Gao Cheng

Last updated
Gao Cheng
Regent of Eastern Wei
Predecessor Gao Huan
Successor Gao Yang
Died549 (aged 2728)
Spouse Princess Fengyi
Posthumous name
Emperor Wenxiang 文襄皇帝
Temple name
Shizong 世宗
Father Gao Huan
Mother Lou Zhaojun

Gao Cheng (Chinese :高澄; 521–549), courtesy name Zihui (子惠), formally Prince Wenxiang of Bohai (勃海文襄王), later further posthumously honored by Northern Qi as Emperor Wenxiang (文襄皇帝) with the temple name Shizong (世宗), was the paramount official of the Chinese/Xianbei state Eastern Wei, a branch successor state of Northern Wei. He was Gao Huan's oldest son, and because his father wielded actual power during Emperor Xiaojing's reign, Gao Cheng also received increasingly great authority, and after his father's death in 547 took over the reign of the state. He was considered capable but frivolous and arrogant, as well as lacking in sexual discretion. In 549, he was assassinated by his servant Lan Jing (蘭京), and his younger brother Gao Yang took over the control over the Eastern Wei regime.



Gao Cheng was born in 521, when his father Gao Huan was still a courier of documents between the Northern Wei capital Luoyang and the old capital Pingcheng (平城, in modern Datong, Shanxi). His mother Lou Zhaojun was from a wealthy family, but Gao Huan's own household was poor. In 525, the ambitious Gao Huan joined the agrarian rebellion led by Du Luozhou (杜洛周) but subsequently became convinced that Du was not a successful leader, and sought to flee from Du's camp with his associates Wei Jing (尉景), Duan Rong (段榮), and Cai Jun (蔡雋). (Wei and Duan were also his brothers-in-law.) Lady Lou and her children (Gao Cheng and a daughter) fled as well, riding a cow. During this flight, Gao Cheng repeatedly fell off the cow, and Gao Huan considered killing him with an arrow, but Duan repeatedly saved him. The next known incident involving Gao Cheng was in 531, when Gao, then a Northern Wei general, rebelled against the members of Erzhu Rong's clan (who had dominated the political scene after they defeated Emperor Xiaozhuang in revenge of Emperor Xiaozhuang's killing of Erzhu Rong), and when an agrarian rebel leader, Gao Aocao (高敖曹), a very distant relative of Gao Huan's, refused to follow Gao Huan, Gao Huan sent Gao Cheng to visit Gao Aocao and showing respect due to the granduncle persuading Gao Aocao of Gao Huan's sincerity.

During Gao Huan's lifetime

Gao Huan defeated the Erzhus in 532 and entered Luoyang victoriously, and he made Yuan Xiu the Prince of Pingyang emperor (as Emperor Xiaowu). As a result of Gao Huan's victory, the 11-year-old Gao Cheng received high ranking titles, even though he appeared to carry no actual responsibility by this point in either the imperial administration or his father's army. With his father having been created the Prince of Bohai, Gao Cheng, as his oldest son, also carried the title the Heir Apparent of Bohai.

In 534, Emperor Xiaowu, in a dispute with Gao Huan over the control of power, fled to the domain of the independent general Yuwen Tai, leading to a split of Northern Wei, as Gao Huan then made Yuan Shanjian the Heir Apparent of Qinghe emperor (as Emperor Xiaojing), and the areas under Gao Huan's control became known as Eastern Wei, and the areas under Yuwen's control became known as Western Wei. Gao Huan moved the Eastern Wei capital from Luoyang to Yecheng.

In 535, Gao Huan found out that Gao Cheng had been conducting an affair with Gao Huan's concubine Lady Zheng Dache (鄭大車). In anger, he caned Gao Cheng 100 times and put him under arrest, and he seriously considered making Gao You (高浟), his son by his concubine Lady Erzhu Ying'e (Erzhu Rong's daughter) heir apparent to replace Gao Cheng. Gao Cheng sought help from Gao Huan's friend Sima Ziru (司馬子如), who persuaded Gao Huan to change his mind by reminding him the contributions that Gao Cheng's mother Princess Lou had made, and also subsequently by forcing the witnesses to the affair between Gao Cheng and Lady Zheng to recant. Still, Princess Lou and Gao Cheng were forced to repeatedly bow and crawl on the ground to beg Gao Huan's forgiveness, and Gao Huan allowed Gao Cheng to remain heir apparent.

