Emperor Ai of Tang

Last updated
Tang Aidi
Emperor of Tang Dynasty
ReignSeptember 26, 904 [1] [2] – May 12, 907 [1] [3]
Predecessor Emperor Zhaozong
BornOctober 27, 892 [1] [4]
DiedMarch 26, 908 [1] [3]
Full name
Era name and dates
Tiānyòu (天祐) (inherited from Emperor Zhaozong): May 28, 904 [1] [5] – May 12, 907 [lower-alpha 1]
Posthumous name
Emperor Ai (哀皇帝) (given by Later Liang) or
Emperor Zhaoxuan (昭宣皇帝) (given by Later Tang) (short)
Emperor Zhaoxuan Guanglie Xiao (昭宣光烈孝皇帝) (given by Later Tang) (full)
Temple name
Jǐngzōng (景宗) (not commonly used)
Dynasty Tang
Father Emperor Zhaozong
Mother Empress Xuanmu
Tang Aidi
Chinese 唐哀帝
Literal meaning"Pitious Emperor of the Tang"
Li Zuo
Chinese 李祚
Literal meaning(personal name)

Emperor Ai of Tang (27 October 892 26 March 908), also known as Emperor Zhaoxuan (昭宣帝), born Li Zuo, later known as Li Chu (Chinese: ; pinyin:Lǐ Chù [6] ), was the last emperor of the Tang dynasty of China. He reigned—as but a puppet ruler—from 904 to 907. Emperor Ai was the son of Emperor Zhaozong.

Tang dynasty State in Chinese history

The Tang dynasty or the Tang Empire was an imperial dynasty of China that ruled from 618 to 907, with an interregnum between 690 and 705. It was preceded by the Sui dynasty and followed by the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period in Chinese history. Historians generally regard the Tang as a high point in Chinese civilization, and a golden age of cosmopolitan culture. Tang territory, acquired through the military campaigns of its early rulers, rivaled that of the Han dynasty. The Tang capital at Chang'an was the most populous city in the world in its day.

China Country in East Asia

China, officially the People's Republic of China, is a country in East Asia and the world's most populous country, with a population of around 1.404 billion in 2017. Covering approximately 9,600,000 square kilometers (3,700,000 sq mi), it is the third or fourth largest country by total area. Governed by the Communist Party of China, the state exercises jurisdiction over 22 provinces, five autonomous regions, four direct-controlled municipalities, and the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau.

A puppet ruler is a person who has a title indicating possession of political power, but who, in reality, is controlled by outside individuals or forces. Such outside power can be exercised by a foreign government, in which case the puppet ruler's domain is called a puppet state. But the puppet ruler may also be controlled by internal forces, such as non-elected officials.


Emperor Ai ascended the throne at the age of 11 after his father, the Emperor Zhaozong, was assassinated on the orders of the paramount warlord Zhu Quanzhong in 904, and while Emperor Ai reigned, the Tang court, then at Luoyang, was under the control of officials Zhu put in charge. In 905, under the instigation of his associates Liu Can and Li Zhen, Zhu had Emperor Ai issue an edict summoning some 30 senior aristocrats at Baima Station (白馬驛, in modern Anyang, Henan), near the Yellow River; the aristocrats were thereafter ordered to commit suicide, and their bodies were thrown into the Yellow River. He could do nothing to stop Zhu from murdering his brothers and mother in the same year. Less than two years later in 907, Zhu made his final move against Emperor Ai himself, forcing the young emperor to abdicate to him. In Zhu's new Later Liang, the former Tang emperor carried the title of Prince of Jiyin, but in 908, Zhu had the prince poisoned, at the age of 15.

Zhu Wen Liang Dynasty emperor

Emperor Taizu of Later Liang (後梁太祖), personal name Zhu Quanzhong (朱全忠) (852–912), né Zhu Wen (朱溫), name later changed to Zhu Huang (朱晃), nickname Zhu San, was a Jiedushi and warlord who in 907 overthrew the Tang dynasty and established the Later Liang as its emperor, ushering in the era of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms. The last two Tang emperors, Emperor Zhaozong of Tang and Emperor Ai of Tang, who "ruled" as his puppets from 903 to 907, were both murdered by him.

