Quick Facts about Emperor Wudi
- Emperor Wudi was born in 463 CE.
- His name at birth was Xiao Yan.
- His father was a cousin of Emperor Gaodi of the Qi dynasty.
- Wudi attacked the government of the Qi dynasty at Nanjing to become the first emperor of the Liang dynasty in 502 CE.
- Emperor Wudi wrote poetry and painted.
- Wudi means “Martial Emperor”.
China under Emperor Wudi
Emperor Wudi’s reign was the longest during this part of the history of China.
His family was wealthy and he had learned how the Chinese government functioned by working in many different government positions.
Learning and scholarship was important to him. He blended the best of Confucian and Buddhist teachings to build a government that gave back to its people.
Unlike other emperors, Emperor Wudi wrote his own laws instead of having officials in government positions write them for him.
To increase the knowledge of his people and of his government employees, he required sons of wealthy families attend school. To this end, he had many new schools built.
China’s economy under Emperor Wudi
Emperor Wudi’s southern capital at Jiankang (Nanjing) held around one million people while he was emperor. It was the largest city in the world at the time. Trade goods from many different areas – spices from the north, silk and pearls from the south – arrived to be sold.
Wealthy families spent their time buying luxuries, writing poetry and discussing Buddhism.
The golden era of Emperor Wudi’s reign ended in 548 when rebels, including his son, the future Emperor Jian Wendi, attacked the capital. During the four-month siege, many of the wealthy people died from starvation because their cooks had left and the wealthy people did not know how to cook.
Emperor Wudi and Buddhism
Emperor Wudi became a devout Buddhist and believed in compassion for all beings. He required that no cloth could be woven with pictures of any living being – human or animal – so that the being would not be killed when the cloth was cut to make clothing.
Emperor Wudi did not want to kill people or have people killed. Although his armies were successful in keeping the northern armies out of southern China, he did not purposefully move his armies into the northern territories.
Several times, Emperor Wudi left his office as emperor and lived as a monk in Buddhist monasteries. The Buddhist monks were to give obedience to their superiors at a monastery. This was a difficult situation because in China obedience was to be given only to the emperor. To solve this problem, Emperor Wudi was given the title of Bodhisattva. He was known as the Imperial Bodhisattva (Huangdi Busa) and Buddhist Son of Heaven (Busa Tianzi).
Emperor Wudi’s Family and Succession
Emperor Wudi’s wife was Empress Xi. He had at least seven children.
Upon his death in 549 CE, his son, Jian Wendi, succeeded him as the second emperor of the Liang dynasty.
Emperor Wudi’s tomb is at Xiling, Danyang, Jiangsu.