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Erzhu Shilong (爾朱世隆) (500–532), courtesy name Rongzong (榮宗), was an official of the Chinese/Xianbei dynasty Northern Wei. He first became prominent when after his cousin Erzhu Rong overthrew Emperor Xiaoming's mother Empress Dowager Hu (after she poisoned Emperor Xiaoming) and made Emperor Xiaozhuang emperor. Later, when Emperor Xiaozhuang killed Erzhu Rong in 530, Erzhu Shilong participated in the counterattack that overthrew Emperor Xiaozhuang, and thereafter controlled the imperial government during the reign of Emperor Jiemin. When the general Gao Huan, in turn, rebelled in response to Emperor Xiaozhuang's death, the officials in the imperial capital Luoyang rebelled against the Erzhus, and Erzhu Shilong was executed after failing to flee Luoyang.
Erzhu Shilong was a cousin of Erzhu Rong and a fellow member of the ethnic Xiongnu Qihu (契胡) tribe, of which Erzhu Rong was chief. (They were at most as close as second cousins, as they did not have the same grandfather.) Unlike Erzhu Rong, who served his entire career as a general and not a civilian official, Erzhu Shilong was part of the imperial administration during the reign of Emperor Xiaoming, although he became a commander of the imperial guards as well.
In 528, Emperor Xiaoming, in a dispute with his mother Empress Dowager Hu over the continued control of the imperial administration along with her lover Zheng Yan (鄭儼) and Zheng's associate Xu Ge (徐紇), conspired with Erzhu Rong to have Erzhu Rong advance on the capital Luoyang to force Empress Dowager Hu to yield power. When Empress Dowager Hu discovered this, she poisoned Emperor Xiaoming to death and made his distant toddler nephew, Yuan Zhao, emperor. Erzhu Rong immediately denounced her publicly. In order to try to calm Erzhu Rong, Empress Dowager Hu sent Erzhu Shilong to him to try to explain her actions, and while Erzhu Rong wanted to keep Erzhu Shilong with him, Erzhu Shilong chose to return to Luoyang, reasoning that if he did not, Empress Dowager Hu would be aware that Erzhu Rong was planning to attack Luoyang and would take precautions.
Erzhu Rong soon advanced quickly on Luoyang; as he did, Erzhu Shilong secretly fled out of Luoyang and joined him at Shangdang (上黨, in modern Changzhi, Shanxi). Empress Dowager Hu's forces surrendered without significant combat. Erzhu Rong made Yuan Ziyou the Prince of Changle emperor (as Emperor Xiaozhuang), while throwing Empress Dowager Hu and Yuan Zhao into the Yellow River to drown. He also slaughtered a large number of imperial officials, and he installed a number of his close associates, among whom was Erzhu Shilong, into high positions in the imperial government.
Emperor Xiaozhuang made Erzhu Shilong pushe (僕射) -- a high level imperial official—and made him in charge of the civil service system. Erzhu Shilong, initially fearing that he was not capable for the position, spent much time and energy studying the laws and regulations, and reformed the system so that it was no longer strictly seniority-based. He received much praise for the reforms. Emperor Xiaozhuang also created him the Duke of Leping.
In 529, when Yuan Hao the Prince of Beihai, claimed the throne with the support by rival Liang Dynasty's troops, and Yuan Hao invaded and advanced toward Luoyang, Emperor Xiaozhuang made Erzhu Shilong be in charge of the key fortress of Hulao (虎牢, in modern Zhengzhou, Henan). Erzhu Shilong, however, lacked military talent, and when the Liang general Chen Qingzhi (陳慶之) captured the nearby city of Yingyang (滎陽, also in modern Zhengzhou), Erzhu Shilong, in panic, abandoned Hulao and fled back to Luoyang, causing Emperor Xiaozhuang to flee the capital. Because of this, when Emperor Xiaozhuang was north of the Yellow River, he demoted Erzhu Shilong to be the governor of Xiang Province (相州, roughly modern Handan, Hebei), but after Emperor Xiaozhuang returned to Luoyang later that year after Erzhu Rong defeated Yuan Hao, Erzhu Shilong was restored to his position as pushe.
