Was the Han Emperor Unimportant to Han Loyalists?

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Was the Han Emperor Unimportant to Han Loyalists?

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Sat Jun 24, 2017 1:01 pm

One criticism Liu Bei sometimes gets is if he was loyal to the Han, why did he take the throne? Now there are several answers used on that (he deserved it, practically, Han had done this before, yada yada) but I wonder if part of it is that the Han emperor in themselves were no longer important, that changing who ruled was a fairly minor issue by 3kingdoms, that the Han was far far bigger then Son of Heaven even for loyalists.

Liang Ji murdered Han emperors and the reaction of Han loyalists seems to be quite small to his regicide, they didn't like Liang Ji for a lot of reasons but off the top of my head, the regicide didn't really anger them. He Jin's faction overruled Ling's wishes for successor, Dong felt able to go "ok Han emperor needs to change", the Coalition seriously considered replacing Xian with one of their own, Xun Yu was content with Cao Cao's sometimes rough treatment of Xian until a signal that Cao Cao might want throne himself.

Clearly it mattered to some Han loyalists at way Cao Cao treated Xian, the coalition idea was blocked, Liu Bei faced objections so I'm not saying it was universal or that the Son of Heaven was unimportant to them but was it less important then we tend to think? That if push came to shove, replacing one with another was not a big a deal as it might seem?
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Re: Was the Han Emperor Unimportant to Han Loyalists?

Unread postby DragonAtma » Sat Jun 24, 2017 4:27 pm

Since the coalition never replaced Emperor Xian, obviously we don't know what would have happened if they did. However, I get the feeling their rationale was "Dong Zhuo utterly dominates the capital, so Emperor Xian has no more power than the last poor saps before Wang Mang took power. Dong Zhuo'll obviously declare himself emperor, so if we replace Emperor Xian with Liu Yu [governor of Youzhou], then there'll be a Han emperor who actually has some power and is not a figurehead or about to be overthrown."

As for Liu Bei, I assume his rationale was "The Han dynasty must continue -- and if anyone else declared themselves emperor they'd be arrested, so it's up to me to do so."

As for Liang Ji I haven't studied him much, but it looks like he had pretty much total control by the time he murdered Emperor Zhi. But by then, he was hated to the point that it was pretty hard to increase the hatred. After all, I don't see modern people going "9/11 didn';t bother me, but al qaeda's latest attack makes my blood boil".

When you get down to it, Han loyalists wanted the Han dynasty to continue, even if it required a drastic change like the shift to Emperor Guangwu:
* When it was clear Liang Ji was planning to declare himself emperor, it was too late for them.
* He Jin was incompetent and didn't seem to be planning to take the throne, plus they felt that the eunuch faction was a bigger risk.
* Presumably they thought Cao Cao would return power to Emperor Xian when he got older; friction between Cao Cao and the loyalists didn't really start until around when Emperor Xian became an adult (199), and by then Cao Cao's forces already dominated the government. And as it turns out? Cao Cao never did take the throne (personally I doubt he ever planned to, considering that he was already emperor in all but name), even though he could have over a decade before he died.
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Re: Was the Han Emperor Unimportant to Han Loyalists?

Unread postby waywardauthor » Sat Jun 24, 2017 7:00 pm

I wonder if it was generally assumed that in a time of violence where the emperor had limited independent authority, that it would be a contention among high ranking officials to bring about peace. Emperors were often powerless in the Later Han even in peacetime, so outside of the religious and ethical duties maintained by the sovereign there may not have been any need to indulge in pretensions to an independent ruler. Perhaps it was assumed that the institutions of the Han would simply revert, with Cao Cao playing the role of Liang Ji and others. Conflicts between Cao loyalists and Cao opponents, when framed from a position of court politics, would not need to sound any alarm. It was often the pretext of such men to claim that their actions were in favor of the Emperor, which is generally how such overbearing families were overthrown. Men like Xun Yu could simply rationalize this as simple politics, realizing only far too late that Cao Cao and his followers would not be content to remain the shadow-ruler of the empire.

As for Liu Bei, whoever sat the throne was probably immaterial to him after a certain point. Anything Emperor Xian said or did could be dismissed as fabrication or coercion, allowing him freedom of action. Fog of war and enemy propaganda excuses solidified this among any genuine pro-Han sentiment in his camp. Had he succeeded in his gambit, he would turn into Duke Wen or Liang Ji and probably be no better than the Cao Cao Xun Yu wanted. Should the Emperor be dethroned, he would emulate Guangwu and take the throne himself. Either way, by the time he was a warlord with a large following his path was clear.
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Re: Was the Han Emperor Unimportant to Han Loyalists?

