Emperor Gong of Western Wei

Last updated
Emperor Gong of Western Wei
Full name
(Xi) Wei Gongdi ((西)魏恭帝)
Family name
Initially Yuan (元, yuán),
later Tuoba (拓拔, tuò bá)
(changed 554)
Given name
Kuo (廓, kuò)
Posthumous name
Gong (恭, gōng),
literary meaning: "respectful"

Emperor Gong of Western Wei ((西)魏恭帝) (537–557), personal name né Yuan Kuo (元廓), later changed to Tuoba Kuo (拓拔廓), was the last emperor of the Western Wei -- a rump state of and successor to Northern Wei. He was made emperor in 554 after his older brother Emperor Fei was deposed by the paramount general Yuwen Tai. He carried little actual power, and in 556, after Yuwen Tai's death, Yuwen Tai's nephew Yuwen Hu, serving as guardian to Yuwen Tai's son Yuwen Jue, forced Emperor Gong to yield the throne to Yuwen Jue, ending Western Wei and starting Northern Zhou. The former emperor was killed in 557. Because Northern Wei's other branch successor state, Eastern Wei, had fallen in 550, Emperor Gong can be regarded as Northern Wei's final emperor as well.



Yuan Kuo was born in 537, as the fourth son of Emperor Wen. His mother's name is not recorded in history. In 548, Emperor Wen created him the Prince of Qi. He subsequently served under Dugu Xin as one of Western Wei's twelve great generals. However, nothing else is known about his activities during his father's reign, during which the paramount general Yuwen Tai largely controlled power. Yuwen's hold on power appeared to be even firmer after Emperor Wen died in 551 and was succeeded by Yuan Kuo's older brother Yuan Qin (as Emperor Fei). During Yuan Kuo's stint as the Prince of Qi, he married the daughter of the general Ruogan Hui (若干惠) as his wife and princess.

In 554, Emperor Fei, angry over Yuwen Tai's execution of the official Yuan Lie (元烈) in 553, plotted to have Yuwen killed. However, the news was leaked, and Yuwen deposed him. He selected Yuan Kuo to succeed Emperor Fei (as Emperor Gong). Contemporaneously, Yuwen changed the imperial clan's surname from Yuan back to Tuoba, reversing the change that Emperor Xiaowen ordered in 496.


Emperor Gong appeared to be even more powerless than his father and brother, and the power remained in Yuwen's hands. He created his wife, Princess Ruogan, empress. Later in 554, Yuwen poisoned the deposed Emperor Fei to death. Later that year, an army dispatched by Yuwen and commanded by Yu Jin (于謹) captured rival Liang Dynasty's capital Jiangling (江陵, in modern Jingzhou, Hubei), capturing and executing Liang's Emperor Yuan. In spring 555, Emperor Gong created Xiao Cha, a nephew of Emperor Yuan, the Emperor of Liang (as Emperor Xuan), but Xiao Cha was not recognized by most of Liang generals and officials, who instead recognized Xiao Yuanming, a candidate supported by Northern Qi, as emperor. (Xiao Cha's state is known as the Western Liang in history.)

Later in 555, Yuwen required Tuoba Yu (拓拔育) the Prince of Huai'an to submit to Emperor Gong a proposal to have the imperial princes reduced in rank to dukes, of which Emperor Gong approved. In spring 556, pursuant to Yuwen's desire to reorganize the governmental structure in accordance with the Zhou Dynasty governmental structure, the imperial government was reorganized into six departments.

In fall 556, while Yuwen Tai was on a tour of the northern provinces, he became ill at Qiantun Mountain (牽屯山, in modern Guyuan, Ningxia). He summoned his nephew Yuwen Hu to Qiantun and entrusted the affairs of the state as well as his sons to Yuwen Hu. He soon died, and Yuwen Tai's 14-year-old son Yuwen Jue took over his titles, while Yuwen Hu took the reins of the state. Emperor Gong was subsequently forced to create Yuwen Jue the greater title of Duke of Zhou.