Emperor Xiaozhuang eventually came to fear that Erzhu Rong had designs on the throne. These fears were exacerbated by the chilly relationship that Emperor Xiaozhuang had with his wife, Erzhu Rong's daughter Empress Erzhu Ying'e, because of Empress Erzhu's jealousy. Emperor Xiaozhuang once asked Erzhu Shilong to try to ask Empress Erzhu to change her ways, and during the conversation Erzhu Shilong had with Empress Erzhu, she remarked that the Erzhus made Emperor Xiaozhuang emperor and that the situation was still changeable. Erzhu Shilong commented that if Erzhu Rong had taken the throne, he would have been an imperial prince. In 530, when Empress Erzhu became pregnant, Erzhu Rong arrived in the capital to attend to her birth, and it around this time that Emperor Xiaozhuang plotted with the officials Yuan Hui (元徽) the Prince of Chengyang, Li Yu (李彧), Yang Kan (楊侃), and Yuan Luo (元羅) to ambush Erzhu Rong. Erzhu Shilong heard rumors of this, and he personally wrote a warning to Erzhu Rong, but Erzhu Rong failed to heed the warning. Subsequently, when Erzhu Rong was in the palace, Emperor Xiaozhuang ambushed and killed him. Erzhu Shilong and Erzhu Rong's wife Princess Beixiang fought their way out of the capital.
Initially, Erzhu Shilong was going to lead the remnants of Erzhu Rong's guards immediately to the Erzhus' stronghold of Jinyang (晉陽, in modern Taiyuan, Shanxi), then guarded by Erzhu Rong's nephew Erzhu Zhao. Erzhu Rong's strategist Sima Ziru (司馬子如) advised Erzhu Shilong that he needed to quickly make a show of strength to Emperor Xiaozhuang before doing so, and Erzhu Shilong therefore attacked and seized both Beizhong (北中, a fortress directly north of Luoyang across the Yellow River) and the Yellow River bridge connecting Luoyang and Beizhong. Emperor Xiaozhuang tried to get Erzhu Shilong to submit by offering him an "iron certificate" (鐵券, tie quan, which could be used against a death-eligible crime) to Erzhu Shilong if he would be willing to give up resisting. Erzhu Shilong refused—declaring that if Erzhu Rong could be killed after accomplishing so much, the certificate was meaningless. Emperor Xiaozhuang's troops and the Erzhus' troops stalemated for half a month, before an ambush by Emperor Xiaozhuang's official Li Miao (李苗) destroyed the Yellow River bridge, causing Erzhu Shilong to decide to march north. Erzhu Shilong met with Erzhu Zhao at Zhangzi (長子, in modern Changzhi, Shanxi), and they jointly declared Princess Beixiang's nephew Yuan Ye the Prince of Changguang emperor, as a competing candidate for the throne. Yuan Ye created Erzhu Shilong the Prince of Leping.
Soon, the Erzhu forces, under Erzhu Zhao's command, advanced south and caught Emperor Xiaozhuang, who did not expect Erzhu Zhao to be able to cross the Yellow River easily, by surprise when he had his army ride on horsebacks across the river around the new year 531. Emperor Xiaozhuang's imperial guards collapsed, and he was captured by Erzhu Zhao's cavalry soldiers and imprisoned, less than three months after he killed Erzhu Rong. Erzhu Zhao killed Emperor Xiaozhuang's infant son (by Empress Erzhu), while allowing his soldiers to pillage Luoyang, killing many officials and raping many honored women.