Unread postby To Establish Peace » Sun Jun 25, 2017 12:12 am

I feel like the "Han Dynasty" as an idea was bigger than any specific emperor which is why Guangwu was accepted despite being very far removed from the main Liu Bang line and why Liu Bei would have been accepted had he won. Essentially there's a grain of pragmatism in the Son of Heaven cult, where for the idea of the Mandate of the Heaven to persist under the same dynasty, you need a strong, competent leader to represent the idea of the dynasty. Liu Xiu was just what the doctor ordered, as was Liu Bei - competent, charismatic, skilled, decisive commanders/leaders/warlords with JUST enough connection to the Han to maintain some veneer of connection to the royal blood - the problem with Liu Bei was that his competition was too good.
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Re: Was the Han Emperor Unimportant to Han Loyalists?

Unread postby Sun Fin » Sun Jun 25, 2017 7:12 am

I suspect individual Son's of Heaven had been far more important earlier in the dynasty.

However by the time of Emperor Xian their importance had rather been devalued. When was the last time there had been an Emperor who had wielded genuine authority? After Wang Ming there had already been a precedent for a different off-shot claiming the throne. As others have said what was important was the continuation of the Han/Liu line.
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Re: Was the Han Emperor Unimportant to Han Loyalists?

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Sun Jun 25, 2017 12:31 pm

Interesting responses, I think I agree with most of it. I have said before Liu Bei won the war, nobody would question his legitimacy as Han emperor, it would just be a third Han dynasty and I have said it was a practical move but the gentry were practical and those still Han loyal, it was not about which Liu was on the throne for them.

DragonAtma wrote:Since the coalition never replaced Emperor Xian, obviously we don't know what would have happened if they did. However, I get the feeling their rationale was "Dong Zhuo utterly dominates the capital, so Emperor Xian has no more power than the last poor saps before Wang Mang took power. Dong Zhuo'll obviously declare himself emperor, so if we replace Emperor Xian with Liu Yu [governor of Youzhou], then there'll be a Han emperor who actually has some power and is not a figurehead or about to be overthrown."


Possibly they also felt having a Han emperor would give them legitimacy and credibility

As for Liang Ji I haven't studied him much, but it looks like he had pretty much total control by the time he murdered Emperor Zhi. But by then, he was hated to the point that it was pretty hard to increase the hatred. After all, I don't see modern people going "9/11 didn';t bother me, but al qaeda's latest attack makes my blood boil".


but the hatred for him seems to be more with the control, with alleged corruption, his love life then his actual regicide.

Sun Fin wrote:However by the time of Emperor Xian their importance had rather been devalued. When was the last time there had been an Emperor who had wielded genuine authority?


Emperor Ling.
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Re: Was the Han Emperor Unimportant to Han Loyalists?

Unread postby Sun Fin » Sun Jun 25, 2017 1:44 pm

Dong Zhou wrote:
Sun Fin wrote:However by the time of Emperor Xian their importance had rather been devalued. When was the last time there had been an Emperor who had wielded genuine authority?


Emperor Ling.


Touche. I'll try again. When was the last time there had been a competent Emperor who wielded genuine authority?
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Re: Was the Han Emperor Unimportant to Han Loyalists?

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Mon Jun 26, 2017 11:33 am

Has to be before Liang Ji era at the very least so quite a long time, not sure anyone would have been alive from then so that would influence people's thinking
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Re: Was the Han Emperor Unimportant to Han Loyalists?

Unread postby waywardauthor » Mon Jun 26, 2017 11:50 pm

Dong Zhou wrote:Interesting responses, I think I agree with most of it. I have said before Liu Bei won the war, nobody would question his legitimacy as Han emperor, it would just be a third Han dynasty and I have said it was a practical move but the gentry were practical and those still Han loyal, it was not about which Liu was on the throne for them.

I'm not sure Liu Bei would have become emperor had Emperor Xian or his children remained on the throne upon his reunification of China. In the case of a deposition, there wouldn't be any question, but the deposition of relatives in order to ascend the throne does not seem to be a thing that is done.
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Re: Was the Han Emperor Unimportant to Han Loyalists?

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Tue Jun 27, 2017 10:00 am

I agree it would have been harder for him to do but if Liu Bei unites the land, with the officers having served him in his rise to power, I think he could take the throne. Gentry would have found a practical way as they tend to do when their own power is involved
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