In 536, the 15-year-old Gao Cheng, who was then with his father at his military headquarters of Jinyang, requested permission to become in charge of the Eastern Wei imperial government at Yecheng. Gao Huan initially refused, but Gao Huan's assistant Sun Qian (孫搴) spoke on Gao Cheng's behalf, and finally, Gao Huan agreed. Gao Cheng soon arrived at Yecheng and took over the imperial administration. He became known as a harsh but capable enforcer of laws, in comparison to his father's policy of relaxed enforcement. He also abolished the seniority-based system of promotion that had caused the imperial administration to stagnate, seeking out capable individuals and promoting them quickly.

Around this time, Gao Cheng also married Emperor Xiaojing's sister the Princess Fengyi as his wife. In 540, she bore him a son, Gao Xiaowan (高孝琬). The emperor personally went to his mansion to congratulate him, and the officials all sent expensive gifts. (Gao Cheng initially declined, stating that Gao Xiaocheng was the emperor's nephew, and therefore the emperor should be congratulated first, but eventually did accept.)

In 543, the actions of Gao Cheng and his trusted assistant, Cui Xian (崔暹), would lead to the rebellion of the general Gao Zhongmi (高仲密). Gao Zhongmi had earlier married Cui's sister as his wife, but later abandoned her, and this led to hatred between Gao Zhongmi and Cui. Cui, therefore, found many reasons to pick fault with selections of officials that Gao Zhongmi had made, and Gao Cheng agreed with Cui. Further, on one occasion, when Gao Cheng saw Gao Zhongmi's new wife Li Changyi (李昌儀), he was stunned by her beauty and tried to rape her. Lady Li escaped and informed Gao Zhongmi about the incident. Therefore, when Gao Zhongmi became the governor of Northern Yu Province (北豫州, roughly modern Zhengzhou, Henan), he surrendered the capital of Northern Yu Province, the key garrison Hulao (虎牢), to Western Wei. (Gao Huan, blaming Cui for Gao Zhongmi's rebellion, initially wanted to kill Cui or at least to severely cane him. However, Gao Cheng, displaying the influence that he had on his father by this point, was able to persuade Gao Huan, through Gao Huan's assistant Chen Yuanda (陳元達), that punishing Cui would undermine Gao Cheng's authority, and therefore Gao Huan never did punish Cui.) In the ensuing battles over the control of the Hulao and Luoyang region, both Yuwen Tai and Gao Huan nearly died. After Eastern Wei forces finally captured Hulao later that year, and Lady Li was delivered to Yecheng, Gao Cheng made her one of his concubines.

In 544, Gao Huan, believing that the officials Sima Ziru, Sun Teng (孫騰), Gao Yue (高岳, Gao Huan's cousin), and Gao Longzhi (高隆之), were becoming too powerful and too corrupt, transferred major portions of those officials' responsibilities to Gao Cheng. Gao Cheng further showed off his authority by acting imperiously toward those officials. For example, when Sun once visited him and showed insufficient respect, he had his guards throw Sun on the ground and pound him with sword hilts. Gao Cheng also installed his assistant Cui Jishu (崔季舒, Cui Xian's uncle) as Emperor Xiaojing's secretary, to keep watch on Emperor Xiaojing.

Later in 544, Gao Cheng, wanting to stamp out corruption within the imperial administration, empowered Cui Xian and Song Youdao (宋遊道) to investigate high-level officials for corruption. Cui and Song each made several accusations against high-level officials, and Gao Cheng had, in particular, Sima Ziru stripped of all titles and offices, and Yuan Tan (元坦) the Prince of Xianyang stripped of his offices. In order to show that Cui, in particular, was empowered to carry out investigations, Gao Cheng had Cui intentionally show disrespect to himself in public with impunity, so that the officials would be even more apprehensive of Cui.