Erzhu Zhao, believing that he had accomplished much, was arrogant in his attitude toward Erzhu Shilong, blaming Erzhu Shilong for failing to sufficiently warn Erzhu Rong. Erzhu Shilong apologized profusely, but bore resentment against Erzhu Zhao after that point. However, Erzhu Zhao soon returned to Jinyang, leaving Erzhu Shilong in control of Luoyang and the imperial administration. Erzhu Shilong, meanwhile, apprehensive that Yuan Ye's mother Lady Wei might exert political influence, had her assassinated, but staging the assassination to look like a robbery.
Erzhu Zhao soon had Emperor Xiaozhuang strangled to death. In light of the Erzhus' death, they controlled all the important functions of the government, and Erzhu Shilong controlled the imperial government, quickly reorganizing it and restoring order in Luoyang. Erzhu Zhao was recognized the paramount military authority, and controlled the provinces north of the Yellow River, while Erzhu Rong's nephew Erzhu Tianguang controlled the Guanzhong region, and Erzhu Shilong's brother Erzhu Zhongyuan (爾朱仲遠) controlled the southeastern provinces.
In early 531, before the new emperor Yuan Ye could arrive in Luoyang, Erzhu Shilong and his brothers Erzhu Zhongyuan and Erzhu Yanbo (爾朱彥伯), as well as Erzhu Tianguang, because Yuan Ye's lineage was distant from that of recent emperors, believed him to be an inappropriate choice as emperor. Erzhu Tianguang proposed Yuan Gong the Prince of Guangling, a grandson of Emperor Xianwen, who had been well regarded by the populace. Erzhu Shilong sent Erzhu Yanbo to force Yuan Gong to accept the throne, and Yuan Gong agreed. When Yuan Ye arrived in Luoyang, Erzhu Shilong forced him to yield the throne to Yuan Gong, who took the throne as Emperor Jiemin. (Erzhu Zhao, who was not consulted, was initially angry and considered attacking Erzhu Shilong. He only calmed down after Erzhu Shilong sent Erzhu Yanbo to Jinyang to explain the decision to him.)
Erzhu Shilong, by this point, had grown complacent and arrogant, and no longer paid as much attention to handling his duties as well as he had done during Emperor Xiaozhuang's reign. He tried to appease military commanders by promoting most of them to generals, and as a result, the "general" title became no longer a valued one.
Meanwhile, the other members of the Erzhu clan were also growing corrupt, particularly Erzhu Zhongyuan. The general Gao Huan, who had been a follower of Erzhu Rong, believed that the Erzhus could be overthrown, and rebelled in summer 531. The members of the Erzhu clan were largely unconcerned, due to Gao's inferiority in numbers, but Erzhu Shilong, knowing Gao's abilities, was concerned. Gao soon declared another distant member of the imperial Yuan clan, Yuan Lang, emperor. When the Erzhu forces converged at Guang'a (廣阿, in modern Xingtai, Hebei) to face Gao, Gao used false rumors to make them suspicious of each other—by making Erzhu Zhao believe that Erzhu Shilong and his brothers were conspiring against him, and by making Erzhu Shilong and Erzhu Zhongyuan believing that Erzhu Zhao was conspiring with Gao. As a result, after a major quarrel between Erzhu Zhao and Erzhu Zhongyuan, Erzhu Zhongyuan and Erzhu Rong's cousin Erzhu Dulü (爾朱度律) withdrew, leaving Erzhu Zhao, albeit with still a much larger army than Gao's, alone against Gao. Gao subsequently defeated him, and, brushing his army aside, continued to advance south, entering the important city Yecheng in spring 532.
The Erzhu forces recoalesced, and to cement the unity, under Erzhu Shilong's suggestion, Emperor Jiemin married a daughter of Erzhu Zhao as his empress. Erzhu Zhao thereafter made a counterattack, trying to capture Yecheng, but was defeated by Gao. After the defeat, instead of turning his army back to Luoyang to join with Erzhu Shilong and Erzhu Tianguang (who had by this point arrived from his base in Chang'an), Erzhu Zhao returned to Jinyang. The general Husi Chun rose against the Erzhus at Luoyang, capturing Erzhu Shilong and Erzhu Yanbo, and then beheaded them outside the city gates.
