Emperor Wudi Facts
Emperor Wudi was born in 157 BCE. His name at birth was Liu Che. He was the oldest son of Emperor Jingdi. His mother’s name is not known.
Liu Che had the title king of Jiaodong while his father was emperor. Upon the death of his father in 141 BCE, Liu Che became the fifth emperor of the Western Han dynasty. His title became Wudi (Wu-ti) which means “Martial Emperor”.
Emperor Wudi’s Achievements
Emperor Wudi learned from his father’s rule – treat your people well and they in turn will not rise up against you. He continued using Confucian practices in his government and established an academy (taixue [t’ai-hsueh] “grand school”) to train young men in the classics to assure a line of Confucian-thinking government officials. The academy grew to more than 10,000 by the end of the Western Han dynasty.
Whereas his father, Emperor Jingdi, appeared to be frugal and not spend the imperial money on himself, his family or palaces, Emperor Wudi spared no money. His palaces were well maintained and he spared no cost for a life well lived.
In an attempt to find an elixir or mixture that Emperor could take to give him immortality, Daoist alchemists were given large amounts of money, people, and land. One such alchemist received five tons of gold and a kingdom.
Emperor Wudi’s Expansion of China
Emperor Wudi expanded his empire by subduing the northern nomadic Xiongnu (Hsiung-nu) tribe. He expanded the Great Wall across that same northern boundary.
Wudi also sent his troops to the west and south, ending the indepence of the Zhejiang, Fujian, and Nuyue people.
Korea was another target in Wudi’s quest to expand his empire. His troops went as far as lands conquered and held by the Greeks. They fought Roman legions and crossed deserts and high mountain ranges, going as far as 2,000 miles from the Western Han dynasty capital in Chang’an.
The Silk Road
Travel on the Silk Road began during Emperor Wudi’s reign as people beyond the Chinese empire began to trade their goods for silk, which was only produced in China.
Wudi used government camel caravans to trade with neighbors along the Silk Road, allowing money to come into the government treasury. The trade to the west introduced horses that were used for breeding new stock for the military.
As well, Wudi’s government during the Western Han dynasty controlled iron and salt works, melting of metals for minting coins and craft works, and alcohol.
Emperor Wudi’s Downfall
Near the end of Emperor Wudi’s reign, the cost of his lifestyle and of the expansion of the empire by military expeditions had taken too much money from the treasury. Farmers, who had enjoyed fewer taxes in previous years, were now paying higher taxes and could no longer produce enough food for the people. The rich became richer and the poor became poorer.
Internal fighting between the imperial family and the wealthy Li family started the downfall of Emperor Wudi. The family of Emperor Wudi’s wife, Empress Wei, were attacked and killed. Both she and her son (Wudi’s eldest son and heir) committed suicide.
Emperor Wudi also had another wife, Empress Chen (who was removed as empress in 130 BCE) and numerous concubines. He had at least five children.
Upon Emperor Wudi’s death in 87 BCE, his youngest son, Zhaodi (Chao-ti), succeeded him as emperor of the Western Han dynasty.
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