In late 546, Gao Huan became seriously ill, and he summoned Gao Cheng back to Jinyang to entrust the matters to him. At that time, Gao Cheng was apprehensive that the general Hou Jing, who commanded the provinces south of the Yellow River, would rebel, and Gao Huan left him a list of officials that he could trust, and specifically instructed him to make Murong Shaozong (慕容紹宗) the commander of the army against Hou if Hou rebelled. Gao Huan died in spring 547, but Gao Cheng, also pursuant to Gao Huan's instructions, did not announce Gao Huan's death in public; rather, he returned to Yecheng, pretending that Gao Huan was still alive.

As regent

Also in spring 547, Hou Jing, unsure whether Gao Huan was still alive but believing that Gao Huan had died, rebelled, first surrendering the 13 provinces he commanded to Western Wei, and then to Liang Dynasty. Gao Cheng initially sent Han Gui (韓軌) against Hou, and Han had some successes against Hou's forces but was forced to withdraw when Western Wei forces arrived, taking four of Hou's provinces in exchange for supporting Hou. Subsequently, Hou broke with Western Wei, and Western Wei forces withdrew. Meanwhile, Emperor Wu of Liang commissioned his nephew Xiao Yuanming the Marquess of Zhenyang with a large force to try to aid Hou. Gao Cheng, after finally revealing Gao Huan's death, put Murong Shaozong in charge of the army. He also made peace overtures to Hou, promising to keep him in command of the southern provinces if he would submit. Hou refused.

Meanwhile, Gao Cheng also had a threat from within. Gao Cheng, once Gao Huan died, began to show contempt for Emperor Xiaojing, and once, when Emperor Xiaojing rebuked him for public disrespect, Gao Cheng ordered Cui Jishu to punch Emperor Xiaojing three times. Emperor Xiaojing, fearful of what might come next, formed a conspiracy against Gao Cheng. In winter 547, the plot was discovered, and Gao Cheng put the emperor under arrest and executed his coconspirators.

Late in 547, Murong Shaozong crushed Xiao Yuanming's army at Hanshan (寒山, in modern Xuzhou, Jiangsu), capturing Xiao Yuanming. When Xiao Yuanming was delivered to Gao Cheng, Gao Cheng treated him with respect, intending to try to use Xiao Yuanming as a pawn against Hou. By spring 548, Murong Shaozong had crushed Hou's army as well, and Hou fled to Liang, seizing the Liang border city of Shouyang (壽陽, in modern Lu'an, Anhui) as his base of operations. Gao Cheng then began negotiating peace with Liang's Emperor Wu, intending to create instability in the relationship between Emperor Wu and Hou. Hou, eventually coming to believe that Emperor Wu would betray him and turn him over to Eastern Wu to exchange for Xiao Yuanming, rebelled in fall 548, eventually capturing the Liang capital Jiankang and holding Emperor Wu and then his successor Emperor Jianwen of Liang as puppets. Once Hou did so, he made an overture of peace to Gao Cheng, but Gao Cheng did not respond.

Meanwhile, Gao Cheng was trying to recapture the provinces that Western Wei had taken from Hou. Also in 548, he sent Gao Yue and Murong Shaozong to siege Changshe (長社, in modern Xuchang, Henan), but Changshe, defended by the Western Wei general Wang Sizheng (王思政), would not fall easily, and during the battle, Western Wei forces were able to kill Murong Shaozong and another major general, Liu Fengsheng (劉豐生). In summer 549, Gao Cheng himself commanded reinforcements and arrived at Changshe. He intensified the siege, and soon, Changshe fell, and he captured Wang, whom he treated with respect. After Changshe fell, Western Wei forces also withdrew from the three other provinces that they had captured, and Eastern Wei by this time had recaptured all of the lands that Hou had initially taken.