Empress Dowager Hu, formally Empress Ling (靈皇后,), was an empress dowager of the nomadic dynasty Northern Wei (515-528). She was a concubine of Emperor Xuanwu, and she became regent and empress dowager after her son Emperor Xiaoming became emperor after Emperor Xuanwu's death in 515. She was considered to be intelligent but overly lenient, and during her regency, many agrarian rebellions occurred while corruption raged among imperial officials. In 528, she was believed to have poisoned her son Emperor Xiaoming after he tried to have her lover Zheng Yan (鄭儼) executed. This caused the general Erzhu Rong to attack and capture the capital Luoyang. Erzhu threw her into the Yellow River to drown.
Emperor Xiaoming of Northern Wei ( 魏孝明帝), personal name Yuan Xu (元詡), was an emperor of the Xianbei dynasty Northern Wei (386–535). He ascended the throne in the age of five (515), so governmental matters were dominated by his mother Empress Dowager Hu. In 528, Emperor Xiaoming tried to curb his mother's powers and kill her lover Zheng Yan (鄭儼) by conspiring with the general Erzhu Rong. As a result, 18-year-old emperor was poisoned by his mother, who was soon overthrown by Erzhu. From that point on, Northern Wei royal lineage had no actual power. The next ruler, Emperor Xiaozhuang (507–531) was established by Erzhu. Since Erzhu's rival, general Gao Huan, enthroned another royal offspring, the country was soon split in two rival polities, Eastern and Western Wei, both of which did not hold long on the political map of the Southern and Northern Dynasties.
Yuan Zhao (元釗), also known in history as Youzhu, was briefly an emperor of the Xianbei dynasty Northern Wei.
Yuan Yong (元雍), né Tuoba Yong (拓拔雍), courtesy name Simu (思穆), formally Prince Wenmu of Gaoyang (高陽文穆王), was an imperial prince of the Chinese/Xianbei dynasty Northern Wei. He was very powerful during the reign of his grandnephew Emperor Xiaoming, and by corrupt means grew very rich. This, however, drew resentment from the populace, and after Emperor Xiaoming's death in 528 and the subsequent overthrowing of Emperor Xiaoming's mother Empress Dowager Hu by the general Erzhu Rong, Erzhu had him and over 2,000 other officials slaughtered at Heyin.
Emperor Xiaozhuang of Northern Wei, personal name Yuan Ziyou, was an emperor of China of the Northern Wei, a Xianbei dynasty. He was placed on the throne by General Erzhu Rong, who refused to recognize the young emperor, Yuan Zhao, who Empress Dowager Hu had placed on the throne after she poisoned her son Emperor Xiaoming.
Empress Erzhu Ying'e (爾朱英娥) was an empress of the Chinese/Xianbei dynasty Northern Wei. She was the wife of Emperor Xiaozhuang and a daughter of the paramount general Erzhu Rong. She later became a concubine of Northern Wei and Eastern Wei's paramount general Gao Huan.
Xiao Baoyin (蕭寶寅) (487–530), courtesy name Zhiliang (智亮), was an imperial prince of the Chinese dynasty Southern Qi. In 502, as Southern Qi was on the edge of being taken over by the general Xiao Yan, who was preparing by killing the imperial princes, Xiao Baoyin fled to rival Northern Wei and became an official and general in the Northern Wei government. In 527, as Northern Wei was embroiled in agrarian rebellions, Xiao Baoyin rebelled and tried to reestablish Southern Qi, but was soon defeated and forced to flee to a rebel leader, Moqi Chounu (万俟醜奴), and he served under Moqi until both were captured in 530 by the paramount general Erzhu Rong's nephew Erzhu Tianguang. He was forced to commit suicide.
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.
