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Erzhu Zhao (爾朱兆) (died 533), 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 Zhao was Erzhu Rong's nephew, and when he was young, he was known for his valor, physical strength and expertise in riding and archery, he was said to excel in armed combat so much that he could fight fierce beasts with his bare hands. One of Erzhu Rong's favorite activities as the chief of the Xiongnu Qihu (契胡) tribe was hunting, and of all his attendants, only Erzhu Zhao was able to keep up with him on hunts. Erzhu Rong therefore favored him greatly. However, once, when Erzhu Rong was asking his commanders for opinions on who could succeed him as the commanding general of the army if he were no longer there, most commanders opined that Erzhu Zhao could, but Erzhu Rong himself opined that Gao Huan was the only one capable of doing so, and he warned Erzhu Zhao, "You are no match for Gao Huan, and one day he will surely pierce through your nose." He also commented that Erzhu Zhao would be undefeatable as long as he commanded a cavalry force under 3,000 men—and that if he commanded more, his army would be in a state of confusion.
Later, after Erzhu Rong overthrew Emperor Xiaoming's mother Empress Dowager Hu, after she poisoned Emperor Xiaoming and made Emperor Xiaozhuang emperor, Erzhu Rong became the paramound general of the empire, and Erzhu Zhao became a major general under him. Emperor Xiaozhuang created him the Duke of Yingchuan. He participated in the campaign by Erzhu Rong's associate Yuan Tianmu (元天穆) against the rebel Xing Gao (邢杲) in 529, and subsequently, when Emperor Xiaozhuang was expelled from the capital Luoyang later that year by the competing claimant for the throne, Yuan Hao (who was supported by rival Liang Dynasty), Erzhu Zhao helped break the stalemate between Yuan Hao's troops and Erzhu Rong's troops by making a surprise attack against Yuan Hao's son Yuan Guanshou (元冠受), causing Yuan Hao's forces to collapse and Yuan Hao to flee, allowing Emperor Xiaozhuang to be restored. By 530, Erzhu Zhao was serving as the governor of Fen Province (汾州, roughly modern Linfen, Shanxi), near Erzhu Rong's headquarters at Jinyang (晉陽, in modern Taiyuan, Shanxi).
In 530, Emperor Xiaozhuang, apprehensive that Erzhu Rong would one day seize the throne, ambushed him in the palace at Luoyang and killed him and Yuan Tianmu. Erzhu Rong's wife Princess Beixiang and cousin Erzhu Shilong fought their way out of Luoyang and initially battled with Emperor Xiaozhuang's troops outside of Luoyang, but eventually withdrew north across the Yellow River. Erzhu Zhao met them at Zhangzi (長子, in modern Changzhi, Shanxi), and they jointly declared Princess Beixiang's nephew Yuan Ye the Prince of Changguang, a distant member of the imperial Yuan clan, emperor, to compete with Emperor Xiaozhuang.
Despite the opposition of Gao Huan (who subsequently refused to participate in the campaign), Erzhu Rong advanced south to the Yellow River. Then, surprising Emperor Xiaozhuang, he quickly crossed the Yellow River, entering Luoyang and capturing Emperor Xiaozhuang. He allowed his soldiers to pillage the capital and kill many imperial officials, and he also killed the son of Emperor Xiaozhuang and Erzhu Rong's daughter, Empress Erzhu Ying'e. He then had Emperor Xiaozhuang delivered to Jinyang and, despite Gao's warning not to do so, strangled Emperor Xiaozhuang to death.
In light of the Erzhus' victory, they controlled the government, and Erzhu Zhao was recognized as the supreme military authority, and Yuan Ye created him the Prince of Yinchuan. (Yuan Ye also created Erzhu Zhao's daughter empress, although it is not clear whether Yuan Ye only married her at this point or had already married her previously.) However, he did not have as much control over the clan as Erzhu Rong did, and the imperial government largely was controlled by Erzhu Shilong. Erzhu Zhao himself controlled the provinces north of the Yellow River, while his cousin Erzhu Tianguang controlled the Guanzhong region, and Erzhu Shilong's brother Erzhu Zhongyuan (爾朱仲遠) controlled the southeastern provinces. Erzhu Zhao set up his headquarters at Jinyang, where Erzhu Rong's headquarters had been.
Around the new year 531, the general Gedouling Bufan (紇豆陵布番), who had been loyal to Emperor Xiaozhuang, attacked Erzhu Zhao from the north, and after scoring victories over him, approached Jinyang. Erzhu Zhao was fearful, and sought aid from Gao Huan. Gao agreed to help him, and together they defeated and killed Gedouling. In light of this joint victory, Erzhu Zhao and Gao swore to be brothers, and he, trusting Gao's faithfulness, gave the remnants of the rebel Ge Rong (葛榮), largely ethnic Xianbei, to Gao—a decision that he would regret later.
In spring 531, after Yuan Ye arrived in Luoyang, Erzhu Shilong and Erzhu Tianguang, believing that Yuan Ye was too distantly related to the line of recent emperors and lacking in good reputation, forced Yuan Ye to yield the throne to Yuan Gong the Prince of Guangling (who took the throne as Emperor Jiemin). Because Erzhu Shilong did not first consult with Erzhu Zhao, Erzhu Zhao became angry and considered attacking Erzhu Shilong. Erzhu Zhao only calmed down and accepted the situation after Erzhu Shilong sent his brother Erzhu Yanbo (爾朱彥伯) to Jinyang to explain the decision to him.
In summer 531, Gao Huan, believing that the Erzhus had become overly corrupt and therefore vulnerable, decided to rebel. He declared another distant member of the Yuan clan, Yuan Lang, emperor, to compete with Emperor Jiemin. 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 another 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. Meanwhile, the general Husi Chun rose against the Erzhus at Luoyang, killing Erzhu Shilong and Erzhu Yanbo and capturing Erzhu Tianguang and Erzhu Dulü, delivering them to Gao, who subsequently killed them after entering Luoyang. Erzhu Zhongyuan fled to Liang, leaving Erzhu Zhao as the only member of the Erzhu clan still remaining with a significant force. He withdrew from Jinyang and set up his new headquarters at Xiurong (秀容, in modern Shuozhou, Shanxi), the old territory of the Qihu tribe.
In spring 532, Gao, after making Erzhu Zhao relax by making multiple announcements of attacks but then not attacking, launched a surprise attack on Xiurong and defeated Erzhu Zhao's forces. Erzhu Zhao fled into the mountains, but, finding his escape route cut off, initially ordered his attendants Zhang Liang (張亮) and Chen Shanti (陳山提) to kill him. When Zhang and Chen could not bear doing so, he hanged himself on a tree after killing his war horse. Gao buried him with honors.
The Northern Wei or the Northern Wei Empire, also known as the Tuoba Wei (拓跋魏), Later Wei (後魏), or Yuan Wei (元魏), 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 Southern and Northern 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.
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 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.
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 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 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 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.
Empress Gao was an empress of the Chinese/Xianbei dynasty Northern Wei. Her husband was Emperor Xiaowu.
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.
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.
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.
Yang Yin (楊愔) (511–560), courtesy name Zhunyan (遵彦), nickname Qinwang (秦王), was a high-level official of the Chinese dynasty Northern Qi.