Luoyang Prefecture-level city in Henan, Peoples Republic of China

Luoyang is a city located in the confluence area of Luo River and Yellow River in the west of Henan province. Governed as a prefecture-level city, it borders the provincial capital of Zhengzhou to the east, Pingdingshan to the southeast, Nanyang to the south, Sanmenxia to the west, Jiyuan to the north, and Jiaozuo to the northeast. As of the final 2010 census, Luoyang had a population of 6,549,941 inhabitants with 1,857,003 people living in the built-up area made of the city's five urban districts, all of which except the Jili District are not urbanized yet.

Liu Can, courtesy name Zhaozhi, formally the Baron of Hedong (河東男), nicknamed Liu Qiezi, was an official of the Chinese dynasty Tang Dynasty, serving as a chancellor during the reigns of Emperor Zhaozong and Emperor Zhaozong's son Emperor Ai, near the end of the dynasty. He was an associate of the powerful warlord Zhu Quanzhong the military governor (Jiedushi) of Xuanwu Circuit, who assisted Zhu in the process of seizing the Tang throne. However, eventually, Zhu became impatient of the pace that Liu and his other associates Jiang Xuanhui (蔣玄暉) and Zhang Tingfan (張廷範) were taking in that process, and became suspicious that they had turned against him. He therefore had all of them executed.


Li Zuo was born in 892, at the main palace at the Tang imperial capital Chang'an. His father Emperor Zhaozong was already emperor at that point, and he was Emperor Zhaozong's ninth son. [4] His mother was Consort He, who had previously given birth to an older brother of his, Li Yu, Prince of De, who was Emperor Zhaozong's oldest son.

Changan Ancient capital and city of China

Chang'an was an ancient capital of more than ten dynasties in Chinese history, today known as Xi'an. Chang'an means "Perpetual Peace" in Classical Chinese since it was a capital that was repeatedly used by new Chinese rulers. During the short-lived Xin dynasty, the city was renamed "Constant Peace" ; the old name was later restored. By the time of the Ming dynasty, a new walled city named Xi'an, meaning "Western Peace", was built at the Sui and Tang dynasty city's site, which has remained its name to the present day.

Emperor Zhaozong of Tang emperor of the Tang Dynasty

Emperor Zhaozong of Tang, né Li Jie, name later changed to Li Min and again to Li Ye, was the penultimate emperor of the Tang Dynasty of China. He reigned from 888 to 904. Zhaozong was the seventh son of Emperor Yizong of Tang and younger brother of Emperor Xizong of Tang.

Empress He, formally Empress Xuanmu (宣穆皇后) as honored by Later Tang, semi-formally known as Empress Jishan (積善皇后), was the wife of Emperor Zhaozong of Tang near the end of the Chinese dynasty Tang Dynasty, and the mother of two of his sons, Li You/Li Yu and Emperor Ai of Tang. Her husband, she, and her sons would all die at the hands of the warlord Zhu Quanzhong, who would eventually take over the Tang throne and establish his own Later Liang.

In 897, Li Zuo was created an imperial prince, along with his brothers Li Mi (李秘) and Li Qi (李祺); Li Zuo's title was Prince of Hui. Later in the year, with Li Yu having been created Crown Prince earlier in the year, their mother Consort He was created empress. [7]

Crown prince Heir to the throne

A crown prince is the male heir apparent to the throne in a royal or imperial monarchy. The female form of the title is crown princess, which may refer either to an heir apparent or, especially in earlier times, to the wife of the person styled crown prince.

