Emperor Wencheng of Northern Wei

Last updated
Emperor Wencheng of Northern Wei
Emperor of Northern Wei
ReignOctober 31, 452 [1] [2] – June 20, 465 [3]
Predecessor Tuoba Yu
Successor Emperor Xianwen
Born440 [4]
DiedJune 20, 465 [5] [1]
Consorts Empress Wenming
Empress Yuan
Issue Emperor Xianwen
Tuoba Changle
Tuoba Lüe
Tuoba Jian
Tuoba Ruo
Tuoba Meng
Princess Xihe
Full name
Era dates
Xīng'ān (興安) (452-454)
Xīngguāng (興光) (454-455)
Tài'ān (太安) (455-459)
Hépíng (和平) (460-465)
Posthumous name
Emperor Wénchéng (文成皇帝, "civil and successful")
Temple name
Gāozōng (高宗)
Dynasty Northern Wei
Father Tuoba Huang
Mother Empress Gong

Emperor Wencheng of Northern Wei ((北)魏文成帝) (440–465), Chinese name Tuoba Jun (拓拔濬), Xianbei name Wulei (烏雷), was an emperor of the Xianbei dynasty Northern Wei. He became emperor in the aftermaths of the eunuch Zong Ai's assassination of his grandfather Emperor Taiwu and uncle Tuoba Yu, and he was generally described by historians as a ruler who sought foremost to allow his people to rest after his grandfather's expansionist policies and extensive campaigns, who also reformed the laws to become more lenient.



Tuoba Jun was born in 440, when his father Tuoba Huang was the crown prince of his grandfather, Emperor Taiwu. (Some historical sources give his birthdate as 448, a date that appears rather unlikely because that would make him only six years older than his son, Emperor Xianwen.) His mother, Consort Yujiulü, was the sister of the general Yujiulü Pi (郁久閭毗), who had been a member of the Rouran royal house but who had surrendered to Northern Wei. When he was little, he was much favored by his grandfather Emperor Taiwu, and often accompanied Emperor Taiwu, even on military campaigns. While he carried no official titles, he was known as the Prime Imperial Grandson (嫡皇孫). Around the new year 452, after his father Tuoba Huang had died in 451 after falling ill over his fear of false accusations by the eunuch Zong Ai, Emperor Taiwu created him the Prince of Gaoyang, but then reconsidered, believing that a princely title was inappropriate for his oldest grandson, and therefore cancelled the title—signifying strongly that he intended for Tuoba Jun to succeed him.

However, Zong Ai, in fear that Emperor Taiwu would punish him over his false accusations against Crown Prince Huang, assassinated Emperor Taiwu in spring 452, and, skipping over Tuoba Jun, made Tuoba Huang's younger brother Tuoba Yu the Prince of Nan'an emperor. Zong controlled all important matters of state, and when Tuoba Yu, displeased about Zong's arrogance, tried to strip him of power in fall 452, Zong assassinated him as well. The officials Dugu Ni (獨孤尼), Yuan He, Baba Kehou (拔拔渴侯), and Buliugu Li, however, then overthrew Zong and executed him, making Tuoba Jun emperor at the age of 12, as Emperor Wencheng.

Early reign

Immediately following Emperor Wencheng's taking the throne, it appeared that the high-level officials began internecine struggles against each other, as for several years officials would be put into honored positions, only to be executed days or months later. These included senior officials held over from Emperor Taiwu's administration as well as those who had accomplished much in putting Emperor Wencheng on the throne, and included:

It appeared that Yuan He and Buliugu Li were the key victors out of these struggles, for not only did they not suffer during the infighting, but became exceedingly honored late in Emperor Wencheng's reign. Both they and Dugu Ni were created princes. Whether Emperor Wencheng himself was involved in these internecine struggles is unclear, although the edicts were issued in his name. Yuchi Juan (尉遲眷), already a decorated general during Emperor Taiwu's reign, also became powerful.

Another characteristic of Emperor Wencheng's reign was that he often toured the provinces throughout his empire.

In winter 452, Emperor Wencheng's mother Consort Yujiulü died, and he subsequently posthumously honored his parents as emperor and empress.

