Emperor Chengdi was born in 51 BCE. His name at birth was Liu Ao. He was the son of the Western Han dynasty emperor, Yuandi. His mother was his father’s wife, Empress Wang. Upon the death of his father, Emperor Yuandi, in 33 BCE, Liu Shi became the ninth emperor of the Western Han dynasty. Chengdi (Ch’eng-ti) means “Accomplished Emperor”.
China under Emperor Chengdi
Emperor Chengdi was only nineteen when he became emperor. He had little interest in running his country or his empire. The government reforms and frugal stance of his father, Emperor Yuandi, appeared to have no value to Chengdi. He was more interested in amusing himself, such as watching cock fighting. His mother, the dowager empress, Wang, ran his government. She placed her family members in important positions including Marshall of State.
Leaving the running of the empire to the Wang family was not in the best interest of Emperor Chengdi’s heirs. The Wang family grew increasingly powerful and later years saw the rise of the dowager Empress Wang’s nephew, Wang Mang.
Outside of the government intrigue, wealthy families continued to gain in strength and wealth, paying only one-half of the taxes paid by peasant farmers. With little money going into government treasuries public works were neglected. In 30-29 BCE, the flooding from the Yellow River caused much damage, which would not have occurred if money had been available for the maintenance of river levees.
Emperor Changdi’s Family
Emperor Chengdi had two wives and several concubines, and at least three children.
Emperor Chengdi, although possibly not an evil person, used his influence and his position to elevate a concubine to position of empress. He had his wife, Empress Xu, removed from the court and his concubine, Zhao, made empress. Additionally, he had sons born to his other concubines killed to assure Zhao’s place in the court and her children’s place as his heirs.
Emperor Chengdi died in 7 BCE. His plot to assure his own child succeeded him, as emperor, did not work as his half-nephew, Aidi, succeeded him as emperor of the Western Han dynasty.