Meanwhile, Gao Cheng was beginning to confer with his associates on how he could seize the throne. In fall 549, he was in a meeting with Chen Yuankang, Cui Jishu, and Yang Yin, discussing the procedure for doing so. One of the attending servants was Lan Jing (蘭京), a son of the Liang general Lan Qin (蘭欽), whom he had captured in battle and had repeatedly refused to release despite both Lan Qin's and Lan Jing's pleas to allow Lan Qin to ransom his son. During the meeting, Lan Jing delivered a meal to Gao Cheng and the others at the meeting. When Lan Jing stepped out, Gao Cheng made the comment, "Last night, I dreamed that this slave was using a sword to hit me. I should kill him." Lan Jing overheard the comment, and he reentered the room and killed Gao Cheng with a knife, despite Chen's attempts to protect Gao Cheng.

Personal information

Notes and references

  1. Gao Huan, as demanded by Yujiulü Anagui as one of the peace terms between Eastern Wei and Rouran, married the Princess Ruru in 545, and had her take the place of Princess Lou as his wife, but never formally divorced Princess Lou. After Gao Huan's death, pursuant to Rouran customs, the Princess Ruru became married to Gao Huan's son Gao Cheng, who also, however, did not formally divorce his wife Princess Yuan.

Related Research Articles

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.

Emperor Wu of Liang Founding emperor of Liang Dynasty

Emperor Wu of Liang (梁武帝) (464–549), personal name Xiao Yan (蕭衍), courtesy name Shuda (叔達), nickname Lian'er (練兒), was the founding emperor of the Liang Dynasty of Chinese Northern and southern dynasties era. His reign, until its end, was one of the most stable and prosperous during the Southern Dynasties. He came from the same family that ruled Southern Qi (兰陵萧氏), but from a different branch.

Emperor Jianwen of Liang (梁簡文帝), personal name Xiao Gang (蕭綱), courtesy name Shizuan (世纘), nickname Liutong (六通), was an emperor of the Chinese Liang Dynasty. He was initially not the crown prince of his father Emperor Wu, the founder of the dynasty, but became the crown prince in 531 after his older brother Xiao Tong died. In 549, the rebellious general Hou Jing captured the capital Jiankang, and Hou subsequently held both Emperor Wu and Crown Prince Gang under his power, having Crown Prince Gang take the throne after Emperor Wu's death later that year. During Emperor Jianwen's reign, he was almost completely under Hou's control, and in 551, Hou, planning to take the throne himself, first forced Emperor Jianwen to yield the throne to his grandnephew Xiao Dong the Prince of Yuzhang, and then sent messengers to suffocate the former emperor.

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.

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.

Emperor Xiaojing of Eastern Wei ( 魏孝靜帝) (524–552), personal name Yuan Shanjian (元善見), was the only emperor of the Eastern Wei – a branch successor state to Northern Wei. In 524, Northern Wei's paramount general Gao Huan, after Emperor Xiaowu had fled the capital Luoyang to reestablish the imperial government at Chang'an, made Emperor Xiaojing emperor as Emperor Xiaowu's replacement, and moved the capital from Luoyang to Yecheng, thus dividing Northern Wei into two, and Emperor Xiaojing's state became known as Eastern Wei. Although Gao Huan treated him with respect, real power was in the hands of Gao Huan, and then Gao Huan's sons Gao Cheng and Gao Yang. In 550, Gao Yang forced Emperor Xiaojing to yield the throne to him, ending Eastern Wei and establishing Northern Qi. Around the new year 552, the former Emperor Xiaojing was poisoned to death on the orders of the new emperor.

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 and minister 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.

Emperor Wenxuan of (Northern) Qi ( 齊文宣帝) (526–559), personal name Gao Yang, courtesy name Zijin (子進), Xianbei name Hounigan (侯尼干), was the first emperor of the Northern Qi. He was the second son of Eastern Wei's paramount general Gao Huan, and the death of his brother and Gao Huan's designated successor Gao Cheng in 549 became the regent of Eastern Wei. In 550, he forced Emperor Xiaojing of Eastern Wei to yield the throne to him, ending Eastern Wei and starting Northern Qi.

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.

