(Chinese: 孺子嬰; pinyin: Rúzi Yīng
Literally: “Infant Ying“; 5 CE – 25 CE), also known as Emperor Ruzi of Han and the personal name of Liu Ying (劉嬰), was the last emperor of the Chinese Western Han Dynasty from 6 CE to 9 CE. After Emperor Ai of Han and Emperor Ping died without heirs, Wang Mang chose the youngest of the available successors in order to maintain his power in the government. The child Ying was soon deposed by Wang Mang who declared the Xin Dynasty in place of the Han. During Xin Dynasty, Ying was under effective house arrest—so much so that as an adult, he did not even know the names of common animals. Before and after the Xin Dynasty was overthrown in 23 CE, many ambitious people claimed to be restoring the Han dynasty. In 25 CE, a rebellion against the temporary Emperor Gengshi used the former Emperor Ruzi as a focus, and when the rebellion was defeated, he was killed. He is often viewed as an innocent child who was the victim of tragic circumstances. (The expression “Emperor Ruzi” is a misnomer, as he never assumed the throne and was only named crown prince. Nevertheless, he is commonly referred to as such.)
In the spring of 6 CE (AD), Acting Emperor Wang selected Ying—then just one year old—as the designated successor to Emperor Ping, claiming that soothsayers told him that Ying was the candidate most favored by the gods. He gave Ying the epithet Ruzi — the same epithet that King Cheng of Zhou had when he was in his minority and under the regency of Ji Dan, the Duke of Zhou — to claim that he was as faithful as the Duke of Zhou. However, Emperor Ruzi did not ascend the throne, but was given the title of crown prince. Empress Wang, still a young girl, was given the title Empress Dowager.
Several members of the imperial Liu clan were suspicious of Acting Emperor Wang’s intentions. They started or assisted in several failed rebellions against Wang:
- In 6 CE, Liu Chong (劉崇), the Marquess of Anzhong, made an attack against Wancheng (宛城, in modern Nanyang, Henan). His attack failed, but historians did not specify what happened to him, other than that as punishment, Wang had his house filled with filthy water.
- In 7 CE, Zhai Yi (翟義), the governor of the Commandery of Dong (roughly modern Puyang, Henan) and Liu Xin (劉信), the Marquess of Yanxiang (and the father of Liu Kuang (劉匡), the Prince of Dongping (roughly modern Tai’an, Shandong) started the largest of these rebellions. They were joined by agrarian rebellion leaders Zhao Peng (趙朋) and Huo Hong (霍鴻) from the area immediately west of the capital Chang’an. They declared Liu Xin emperor. Wang Mang responded by sending messengers around the nation to pledge that he would in fact return the throne to Emperor Ruzi once Ruzi was adult. Wang’s armies defeated Zhai and Liu’s armies in the winter of 7 CE, and Zhai was captured and executed by drawing and quartering. Liu fled and was never captured. Zhao and Huo were also eventually defeated and executed.
- In 9 CE (after Wang Mang had usurped the throne—see below), Liu Kuai (劉快), the Marquess of Xuxiang, attacked the Fuchong dukedom of his brother Liu Ying (劉殷), the former Prince of Jiaodong. He was defeated and died while fleeing from the battle.
After Zhai and Liu Xin was defeated, Wang became even more convinced that the empire was entirely under his control, and decided to finally seize the throne and start a new dynasty. In the winter of 8 CE, a prophecy written on a casket was presented by Ai Zhang (哀章). The prophecy was said to be a divine decree from Emperor Gao (Liu Bang,) stating that the throne should be given to Wang, and that Empress Dowager Wang (who was Wang Mang’s own daughter, but held authority) should follow this divine will. Wang issued a decree accepting the position of emperor and establishing the Xin (new) dynasty.
Life during the Xin Dynasty
In the spring of 9 CE, Wang Mang, now emperor, made the former Emperor Ruzi the Duke of Ding’an (and made his daughter, the former Empress Dowager, Duchess Dowager). The dukedom allegedly included 10,000 households, in which Han emperors were to be enshrined in temples, and Han calendars and uniforms would be allowed. However, Wang did not actually follow through on these promises. Indeed, he never allowed the Duke of Ding’an to rule his dukedom, but effectively put the child duke under house arrest under heavy guard.
Not even his wet nurses were allowed to stay with him. As a grown man, Ying did not even know of such common animals as cattle, horses, sheep, chickens, dogs, and pigs. Wang gave his granddaughter to the Duke of Ding’an in marriage. She was the daughter of his son Wang Yu (王宇), whom he had forced to commit suicide in 3 CE after Wang Yu, unhappy with his dictatorial rule, conspired with Emperor Ping’s uncles of the Wei clan to overthrow him. Other than this, not much is known about the Duke of Ding’an’s life during the Xin Dynasty.
After the Xin Dynasty was overthrown in 23 CE and Wang Mang was killed, the imperial descendant Liu Xuan (劉玄) became emperor as Emperor Gengshi of Han). However, due to Emperor Gengshi’s incompetence, conspiracies and rebellions arose throughout the empire, seeking to displace him.
Two farfetched co-conspirators started one of these rebellions in 25—Fang Wang (方望), the former strategist for the local warlord Wei Xiao (隗囂), and a man named Gong Lin (弓林) — and their group of several thousand men, after kidnapping Ying, occupied Linjing (臨涇, in modern Qingyang, Gansu). Emperor Gengshi sent his prime minister Li Song (李松) to attack them, and wiped out this rebel force, killing Liu Ying.
- Book of Han, vol. 8.