Emperor Han Mingdi 漢明帝
(27-75 CE, r. 57-75 CE)
Personal name Liu Zhuang 劉莊, courtesy name Liu Yan 劉嚴, posthumous temple name Han Xianzong 漢顯宗, was the second emperor of the Eastern Han dynasty. He was the fourth son of Emperor Guangwu 漢光武帝 (r. 25-57 CE) and of Empress Yin 陰皇后. He was proclaimed heir apparent in 43 CE and followed his father to the throne of the Han empire in 57 CE as Emperor Ming. He and his own successor, Emperor Zhang 漢章帝 (r. 75-88 CE), did not alter the governmental system established by Emperor Guangwu, and their rule (Ming-Zhang zhi zhi 明章之治) is therefore known as a quite peaceful and economically prosperous period.
Emperor Ming advocated the state-sponsored erection of Confucian schools for the sons of the nobility. His own sons and those of the relatives of the imperial consorts were educated in a type of elementary schools under the guidance of Confucian professors (boshi 博士 “erudites”) instructing them in the Five Confucian Classics.
On the other side, he strictly controlled the influence of these families and tried to prohibit them from gaining too much power. The Imperial Secretary Yan Zhang 閻章, for instance, was not allowed to occupy a higher post although his two daughters belonged to the secondary wives of the emperor.
Relatives of the highly respected Minister Dou Rong 竇融 were impeded to accede to higher posts, and some of them were executed because of minor crimes. The case of the rebellion of Prince Liu Ying 劉英 of Chu 楚 in 71 CE also brought the death of several thousand persons that were charged of being involved in the rebellion.
Emperor Ming had repaired the Bian Canal 汴渠 that connected the capital 洛陽 (modern Luoyang, Henan) with the most important economic regions of the empire. These construction works were conducted under the supervision of Wang Jing 王景.
The better conditions of life under the reign of Emperor Ming contributed to the increase in the population size, at least as reflected in the household registers of that time compared with those of the reign of Emperor Guangwu.
While his father had mainly cared for the restrengthening of the government structure inside the country, Emperor Ming again opened the view of the Han empire towards the surrounding Non-Chinese peoples.
In 58 CE the governor (taishou 太守) of the commandery of Liaodong 遼東, Ji Rong 祭肜, compelled a collaborating chieftain of the Xianbei 鮮卑 to pacify the steppe federation of the Wuhuan 烏桓. The whole northern region was brought to peace, and the Xianbei and Wuhuan sent their tributes to the Han court. In 65 general Wu Tang 吳棠 was sent out to wage war against the steppe federation of the Southern Xiongnu 南匈奴. Eight years later Dou Gu 竇固 and Geng Zhong 耿忠 attacked the Northern Xiongnu 北匈奴. They defeated the khan Huyan 呼衍 and conquered the region of Pulei that was an important “granary” of the Western Territories (xiyu 西域).
Emperor Ming appointed a commander for grain supply (yihe duwei 宜禾都尉) in Yiwulu 伊吾盧 (modern Balikun 巴裏坤, Xinjiang), to oversee the military agro-colonies (tuntian 屯田) producing the grain to supply the Chinese armies invading the western regions. Ban Chao 班超 as the a temporary commander (jia sima 假司馬) incorporated the city-states of the Silk Road again into the orbit of the Han empire. In 69 the king of the people of the Ailao 哀牢 in China’s southwest (modern border region between the province of Yunnan and the state of Myanmar) declared his submission to the Han empire and sent tributes to the court in Luoyang.
During the reign of Emperor Ming the religion of Buddhism arrived in China. The emperor actively sent out a mission to India to bring scriptures about this foreign deity. Monks were allowed to settle down in Luoyang and founded China’s first monastery, the White Horse Monastery Baimasi 白馬寺.
Emperor Ming is buried in the tomb mound Xianjieling 顯節陵 and was succeeded by his son Liu Da 劉炟, known as Emperor Zhang (r. 76-88 CE).
Tian Renlong 田人隆 (1992), “Han Mingdi Liu Zhuang 漢明帝劉莊”, in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 1, p. 350.