During Emperor Taiwu's Reign
In 423, Emperor Mingyuan died, and Crown Prince Tao succeeded him as Emperor Taiwu. Immediately, many of the other officials, jealous of Cui Hao, made accusations against him. Not willing to go against the majority of officials, Emperor Taiwu relieved Cui of his posts and had him retire to his mansion as the Duke of Baima. However, because Emperor Taiwu also knew Cui to be intelligent and wise, he still often consulted Cui on important matters. During this time, Cui spent much time caring for his skin, and his skin was said to be so fair and beautiful that it was comparable to beautiful women's. He also compared his own intelligence to that of the famed Han Dynasty strategist Zhang Liang, and further believed that his own knowledge surpassed that of Zhang.
It appeared to be around this time that Cui became a Taoist. Previously, Cui was said to dislike Daode Jing and Zhuangzi, the most important Taoist works, but he particularly despised Buddhism, believing it to be a religion of barbarians. After he met the Taoist monk Kou Qianzhi, who had reorganized the Taoist religious thoughts but received few adherents, he became a follower of Kou, and he made many petitions to Emperor Taiwu endorsing Kou's writings. Emperor Taiwu was impressed and became a Taoist and a follower of Kou as well, giving official approval to Kou's followers' proselytization of Taoism throughout his empire and approving a large amount of stipend for Kou's religious ceremonies.
By 426, Cui Hao was again a minister in Emperor Taiwu's administration, and it was at this time that Emperor Taiwu was considering a target for his armies. Cui Hao was among the ministers who suggested that he attack Xia, believing that Xia's cruel laws made it the obvious target, and Emperor Taiwu agreed. It was also around this time that Emperor Taiwu considered making the minister Li Shun (李順), who was related to Cui by marriage, a major general. (Cui's younger brother was married to Li's sister, and his nephew was married to Li's daughter.) Cui believed Li to be frivolous and unsuitable and persuaded Emperor Taiwu of that belief. From this point on, Cui and Li became political enemies.
In 427, after fighting dangerously but with Cui at his side, Emperor Taiwu captured the Xia capital Tongwan (統萬, in modern Yulin, Shaanxi), forcing the Xia emperor Helian Chang to flee to Shanggui (上邽, in modern Tianshui, Gansu) and allowing Northern Wei to take more than half of Xia territory.
In 429, Emperor Taiwu commissioned Cui to continue writing Northern Wei's history, a project that had started under Emperor Daowu with the official Deng Yuan (鄧淵) in charge. Cui engaged Deng Yuan's son Deng Ying (鄧穎) to assist him. This project, however, would eventually have dire consequences for both Cui and Deng.
Also in 429, at the advice of Cui, and against the advice of all other officials and his wet nurse Nurse Empress Dowager Dou, Emperor Taiwu attacked Rouran. (Cui believed that further major conflicts with Liu Song were inevitable, and that Northern Wei must first deal Rouran a major defeat to avoid being attacked on both sides.) However, Cui did not accompany Emperor Taiwu on this campaign, although he did inform Kou, who was, that the main Rouran force must be found and destroyed. When Emperor Taiwu engaged Rouran and dealt it a major loss, but was unable to find its Mouhanheshenggai Khan, Yujiulü Datan, he did not want to advance any further in fear of a trap, and even when Kou informed him what Cui had said, he stopped the pursuit. Only later did he find out that he was actually close to Yujiulü Datan's position and could have easily found and destroyed Yujiulü Datan, and he regretted this greatly.
Around this time, for Cui Hao's contributions, Emperor Taiwu awarded him several high titles. Cui often observed the stars at night, and he soaked copper in vinegar. Whenever he would see something unusual, he would use the copper as a pen and write his findings on paper. Knowing this, Emperor Taiwu often visited Cui's house at night to consult him, and despite Cui's inability to serve him with gourmet food, Emperor Taiwu would often eat at least some of the food that Cui offered before returning to his palace. When new vassals, Gaoche chiefs, arrived in Pingcheng, he introduced Cui Hao to them, with this commentary:
- When you see this man, he looks thin and weak, unable to bend bows and unable to bear spears. However, the power in his heart is greater than a million soldiers. Often, I have desire to conquer but not the resolution to do so, and I am able to accomplish what I have because of the teaching of this gentleman.
In 430, when it appeared that Emperor Wen of Liu Song was about to attack, Northern Wei's southern defense forces suggested making a preemptory attack against Liu Song, but Cui Hao opposed it, pointing out that if the attack were not quickly successful, it risked causing Liu Song to counterattack across the Yellow River, endangering Northern Wei's existence. Rather, it was probably at Cui Hao's suggestion that, when Liu Song forces did attack later that year, Emperor Taiwu withdrew Northern Wei forces south of the Yellow River, judging that all Emperor Wen intended was to recapture the region south of the Yellow River, and that once the Yellow River froze in the winter Northern Wei could counterattack easily. It was definitely at Cui Hao's suggestion that despite the loss of territory to Liu Song at this time, Emperor Taiwu instead launched one final attack against Xia's emperor Helian Ding (Helian Chang's brother), seizing what remained of Xia territory and forcing Helian Ding to flee west, where he was captured by Tuyuhun's khan Murong Mugui (慕容慕璝) in 431. Meanwhile, even without Emperor Taiwu, Northern Wei forces were able to advance south in winter 430, quickly recapturing most of the territory that Liu Song had captured, and regaining all of it by spring 431.