Around the new year 453, Emperor Wencheng, a Buddhist, officially ended the prohibitions against Buddhism that Emperor Taiwu had instituted in 445 (which became known as the first of Three Disasters of Wu), and he personally performed tonsure on five monks. However, as per the traditions instituted by Emperor Taiwu, he also publicly received Taoist amulets in spring 454.

In spring 453, Emperor Wencheng honored his wet nurse Lady Chang as empress dowager, and treated her brothers as if they were his biological uncles.

In fall 454, Emperor Wencheng's concubine Consort Li gave birth to his oldest son Tuoba Hong. In 456, he created another imperial consort, Consort Feng, empress and created Tuoba Hong crown prince—and then, pursuant to Northern Wei tradition, ordered Tuoba Hong's mother Consort Li to commit suicide.

In winter 458, Emperor Wencheng launched a major attack against Rouran, but considered abandoning it when his troops encountered a snow storm. At Yuchi Juan's urging (arguing that a withdrawal would unduly signal weakness to Rouran), however, Emperor Wencheng continued, and while he was not able to deal a major defeat to Rouran's Chuluo Khan Yujiulü Tuhezhen, a number of Rouran tribesmen surrendered. Meanwhile, in his absence, his generals Feng Chiwen (封敕文) and Pi Baozi (皮豹子) engaged Liu Song forces near the Ji River (濟水, the route of which had been overtaken by the Yellow River in modern times), with inconclusive results.

Late reign

In summer 460, Emperor Wencheng's wet nurse Empress Dowager Chang died.

Also in summer 460, based on advise given by Cao An (曹安) the Marquess of Dingyang, Emperor Wencheng launched a major attack on Tuyuhun's khan Murong Shiyin (慕容拾寅), who had drawn Northern Wei officials' ire by accepting commissions by both Northern Wei and Liu Song and by showing off his wealth. The commanding generals were Emperor Wencheng's brother Tuoba Xincheng (拓拔新成) the Prince of Yangping and Li Hui (李惠) the Duke of Nan Commandery. However, while the armies were able to capture a large number of livestock, Murong Shiyin received advance warning and was able to flee into the mountains, and the armies also suffered from illnesses.

In 464, while on one of his tours to various parts of the empire, Emperor Wencheng personally attended a Gaoche tribal ceremony to sacrifice to the heavens, and the Gaoche people were very pleased.

In summer 465, Emperor Wencheng died and was succeeded by his son Tuoba Hong (as Emperor Xianwen). Power soon fell into the hands of the official Yifu Hun, who tried to monopolize power and executed a number of other officials, including Buliugu Li, but in 466 was in turn ambushed by Emperor Wencheng's wife Empress Dowager Feng.


Related Research Articles

Emperor Xiaowen of Northern Wei Emperor of Northern Wei Dynasty

Emperor Xiaowen of Northern Wei ( 魏孝文帝), personal name né Tuoba Hong (拓拔宏), later Yuan Hong (元宏), or Toba Hung II, was an emperor of the Northern Wei from September 20, 471 to April 26, 499.

Emperor Wen of Song Emperor of the Liu Song Dynasty

Emperor Wen of (Liu) Song, personal name Liu Yilong (劉義隆), courtesy name Che'er (車兒), was an emperor of the Chinese dynasty Liu Song. He was the third son of the dynastic founder Emperor Wu. After his father's death in 422, Liu Yilong's eldest brother Liu Yifu took the throne as Emperor Shao. In 424, a group of officials, believing Emperor Shao to be unfit to be emperor, deposed Emperor Shao and placed Liu Yilong on the throne as Emperor Wen.

Emperor Daowu of Northern Wei ( 魏道武帝) (371–409), personal name Tuoba Gui (拓拔珪), né Tuoba Shegui (拓拔渉珪), was the founding emperor of the Northern Wei. He was the grandson of the last prince of Dai, Tuoba Shiyijian, and after the fall of the Dai state to Former Qin in 376 had been presumed to be the eventual successor to the Dai throne. After Former Qin fell into disarray in 383 following its defeat by Jin forces at the Battle of Fei River, Tuoba Gui took the opportunity to reestablish Dai in 386, but soon changing the state's name to Wei and declared himself a prince. He was initially a vassal of Later Yan. However, after he defeated the Later Yan emperor Murong Bao in 397 and seized most of Later Yan's territory, he claimed imperial title in 398.