By 903, Zhu Quanzhong the military governor ( Jiedushi ) of Xuanwu Circuit (宣武, headquartered in modern Kaifeng, Henan), already previously one of the most powerful warlords in the Tang realm, had taken Emperor Zhaozong's court at Chang'an under control, in alliance with the chancellor Cui Yin. That year, Emperor Zhaozong was prepared to give Zhu the title of Deputy Generalissimo of All Circuits, with one of his sons serving, titularly, as Generalissimo, and he initially wanted to give that title to Li Yu as Li Yu was older. However, Zhu wanted a younger prince to serve as Generalissimo to avoid diverting the focus of authority, so Cui, under Zhu's orders, recommended Li Zuo. Emperor Zhaozong agreed and made Li Zuo Generalissimo. [5]

<i>Jiedushi</i> regional military governor function.

The jiedushi were regional military governors in China during the Tang dynasty and the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. The post of jiedushi has been translated as "military commissioner", "legate", or "regional commander". Originally introduced in 711 to counter external threats, the jiedushi were posts authorized with the supervision of a defense command often encompassing several prefectures, the ability to maintain their own armies, collect taxes and promote and appoint subordinates.

Kaifeng Prefecture-level city in Henan, Peoples Republic of China

Kaifeng is a prefecture-level city in east-central Henan province, China. It is one of the Eight Ancient Capitals of China, having been the capital seven times in history, and is best known for being the Chinese capital in the Northern Song dynasty.

Henan Province

Henan is a landlocked province of the People's Republic of China, located in the central part of the country. Henan is often referred to as Zhongyuan or Zhongzhou (中州), which literally means "central plain" or "midland", although the name is also applied to the entirety of China proper. Henan is the birthplace of Chinese civilization, with over 3,000 years of recorded history, and remained China's cultural, economical and political center until approximately 1,000 years ago.

In 904, Zhu forced Emperor Zhaozong to move the capital from Chang'an to Luoyang, which was even more firmly under his control. [5] Later that year, fearing that the adult Emperor Zhaozong would try to rise against him while he was away on campaigns against other warlords, he had Emperor Zhaozong assassinated. Bypassing Li Yu and the other older princes, he had an edict issued in Emperor Zhaozong's name creating Li Zuo crown prince and changing his name to Li Chu. Shortly after, Li Chu took the throne (as Emperor Ai). Empress He, who survived the assassination, was honored empress dowager. [2]

Empress dowager is the English language translation of the title given to the mother or widow of a Chinese, Japanese, Korean or Vietnamese emperor.


At the time Emperor Ai took the throne, one of the chancellors was Zhu Quanzhong's close associate Liu Can. Liu, not from an aristocratic family, resented the traditional aristocrats, and he advocated to Zhu that the senior aristocrats should be slaughtered to prevent them from resisting Zhu. Zhu agreed, and in 905, under edicts issued in Emperor Ai's name, some 30 of them were gathered at Baima Station and ordered to commit suicide; their bodies were then thrown into the Yellow River. The victims included the former chancellors Pei Shu, Dugu Sun, Cui Yuan, Lu Yi, and Wang Pu, as well as the senior officials Zhao Chong (趙崇) and Wang Zan (王贊). Around the same time, nine of Emperor Ai's brothers, including Li Yu, were also killed on Zhu's orders. [2]

Meanwhile, Liu, as well as Zhu's other close associates at the Luoyang court, Jiang Xuanhui (蔣玄暉) the director of palace communications and Zhang Tingfan (張廷範) the commander of the imperial guards, were preparing ceremonies to have Emperor Ai yield the throne to Zhu. Pursuant to past precedents on dynastic transitions, they first had Emperor Ai issue edicts to create Zhu the Prince of Wei and bestow on him the nine bestowments—but Zhu, wanting the throne even faster and believing false accusations by Wang Yin (王殷) and Zhao Yinheng that Jiang, Liu, and Zhang were intentionally slowing the transition down with these ceremonial formalities, then had Jiang, Liu, and Zhang put to death. Wang and Zhao then falsely accused Empress Dowager He, who had been cooperating with Jiang in the hopes that she and the young emperor would be spared, of carrying on an affair with Jiang. She was therefore also killed, and Emperor Ai was forced to posthumously had her defamed and demoted to commoner rank, although he was still allowed to mourn for her. [2]