In 431, for reasons not completely clear, Cui and Li Shun appeared to have had a reconciliation, at Cui recommended Li for a mission to Northern Liang, whose prince Juqu Mengxun had recently become a vassal. Upon Li's return, he reported Northern Liang's conditions in great detail, greatly encouraging Emperor Taiwu's plans to conquer Northern Liang. Believing Li to be capable, Emperor Taiwu also made him a major advisor, and Li and Cui appeared to resume their rivalry from this point on.
In late 431, against the advice of his nephew Lu Xuan (盧玄), Cui Hao began a plan to reexamine the ancestry of the officials, believing, as the prevailing thoughts were at the time, that the officials should be ranked in accordance with the honors that their clan had gained in the past. This brought much resentment against Cui. It was also at this time that, at Emperor Taiwu's orders, Cui Hao rewrote criminal laws to try to make the criminal justice system more lenient. However, only several features of the Cui criminal code are referred to in history:
- That five-year and four-year imprisonment terms were abolished, and one-year terms instituted.
- That those who used witchcraft to harm others would have a goat tied to his or her back and a dog tied to the chest and thrown into a river.
- That a sufficiently high-ranked official who committed a crime would be allowed to forego his office in lieu of punishment.
- That if a pregnant women were sentenced to death, she would be allowed to bear her child and be executed 100 days after giving birth.
- That each governmental agency would have a drum next to its front door, so that those who believed that they had been unfairly punished could pound the drum and make their requests.
In 439, Emperor Taiwu, even though by this point he had taken Juqu Mengxun's daughter as a concubine and had married his sister Princess Wuwei to Juqu Mengxun's son and successor Juqu Mujian, became resolved to conquer Northern Liang, and Cui greatly encouraged him, despite opposition from other key officials, including Li Shun, Daxin Jin (達奚斤), and Tuxi Bi (吐奚弼). (Why Li switched his position from supporting a campaign to opposing it at this point was unclear, but Cui would later accuse him of having accepted bribes from Juqu Mengxun and Juqu Mujian.) Li and Tuxi argued that Northern Liang's territory was desolate, and that the Northern Wei army would run out of food and water. Emperor Taiwu followed Cui's suggestion, and was able to quickly conquer Northern Liang and force Juqu Mujian's surrender—and when he saw that the region around Northern Liang's capital Guzang (姑臧, in modern Wuwei, Gansu) was exceptionally fertile, he became very resentful of Li, and would eventually force Li to commit suicide in 442. Meanwhile, after the conquest of Northern Liang, at Cui's request, Juqu Mujian's officials Yin Zhongda (陰仲達) and Duan Chenggen (段承根) were added to Cui's staff of historians. He also added Gao Yun to his staff around this time.
In 442, at Kou Qianzhi's urging, Emperor Taiwu ascended a platform and formally received Taoist amulets from Kou, and changed the color of his flags to blue, to show his Taoist beliefs and to officially approve Taoism as the state religion. From that point on, it became a tradition for Northern Wei emperors, when they took the throne, to receive Taoist amulets. Also at Kou and Cui Hao's urging, he started building Jinglun Palace (靜輪宮), intended to be so high that it would be quiet and close to the gods. (Emperor Taiwu's crown prince Tuoba Huang, a Buddhist, opposed the construction project on the basis of cost, but Emperor Taiwu disagreed with him. This might be the first sign of growing tensions between Cui and the crown prince.)
In 444, similarly to how his father had transferred authority to him early, Emperor Taiwu transferred much of his authority to Crown Prince Huang. Also similarly to what his father had done, he made several of his key officials Crown Prince Huang's advisors, and Cui was among those officials. This did not appear to cause the relationship between Cui and the crown prince to warm, however.
Also in 444, Cui was involved in a major political event. Dugu Jie (獨孤絜), a high level official, who had opposed attacking Rouran, was accused by Cui Hao of being so jealous of Cui, whose suggestions of attacking Rouran were accepted by Emperor Taiwu, that he sabotaged Emperor Taiwu's war efforts by giving the generals the wrong times for rendezvous, and then further planning to have Emperor Taiwu captured by Rouran and then making Emperor Taiwu's brother Tuoba Pi (拓拔丕) the Prince of Leping emperor. Emperor Taiwu put Dugu to death, and Tuoba Pi died from anxiety. Further, because Dugu implicated them while being interrogated, fellow officials Zhang Song (張嵩) and Kudi Lin (庫狄鄰) were also put to death.
In 446, the Xiongnu rebel Gai Wu (蓋吳) rose in the Guanzhong region, and when Emperor Taiwu personally attacked Gai, he found weapons in Buddhist temples and believed that Buddhists were conspiring against him. Cui, who despised Buddhism, fanned the flames, and Emperor Taiwu first slaughtered the Buddhist monks in Chang'an. Cui then, despite Kou Qianzhi's opposition, suggested to Emperor Taiwu to slaughter all monks in the empire. Emperor Taiwu proceeded to slaughter the monks in Chang'an, destroy the statues, and burn the sutras. He then issued an empire-wide prohibition of Buddhism. Crown Prince Huang, however, used delaying tactics in promulgating the edict, allowing Buddhists to flee or hide, but it was said that not a single Buddhist temple remained standing in Northern Wei. This was the first of the Three Disasters of Wu.
In 447, after receiving reports that Juqu Mujian was planning a rebellion, Emperor Taiwu sent Cui Hao to the residence that Juqu Mujian shared with Princess Wuwei, to force Juqu Mujian to commit suicide.
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