Emperor Mingyuan of Northern Wei ( 魏明元帝), Chinese name Tuoba Si (拓拔嗣), Xianbei name Mumo (木末), was an emperor of the Xianbei dynasty Northern Wei. He was the oldest son of the founding emperor Emperor Daowu. During his reign, Northern Wei's territory did not expand as much as it did under either his father's reign or the reign of his son Emperor Taiwu, but he helped the state stabilize over northern China, and started the tradition of meeting with important imperial officials to listen to their advice and make final decisions. He is generally regarded by historians to be an intelligent and rational ruler.

Emperor Taiwu of Northern Wei, personal name Tuoba Tao (拓拔燾), Xianbei name Buri or Bili (佛貍), was an emperor of Northern Wei. He was generally regarded as a capable ruler, and during his reign, Northern Wei roughly doubled in size and united all of northern China, thus ending the Sixteen Kingdoms period and, together with the southern dynasty Liu Song, started the Southern and Northern Dynasties period of ancient China history. He was a devout Taoist, under the influence of his prime minister Cui Hao, and in 444, at Cui Hao's suggestion and believing that Buddhists had supported the rebellion of Gai Wu (蓋吳), he ordered the abolition of Buddhism, at the penalty of death. This was the first of the Three Disasters of Wu for Chinese Buddhism. Late in his reign, his reign began to be cruel, and his people were also worn out by his incessant wars against Liu Song. In 452, he was assassinated by his eunuch Zong Ai, who put his son Tuoba Yu on the throne but then assassinated Tuoba Yu as well. The other officials overthrew Zong and put Emperor Taiwu's grandson Tuoba Jun on the throne as Emperor Wencheng.

Empress Helian (赫連皇后), formally Empress Taiwu (太武皇后), was an empress of the Chinese/Xianbei dynasty Northern Wei. Her husband was Emperor Taiwu.

Tuoba Huang (拓拔晃), Xianbei name Tianzhen (天真), formally Crown Prince Jingmu (景穆太子), later further formally honored as Emperor Jingmu (景穆皇帝) with the temple name Gongzong (恭宗) by his son Emperor Wencheng, was a crown prince of the Chinese/Xianbei dynasty Northern Wei. He was the oldest son of Emperor Taiwu, and was created crown prince in 432 at the age of four, and as he grew older, Emperor Taiwu transferred more and more authority to him. However, in 451, he incurred the wrath of his father due to false accusations of the eunuch Zong Ai, and many of his associates were put to death. He himself grew ill in fear, and died that year.

Consort Yujiulü, formally Empress Gong, was a consort of Tuoba Huang, a crown prince of the Chinese/Xianbei dynasty Northern Wei. She was the mother of Emperor Wencheng.

Tuoba Yu (拓拔余), formally Prince Yin of Nan'an (南安隱王), Xianbei name Kebozhen (可博真), was briefly an emperor of the Xianbei dynasty Northern Wei. He was placed on the throne by the eunuch Zong Ai after Zong assassinated his father Emperor Taiwu in spring 452, and Zong was largely in control of the regime during his reign. Later in the year, when Tuoba Yu tried to assert his own authority, Zong had him assassinated as well, but then was overthrown by a group of officials, who put Tuoba Yu's nephew Tuoba Jun on the throne as Emperor Wencheng.

Empress (Dowager) Feng (馮皇后) (442–490), formally Empress (Dowager) Wenming was an empress of the Chinese/Xianbei dynasty Northern Wei. Her husband was Emperor Wencheng. After her husband's death in 465, she overthrew the autocratic regent Yifu Hun in 466 and became regent over her stepson Emperor Xianwen and remained as such until his adulthood in 467. She subsequently had a falling-out with Emperor Xianwen over his execution of her lover Li Yi (李奕), and she assassinated him and reassumed regency over his son Emperor Xiaowen in 476. While Emperor Xiaowen assumed imperial powers upon adulthood, he remained very deferential to her, and she was highly influential until her death in 490.

Zong Ai (宗愛) was a eunuch who briefly came to great power in the Chinese/Xianbei dynasty Northern Wei in 452 after assassinating Emperor Taiwu and making his son Tuoba Yu emperor.