In spring 557, Yuwen Hu, believing that Yuwen Jue's youth meant that he needed to take imperial title to affirm his authority, forced Emperor Gong to yield the throne to Yuwen Jue, ending Western Wei and starting Northern Zhou.


Yuwen Jue (Emperor Xiaomin) initially created Tuoba Kuo the Duke of Song. However, less than two months after Tuoba Kuo yielded the throne, he was killed. His wife, the former Empress Ruogan, became a Buddhist nun.

Personal information


Related Research Articles

Northern and Southern dynasties

The Northern and Southern dynasties was a period in the history of China that lasted from 420 to 589, following the tumultuous era of the Sixteen Kingdoms and the Wu Hu states. It is sometimes considered as the latter part of a longer period known as the Six Dynasties. Though an age of civil war and political chaos, it was also a time of flourishing arts and culture, advancement in technology, and the spread of Mahayana Buddhism and Daoism. The period saw large-scale migration of Han Chinese to the lands south of the Yangtze. The period came to an end with the unification of all of China proper by Emperor Wen of the Sui dynasty.

Northern Wei

The Northern Wei, also known as the Tuoba Wei (拓跋魏), Later Wei (後魏), was a dynasty founded by the Tuoba (Tabgach) clan of the Xianbei, which ruled northern China from 386 to 534 AD, during the period of the Northern and Southern Dynasties. Described as "part of an era of political turbulence and intense social and cultural change", the Northern Wei Dynasty is particularly noted for unifying northern China in 439: this was also a period of introduced foreign ideas, such as Buddhism, which became firmly established. The Northern Wei were referred to as "Plaited Barbarians" by writers of the Southern dynasties, who considered themselves the true upholders of Chinese culture.

Taizu is an imperial temple name typically used for Chinese emperors who founded a particular dynasty. It may refer to:

Western Wei

The Western Wei followed the disintegration of the Northern Wei, and ruled northern China from 535 to 557. As with the Northern Wei state that preceded it, the ruling family of Western Wei were members of the Tuoba clan of the Xianbei.

Northern Zhou

The Northern Zhou followed the Western Wei, and ruled northern China from 557 to 581 AD. The last of the Northern Dynasties of China's Northern and Southern dynasties period, it was eventually overthrown by the Sui Dynasty. Like the preceding Western and Northern Wei dynasties, the Northern Zhou emperors were of Xianbei descent.

Emperor Ming of (Western) Liang ( 梁明帝) (542–585), personal name Xiao Kui (蕭巋), courtesy name Renyuan (仁遠), was an emperor of the Chinese Western Liang dynasty. He, like his father Emperor Xuan and his son Emperor Jing, controlled little territory and relied heavily on military support from Northern Zhou and Northern Zhou's successor state Sui dynasty.

Emperor Wen of Western Wei ( 魏文帝) (507–551), personal name Yuan Baoju (元寶炬), was an emperor of Western Wei—a branch successor state to Northern Wei. In 534, Yuan Baoju, then the Prince of Nanyang, followed his cousin Emperor Xiaowu in fleeing from the capital Luoyang to Chang'an, after a fallout between Emperor Xiaowu and the paramount general Gao Huan. However, Emperor Xiaowu's relationship to the general that he then depended on, Yuwen Tai, soon deteriorated as well, and around the new year 535, Yuwen Tai poisoned Emperor Xiaowu to death, making Yuan Baoju emperor. As Gao Huan had, late in 534, made Yuan Shanjian the son of Emperor Wen's cousin Yuan Dan (元亶) the Prince of Qinghe emperor, thus establishing Eastern Wei, Emperor Wen was known as Western Wei's first emperor, formalizing the division. Emperor Wen's relationship with Yuwen appeared cordial, but he was unable to exercise much real power.

