Chinese Emperor: Unwinding Royal Saga

Before the Ch’ing dynasty was overthrown in 1911 and China became a republic, the Chinese emperor was considered the head of the state. The emperor or Wang was considered as head of state from Zhou to Qin dynasties. Thereafter, however, the Wang became merely head of the noble ranks.

The first emperor was Ying Zheng. He was born in 259 B.C. His father was Zhuang Xiang, at that time the king of Qin, one of the seven feudal states of China. In 146 B.C., when Zheng was 13 years old, his father died, and Zheng inherited the throne. Zheng was a ruthless dictator. He tried to control his people and censor their minds by killing scholars and poets, even burning important books of China and books of some past regimes. Zheng thought himself to be Shi Huangdi (the First August God or First Emperor). It was Zheng’s desire to have his future generations occupy the throne forever.

In those days, the emperor was referred as the Son of Heaven. Thus, the reigning emporor had huge power anf the final say on every matter. The emperor’s words were considered to be sacred edicts. The title of the emperor passed from father to son. During the reign of the Han dynasty, the eldest son would basically inherit the throne. However, on some occasions, rebel leaders overthrew the emperors. For instance, Zhu Yuan Zhang and Hong Xiu Quan were the leaders of Taiping Rebellion. They had ruled with absolute power, and were entitled “Heavenly Kings.”

When referring to a sovereign king in the Western sense of the word, the sovereign’s personal name is used, i.e. Queen Victoria or George V. In China, however, the emperor was referred as Huang-di-Bi-xia (His Majesty the Emperor), or Dang-jin Huang-shang (The Imperial Highness of the Present Time). Thus, they were addressed in the third person. A Chinese emperor was known either by the family name, a Temple name, or several honorary names.


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