Emperor Xianwen of Northern Wei ( 魏獻文帝), personal name Tuoba Hong, Xianbei name Didouyin (第豆胤), was an emperor of the Xianbei dynasty Northern Wei. He was the first emperor in Chinese history who, after retiring in favor of his son Emperor Xiaowen to become Taishang Huang in 471, continued to hold on to power until his death in 476—when the official history states vaguely that he may have been killed by his stepmother Empress Dowager Feng.

Yuan He (源賀), né Tufa Poqiang (禿髮破羌), Xianbei name Hedouba (賀豆跋), formally Prince Xuan of Longxi (隴西宣王), was a high-level official of the Chinese/Xianbei dynasty Northern Wei. He was a son of Southern Liang's last prince Tufa Rutan, and after Southern Liang's destruction he fled to Northern Wei and began to serve as an official, gradually reaching positions of great power during the reigns of Emperor Wencheng and Emperor Xianwen.

Buliugu Li (步六孤麗), more commonly known in historical accounts as his Chinese name Lu Li (陸麗), Xianbei nickname Yili (伊利), formally Prince Jian of Pingyuan (平原簡王), was a high-level ethnic Xianbei official for the Chinese/Xianbei dynasty Northern Wei who served mostly during the reign of Emperor Wencheng.

Gao Yun, courtesy name Bogong (伯恭), formally Duke Wen of Xianyang (咸陽文公), was an official during the reigns of five emperors of the Chinese/Xianbei dynasty Northern Wei.

Yuan Xie (元勰), né Tuoba Xie, courtesy name Yanhe (彥和), formally Prince Wuxuan of Pengcheng (彭城武宣王), later posthumously honored as Emperor Wenmu (文穆皇帝) with the temple name of Suzu (肅祖), was an imperial prince of the Chinese/Xianbei dynasty Northern Wei. He was a son of Emperor Xianwen, and he often assisted his brother Emperor Xiaowen both in military and governmental matters. After Emperor Xiaowen's death, he briefly served as regent for Emperor Xiaowen's son Emperor Xuanwu. Eventually, due to suspicions and jealousy of Emperor Xuanwu's uncle Gao Zhao, Emperor Xuanwu believed false reports that Yuan Xie was going to rebel, and forced him to commit suicide. He was later posthumously honored as an emperor by his son Emperor Xiaozhuang, although subsequently Emperor Jiemin retracted the honors.

Yuan Ye (元曄), courtesy name Huaxing (華興), nickname Penzi (盆子), often known as the Prince of Changguang (長廣王), was briefly an emperor of the Xianbei dynasty Northern Wei. He was declared emperor by members of the paramount general Erzhu Rong's clan in 530 after Emperor Xiaozhuang had killed Erzhu Rong, and he carried imperial title for several months. However, as a member of the imperial clan who was distant from the lineage of recent emperors (as a descendant of Emperor Wencheng's brother Yuan Zhen the Prince of Nan'an, he was not a credible emperor, and in 531, after the Erzhus had prevailed over Emperor Xiaozhuang and put him to death, they forced Yuan Ye to yield the throne to Emperor Xiaozhuang's cousin Yuan Gong the Prince of Guangling, who took the throne as Emperor Jiemin. Emperor Jiemin treated Yuan Ye with respect and created him the Prince of Donghai, a higher title than his prior title of Prince of Changguang, but after Emperor Jiemin and the Erzhus were in turn overthrown by a coalition led by the general Gao Huan and replaced with Emperor Xiaowu, Emperor Xiaowu forced Yuan Ye to commit suicide.

Yujiulü Datan khan of the Rouran from 414 to July, 429 with the title of Mouhanheshenggai Khagan (牟汗紇升蓋可汗).

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.

The Yujiulü clan was the ruling clan of the Rouran Khaganate, which ruled over Northern China, the Mongolian Steppe and Southern Siberia.


  1. 1 2 Academia Sinica Chinese-Western Calendar Converter.
  2. Zizhi Tongjian, vol. 126.
  3. Grousset, Rene (1970). The Empire of the Steppes. Rutgers University Press. pp.  64. ISBN   0-8135-1304-9.
  4. Book of Wei , vol. 5.
  5. Zizhi Tongjian , vol. 130.
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Tuoba Yu
Emperor of Northern Wei
Succeeded by
Emperor Xianwen of Northern Wei