Princess Pingyi (馮翊公主), later honored as Empress Wenxiang (文襄皇后), formally posthumously honored as Empress Jing by Northern Qi, was a princess of the Chinese dynasty Northern Wei and its branch successor state Eastern Wei. She was the sister of Emperor Xiaojing of Eastern Wei, and the wife of Eastern Wei's paramount official Gao Cheng, son of Gao Huan.

Zhu Yi, courtesy name Yanhe (彥和), was an official of the Chinese dynasty Liang Dynasty. He was greatly trusted by Emperor Wu in Emperor Wu's old age. He is often depicted by historians as corrupt and duplicitous, as well as a reason for Liang's downfall.

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.

Hou Jing, courtesy name Wanjing (萬景), was a general of Northern Wei, Eastern Wei, and Liang, and briefly, after controlling the Liang imperial regime for several years, usurped the Liang throne, establishing a state of Han. He was soon defeated by the Liang prince Xiao Yi the Prince of Xiangdong, and was killed by his own associates while in flight. He is one of the most reviled figures in ancient Chinese history, known for his extreme cruelty to enemies and civilians.

Wang Wei was the chief strategist for Hou Jing, who controlled the imperial government of and briefly took over the throne of the Chinese Liang Dynasty and established his short-lived state of Han. Wang Wei advised Hou Jing during the latter's time as general and was elevated to prime minister during Hou's time in power. Although Wang Wei was successful as an adviser and strategist, he was captured and executed by Hou Jing's enemy, Xiao Yi after Hou's defeat and retreat east.

Xiao Yuanming (蕭淵明), courtesy name Jingtong (靖通), often known by his pre-ascension title of Marquess of Zhenyang (貞陽侯), at times known by his post-removal title Duke of Jian'an (建安公), honored Emperor Min (閔皇帝) by Xiao Zhuang, was briefly an emperor of the Chinese Liang Dynasty. He was the nephew of the founding emperor Emperor Wu. In 555, with Liang in disarray after Western Wei had captured and killed Emperor Yuan, Northern Qi, which had held Xiao Yuanming as an honored captive since 547, forced the general Wang Sengbian to accept Xiao Yuanming as emperor. Soon, however, Wang's subordinate Chen Baxian killed Wang and removed Xiao Yuanming from the throne, replacing him with Emperor Yuan's son Xiao Fangzhi. Xiao Yuanming died the following year.

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.

Wang Lin (526–573), courtesy name Ziheng (子珩), formally Prince Zhongwu of Baling (巴陵忠武王), was a general of the Chinese dynasties Liang Dynasty and Northern Qi. He initially became prominent during Emperor Yuan of Liang's campaign against the rebel general Hou Jing, and later, after Emperor Yuan was defeated and killed by Western Wei forces in 554, he maintained a separate center of power from the dominant general of the remaining Liang provinces, Chen Baxian. After Chen Baxian seized the Liang throne in 557 and established Chen Dynasty, Wang, with Northern Qi support, declared the Liang prince Xiao Zhuang emperor in 558, making Xiao Zhuang one of the three contestants for the Southern Dynasty throne, against Chen Baxian and Emperor Xuan of Western Liang, supported by Western Wei. In 560, while trying to attack Chen Baxian's nephew and successor Emperor Wen of Chen, Wang was defeated, and both he and Xiao Zhuang fled to Northern Qi. Wang subsequently served as a Northern Qi general, and during a major Chen offensive against Northern Qi in 573, he was captured by the Chen general Wu Mingche and executed.

Hulü Guang (斛律光) (515–572), courtesy name Mingyue (明月), was a general of the Chinese dynasty Northern Qi. During the late years of the dynasty—the reigns of Emperor Wucheng and Gao Wei, traditionally viewed as a period of corruption and debauchery when Northern Qi's once-powerful status was deteriorating—Hulü was viewed as the key pillar to the state and its army, maintaining the army's strength against rivals Northern Zhou and Chen Dynasty. The powerful officials Zu Ting and Mu Tipo, who had disagreements with him, however, falsely accused him of plotting treason, and in 572, Gao Wei believed those accusations and killed Hulü. Emperor Wu of Northern Zhou was very glad over the news and declared a general pardon, and in 578, Northern Qi fell to Northern Zhou.