Yuwen Tai (507–556), nickname Heita (黑獺), formally Duke Wen of Anding (安定文公), later further posthumously honored by Northern Zhou initially as Prince Wen (文王) then as Emperor Wen (文皇帝) with the temple name Taizu (太祖), was the paramount general of the Chinese/Xianbei state Western Wei, a branch successor state of Northern Wei. In 534, Emperor Xiaowu of Northern Wei, seeking to assert power independent of the paramount general Gao Huan, fled to Yuwen's domain, and when Gao subsequently proclaimed Emperor Xiaojing of Eastern Wei emperor, a split of Northern Wei was effected, and when Yuwen subsequently poisoned Emperor Xiaowu to death around the new year 535 and declared his cousin Yuan Baoju emperor, the split was formalized, with the part under Gao's and Emperor Xiaojing's control known as Eastern Wei and the part under Yuwen's and Emperor Wen's control known as Western Wei. For the rest of his life, Yuwen endeavored to make Western Wei, then much weaker than its eastern counterpart, a strong state, and after his death, his son Yuwen Jue seized the throne from Emperor Gong of Western Wei, establishing Northern Zhou.

Emperor Fei of Western Wei ( 魏廢帝), personal name Yuan Qin (元欽), was an emperor of the Xianbei state Western Wei—a branch successor state of Northern Wei. He, even more so than his father Emperor Wen, held little actual power in the face of overwhelming control of power by the paramount general Yuwen Tai. In 554, he tried to plot to have Yuwen killed, but his plot was discovered, and Yuwen deposed him, and soon had him killed.

Empress Ruogan was an empress of the Chinese/Xianbei state Western Wei — a branch successor state of Northern Wei. Her husband was Emperor Gong, the final emperor of the state.

Emperor Xiaomin of Northern Zhou ( 周孝閔帝) (542–557), personal name Yuwen Jue (宇文覺), nickname Dharani (陀羅尼), was an emperor of the Xianbei dynasty Northern Zhou (although he used the alternative title "Heavenly Prince". He was the heir of Western Wei's paramount general Yuwen Tai, and after Yuwen Tai's death in 556, his cousin Yuwen Hu, serving as his guardian, forced Emperor Gong of Western Wei to yield the throne to Yuwen Jue in spring 557, establishing Northern Zhou. Later in 557, however, Yuwen Jue, wanting to assume power personally, plotted to kill Yuwen Hu, who in turn deposed him and replaced him with his brother Yuwen Yu. Later that year, Yuwen Hu had Yuwen Jue executed.

Yuan Humo was an empress of the Chinese/Xianbei dynasty Northern Zhou.

Yuwen Hu (宇文護), courtesy name Sabao, formally Duke Dang of Jin (晉蕩公), was a regent of the Xianbei dynasty Northern Zhou in China. He first came into prominence as the nephew of Western Wei's paramount general Yuwen Tai, and after Yuwen Tai's death in 556, he became the guardian to Yuwen Tai's son Yuwen Jue. In 557, he forced Emperor Gong of Western Wei to yield the throne to Yuwen Jue, establishing Northern Zhou. However, Yuwen Hu dominated the political scene, and after Emperor Xiaomin tried to seize power later that year, he killed Emperor Xiaomin and replaced him with another son of Yuwen Tai, Emperor Ming. In 560, he poisoned Emperor Ming, who was succeeded by another son of Yuwen Tai, Emperor Wu. In 572, Emperor Wu ambushed Yuwen Hu and killed him, personally taking power.

Emperor Ming of Northern Zhou ( 周明帝) (534–560), personal name Yuwen Yu (宇文毓), Xianbei name Tongwantu (統萬突), was an emperor of the Xianbei dynasty Northern Zhou, although at the start of his reign he used the alternative title "Heavenly Prince". He was made emperor after his younger brother Emperor Xiaomin was deposed and killed by the regent Yuwen Hu. Emperor Ming himself assumed some, but not all, powers from Yuwen Hu, and was generally considered able. Because of this, Yuwen Hu became apprehensive, and in 560, he poisoned Emperor Ming to death. While near death, however, Emperor Ming appointed his brother Yuwen Yong as his successor, believing Yuwen Yong to be intelligent and capable, and in 572, Yuwen Yong was finally able to kill Yuwen Hu and assume full imperial powers.

