Let’s rewind the clock and go back to the time of the first emperor of Han, Gaozu. Even though his wife Lu Hou had yet to go totally kill crazy, Gaozu already knew that any children from his other concubines were at risk of political assassination.
In order to protect one boy inparticular, Gaozu gave him a job ruling a distant province, sending him far away from the capital and by extension, his murderous step-mother.
Many years later, Lu Hou was dead and her influence had been cleansed from the government. Now, the search was on to find a legitimate heir to the throne and Wendi fit the bill perfectly. Despite a turbulent few years of conspiracy and assassination in the Han dynasty, Wendi’s reign (beginning in 180BCE) acted as a much needed Han dynasty reboot.
Greatly influenced by his wife, Empress Bo, Wendi reduced taxes and relaxed some of the more strict laws still left over from the Qin dynasty. Not only that, Wendi also brought in new laws to ease burdens on the Chinese people, such as providing anyone over the age of 90 with a set amount of free food.
Unluckily for Wendi his time as emperor also coincided with another event, a solar eclipse. Seeing the sun go black and China being plunged into darkness, Wendi was horrified. To him, this was a terrible omen that proved the gods were deeply unhappy with his reign. Calling a crisis meeting, Wendi begged his staff to give him honest critisim of his time as emperor and advice on how he could improve.
Of course, he was actually a greatly admired emperor and despite the admittedly ominous eclipse, the usually superstitious staff never once doubted him or his intentions. Even in death Wendi put other people first; scrapping the rule that his concubines without children should be killed and buried with him, as well as reducing the mourning period for the whole country (which included denial of pleasures like meat and alcohol) to just three days after death.
The kindness and intelligence of Wendi set China heading towards better and better things, the first of those things being Wendi’s son (and next emperor) Han Jingdi.