On their erratic escape the two kidnappers were killed, and the two noble childs were left alone in the wilderness, before they were brought to the camp of Dong Zhuo. Dong Zhuo brought them back to the capital and took over regency for Liu Bian. He soon demoted Liu Bian to Prince of Nonghong 弘農 and killed him later.

Instead, Yuan enthroned the much younger Prince of Chenliu who is known in history as Emperor Xian 漢獻帝 (r. 189-220), the last emperor of the Han dynasty.

Chen Quanli 陳全力, Hou Xinyi 侯欣一, ed. (1988). Diwang cidian 帝王辭典 (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin jiaoyu chubanshe), 49.