In 907, under advice from his ally Luo Shaowei the military governor of Weibo Circuit (魏博, headquartered in modern Handan, Hebei), Zhu finally resolved to take the throne. Later in the year, he had the young emperor yield the throne to him, ending Tang and starting a new Later Liang as its Emperor Taizu—although several regional warlords, including Li Keyong, Li Maozhen, Yang Wo, and Wang Jian, refused to recognize him, and effectively became rulers of their own states (Jin, Qi, Wu, and Former Shu, respectively). Of those new states, Jin, Qi, and Wu continued to use Emperor Ai's Tianyou era name, implicitly still recognizing him as emperor. [3]


The new Later Liang emperor created Li Chu the Prince of Jiyin and moved him from Luoyang to Cao Prefecture (曹州, in modern Heze, Shandong), and put his mansion under heavy guard, with a fence of thorns surrounding it. In 908, he had Li Chu poisoned to death, and gave Li Chu the posthumous name of Ai (哀, "lamentable"). [3] In 928, by which time Li Keyong's adoptive son Li Siyuan was ruling as the emperor of Jin's successor state Later Tang (as Emperor Mingzong), which claimed to be the legitimate continuation of Tang Dynasty and which had earlier destroyed Later Liang, Emperor Mingzong's officials suggested that a temple be built to honor Emperor Ai. Emperor Mingzong had such a temple built at Cao Prefecture. In 929, Emperor Mingzong's officials further suggested giving Emperor Ai a more proper (i.e., more Tang-traditional) posthumous name of Emperor Zhaoxuan Guanglie Xiao, with a temple name of Jingzong, but they also pointed out that since Emperor Ai's temple was not among the imperial ancestral temples, a temple name was not proper. Therefore, only the new posthumous name was adopted, and the temple name was not. [8] Traditional histories thus referred to him mostly as Emperor Ai but also at times as Emperor Zhaoxuan. [3] [4] [9]

Chancellors during reign


No family recorded in official histories; Song dynasty general Li Gang was claimed to be a descendant through a son named Li Xizhao (李熙照)[ citation needed ]

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Academia Sinica Chinese-Western Calendar Converter Archived 2013-10-16 at the Wayback Machine .
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Zizhi Tongjian, vol. 265.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Zizhi Tongjian , vol. 266.
  4. 1 2 3 Old Book of Tang , vol. 20, part 2.
  5. 1 2 3 Zizhi Tongjian, vol. 264.
  6. 现代汉语词典(第七版)[ A Dictionary of Current Chinese (Seventh Edition).]. Beijing: The Commercial Press. 1 September 2016. p. 197. ISBN   978-7-100-12450-8. 柷 chù 用于人名,李柷,唐哀帝
  7. Zizhi Tongjian, vol. 261.
  8. Zizhi Tongjian, vol. 276.
  9. New Book of Tang, vol. 10.
  1. However, after the end of Tang, the regional states Jin, Wu, and Qi continued to use Tang's Tianyou era name to show their refusal to recognize Later Liang. One can therefore also consider the end of the Tianyou era to be sometime early in 924, when Li Maozhen the Prince of Qi became a subject to Jin's successor state Later Tang and switched to Later Tang's Tongguang era.
Emperor Ai of Tang
Born: 892 Died: 908
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Emperor Zhaozong
Emperor of Tang
Succeeded by
Emperor of China (most regions)
Succeeded by
Zhu Wen
Emperor of China (Sichuan/Chongqing)
Succeeded by
Wang Jian (Emperor of (Former) Shu)
Emperor of China (Shanxi)
Succeeded by
Li Keyong (Prince of Jin)
Emperor of China (Jiangsu/Jiangxi/Anhui)
Succeeded by
Yang Wo (Prince of Hongnong (Wu))
Emperor of China (Eastern Inner Mongolia)
Succeeded by
Emperor Taizu of Liao
Emperor of China (Western Shaanxi)
Succeeded by
Li Maozhen (Prince of Qi)
Emperor of China (Zhejiang)
Succeeded by
Qian Liu (Prince of Wuyue)