Empress Erzhu (爾朱皇后) was briefly an empress of the Chinese/Xianbei dynasty Northern Wei. Her husband was Yuan Ye, also known as the Prince of Changguang.
Erzhu Rong (爾朱榮), courtesy name Tianbao (天寶), formally Prince Wu of Jin (晉武王), was a general of the Chinese/Xianbei dynasty Northern Wei. He was of Xiongnu ancestry, and after Emperor Xiaoming was killed by his mother Empress Dowager Hu in 528, Erzhu overthrew her and put Emperor Xiaozhuang on the throne, but at the same time slaughtered many imperial officials and took over most of actual power either directly or through associates. He then contributed much to the rebuilding of the Northern Wei state, which had been rendered fractured by agrarian rebellions during Emperor Xiaoming's reign. However, in 530, Emperor Xiaozhuang, believing that Erzhu would eventually usurp the throne, tricked Erzhu into the palace and ambushed him. Subsequently, however, Erzhu's clan members, led by his cousin Erzhu Shilong and nephew Erzhu Zhao, defeated and killed Emperor Xiaozhuang. He was often compared by historians to the Han Dynasty general Dong Zhuo, for his ferocity in battle and for his violence and lack of tact.
Yuan Hao (元顥), courtesy name Ziming (子明) was an imperial prince and pretender to the throne of the Chinese/Xianbei dynasty Northern Wei, who briefly received allegiance from most of the provinces south of the Yellow River after he captured the capital Luoyang with support of neighboring Liang Dynasty. He became complacent after capturing Luoyang, however, and when the general Erzhu Rong, who supported Emperor Xiaozhuang, counterattacked later that year, Yuan Hao fled Luoyang and was killed in flight.
Emperor Jiemin of Northern Wei ( 魏節閔帝), also known as Emperor Qianfei (前廢帝), at times referred to by pre-ascension title Prince of Guangling (廣陵王), personal name Yuan Gong (元恭), courtesy name Xiuye (脩業), was an emperor of Northern Wei. He became emperor after the clan members of the paramount general Erzhu Rong, after Erzhu Rong was killed by Emperor Xiaozhuang, overthrew Emperor Xiaozhuang. Emperor Jiemin tried to revive the Northern Wei state, but with his power curbed by the Erzhus, was not able to accomplish much. After the general Gao Huan defeated the Erzhus in 532, Emperor Jiemin was imprisoned by Gao and subsequently poisoned to death by Emperor Xiaowu, whom Gao made emperor.
Empress Erzhu was an empress of the Chinese dynasty Northern Wei. Her husband was Emperor Jiemin, and she was a daughter of the general Erzhu Zhao.
Erzhu Zhao (爾朱兆), courtesy name Wanren (萬仁), Xianbei name Tumo'er (吐沒兒), was a general of the Chinese/Xianbei dynasty Northern Wei. He was ethnically Xiongnu and a nephew of the paramount general Erzhu Rong. After Erzhu Rong was killed by Emperor Xiaozhuang, Erzhu Zhao came to prominence by defeating, capturing, and killing Emperor Xiaozhuang. Subsequently, however, his general Gao Huan rebelled against him, defeating him and overthrowing the Erzhu regime in 532, capturing and killing most members of the Erzhu clan. Erzhu Zhao himself tried to hold out, but was again defeated by Gao in 533 and committed suicide.
Erzhu Tianguang (496–532) was a general of the Chinese/Xianbei dynasty Northern Wei. He became a major general during the reign of Emperor Xiaozhuang, when his father's cousin Erzhu Rong was the paramount general of the state. He was renowned for pacifying the Guanzhong region, which had been seized by agrarian rebel generals Moqi Chounu (万俟醜奴) and Wang Qingyun (王慶雲) in 530. He thereafter tried to maintain a relatively distant profile from the other Erzhu clan members, particularly after Emperor Xiaozhuang killed Erzhu Rong later in 530 and then was overthrown and killed by Erzhu Rong's nephew Erzhu Zhao and cousin Erzhu Shilong. In 532, after the other Erzhus had suffered defeats at the hand of the rebelling general Gao Huan, Erzhu Tianguang tried to come to their aid, but was also defeated by another general who rebelled, Husi Chun, and Gao executed him.
