Emperor Ai of Han (27 BC – 1 BC) was an emperor of the Chinese Han Dynasty. He ascended the throne when he was 20, having been made heir by his uncle Emperor Cheng, who was childless, and he reigned from 7 BC to 1 BC.
The people and the officials were initially excited about his ascension, as he was viewed by them (as well as Emperor Cheng) to be intelligent, articulate, and capable. However, under Emperor Ai, corruption became even more prevalent and heavy taxes were levied on the people. Furthermore, Emperor Ai was highly controlled by his grandmother Consort Fu (consort of his grandfather Emperor Yuan), who improperly demanded the title of Grand Empress Dowager -- even though she had never been an empress previously and therefore did not properly have that title, and this led to the unprecedented and unrepeated situation of four women possessing empress dowager titles at the same time—Empress Wang (Emperor Cheng's mother and Emperor Yuan's wife), Empress Zhao Feiyan (Emperor Cheng's wife), Consort Fu, and Consort Ding (Emperor Ai's mother).
Consort Fu's control of the political scene extended until her death in 2 BC, and due to her jealousy of Consort Feng Yuan, another consort of Emperor Yuan's (and therefore her romantic rival) and the grandmother of the future Emperor Ping, was falsely accused of witchcraft, and Consort Feng was forced to commit suicide. During Emperor Ai's reign, he also stripped the Wang clan (Empress Wang's clan), which had been powerful during Emperor Cheng's reign, of much of their power, and substituted members of the Fu and Ding clans in their stead (which, ironically, led to the effect that the people, who were not enamored with the Wangs initially, longing for their return to power due to the people associating the departure of the Wangs from power with Emperor Ai's incompetence in administration). In an unpopular act, Emperor Ai had his prime minister Wang Jia (王嘉, unrelated to the Wang clan mentioned above) put to death for criticizing him, an act that made him appear tyrannical. Emperor Ai's shortcomings quickly led to the demoralization of the people towards the government and the acquisition of power by Wang Mang, in a backlash, after Ai died in 1 BC.
Emperor Ai was also famous for being the most effusive of ten homosexual emperors of the Han Dynasty. Traditional historians characterized the relationship between Emperor Ai and Dong Xian as one between homosexual lovers and referred to their relationship as "the passion of the cut sleeve" (斷袖之癖) after a story that one afternoon after falling asleep for a nap on the same bed, Emperor Ai cut off his sleeve rather than disturb the sleeping Dong Xian when he had to get out of bed. Dong was noted for his relative simplicity contrasted with the highly ornamented court, and was given progressively higher and higher posts as part of the relationship, eventually becoming the supreme commander of the armed forces by the time of Emperor Ai's death. Dong was afterward forced to commit suicide.
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Famous quotes containing the words han and/or emperor:
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