Emperor Wu of Northern Zhou Emperor of Northern Zhou

Emperor Wu of Northern Zhou ( 周武帝) (543–578), personal name Yuwen Yong (宇文邕), Xianbei name Miluotu (禰羅突), was an emperor of the Xianbei dynasty Northern Zhou. As was the case of the reigns of his brothers Emperor Xiaomin and Emperor Ming, the early part of his reign was dominated by his cousin Yuwen Hu, but in 572 he ambushed Yuwen Hu and seized power personally. He thereafter ruled ably and built up the power of his military, destroying rival Northern Qi in 577 and annexing its territory. His death the next year, however, ended his ambitions of uniting China, and under the reign of his erratic son Emperor Xuan, Northern Zhou itself soon deteriorated and was usurped by Yang Jian in 581.

Wei Xiaokuan (韋孝寬) (509–580), formal personal name Wei Shuyu (韋叔裕), known by the Xianbei name Yuwen Xiaokuan (宇文孝寬) during late Western Wei and Northern Zhou, formally Duke Xiang of Xun (勛襄公), was a general of the Chinese/Xianbei states Western Wei and Northern Zhou. He first became a prominent general during Western Wei as he defended the fortress of Yubi against a vastly larger army commanded by rival Eastern Wei's paramount general Gao Huan, and he eventually contributed greatly to the destruction of Eastern Wei's successor state Northern Qi by Northern Zhou. His final campaign, in 580, saw him siding with the regent Yang Jian against the general Yuchi Jiong in Northern Zhou's civil war, allowing Yang to defeat Yuchi and take over the throne as Sui Dynasty's Emperor Wen.

Yuwen Xian (宇文憲), Xianbei name Pihetu (毗賀突), formally Prince Yang of Qi (齊煬王), was an imperial prince of the state Northern Zhou. He was a key official and general during the reign of his brother Emperor Wu, but after Emperor Wu's death was feared on account of his ability by his nephew Emperor Xuan, who therefore falsely accused him of plotting treason and strangled him.

Yuchi Jiong (尉遲迥), courtesy name Bojuluo (薄居羅), was a general of the Chinese/Xianbei states Western Wei and Northern Zhou. He first came to prominence while his uncle Yuwen Tai served as the paramount general of Western Wei, and subsequently served Northern Zhou after the Yuwen clan established the state after Yuwen Tai's death. In 580, believing that the regent Yang Jian had designs on the throne, Yuchi rose against Yang but was soon defeated. He committed suicide.

Li Ezi, later Buddhist nun name Changbei (常悲), was an empress dowager of the Chinese/Xianbei dynasty Northern Zhou. She was the mother of Emperor Xuan.

Military history of the Northern and Southern dynasties

The military history of the Northern and Southern dynasties encompasses the period of Chinese military activity from 420 to 589. Officially starting with Liu Yu's usurpation of the Jin throne and creation of his Liu Song dynasty in 420, it ended in 589 with the Sui dynasty's conquest of Chen dynasty and reunification of China. The first of the Northern dynasties did not however begin in 420, but in 386 with the creation of Northern Wei. Thus there is some unofficial overlap with the era of the Sixteen Kingdoms.


  1. Originally surnamed Tuoba but had it changed to Yuan
  2. Later his surname was changed to Tuoba
Chinese royalty
Preceded by
Emperor Fei of Western Wei
Emperor of Northern Wei (Western)
Dynasty ended
Emperor of China (Western)
Succeeded by
Emperor Xiaomin of Northern Zhou