Yuan Lang (元朗) (513–532), courtesy name Zhongzhe (仲哲), frequently known by his post-removal title of Prince of Anding (安定王), at times known as Emperor Houfei, was briefly an emperor of the Xianbei dynasty Northern Wei. He was proclaimed emperor by the general Gao Huan, who rebelled against the clan of the paramount general Erzhu Rong in 531, as a competing candidate for the imperial throne against Emperor Jiemin, who had been made emperor by Erzhu Rong's cousin Erzhu Shilong. In 532, after Gao's victory over the Erzhus, he believed Yuan Lang, whose lineage was distant from the recent emperors, to be unsuitable to be emperor, and instead made Emperor Xiaowu emperor. Emperor Xiaowu created Yuan Lang the Prince of Anding, but later that year put him to death.
Emperor Xiaowu of Northern Wei ( 魏孝武帝), personal name Yuan Xiu, courtesy name Xiaoze (孝則), at times known as Emperor Chu, was an emperor of the Xianbei dynasty Northern Wei. After the general Gao Huan rebelled against and defeated the clan of the deceased paramount general Erzhu Rong in 532, he made Emperor Xiaowu emperor. Despite Gao's making him emperor, however, Emperor Xiaowu tried strenuously to free himself from Gao's control, and in 534, he, aligning with the general Yuwen Tai, formally broke with Gao. When Gao advanced south to try to again take control of the imperial government, Emperor Xiaowu fled to Yuwen's territory, leading to Northern Wei's division into two. Emperor Xiaowu's relationship with Yuwen, however, soon deteriorated over Yuwen's refusal to condone his incestuous relationships with his cousins, and around the new year 535, Yuwen poisoned him to death. Emperor Xiaowu's successor Emperor Wen of Western Wei is typically regarded, then, as the first emperor of Western Wei, formalizing the division of the empire.
Husi Chun (斛斯椿) (495–537), courtesy name Fashou (法壽), Xianbei name Daidun (貸敦), formally Prince Wenxuan of Changshan (常山文宣王), was a general and official of the Chinese/Xianbei state Northern Wei and Northern Wei's branch successor state Western Wei.
Gao Huan (496–547), Xianbei name Heliuhun (賀六渾), formally Prince Xianwu of Qi (齊獻武王), later further formally honored by Northern Qi initially as Emperor Xianwu (獻武皇帝), then as Emperor Shenwu (神武皇帝) with the temple name Gaozu (高祖), was the paramount general of the Chinese/Xianbei dynasty Northern Wei and Northern Wei's branch successor state Eastern Wei. Though being ethnically Chinese, Gao was deeply affected by Xianbei culture and was often considered more Xianbei than Chinese by his contemporaries. During his career, he and his family became firmly in control of the government of Eastern Wei, and eventually, in 550, his son Gao Yang forced Emperor Xiaojing of Eastern Wei to yield the throne to him, establishing the Gao clan as the imperial clan of a new Northern Qi state.
Lou Zhaojun, formally Empress Ming, was an empress dowager of the Chinese dynasty Northern Qi. She was the wife of Gao Huan, the paramount general of Northern Wei and its branch successor state Eastern Wei, and during Gao Huan's lifetime was already influential on the political scene. After Gao Huan's death, she continued to exert influence through the regency of her son Gao Cheng, and then as empress dowager after another son Gao Yang seized the throne from Emperor Xiaojing of Eastern Wei and established Northern Qi. She continued to serve as grand empress dowager through the reigns of Gao Yang's son Emperor Fei, and then again as empress dowager during the reigns of two more of her own sons, Emperor Xiaozhao and Emperor Wucheng.