Wudi ruled for a very long time. Infact, at the time, Wudi was the longest ruling emperor in official Chinese history, being in power for 54 years (a record that wouldn’t be broken until 1,800 years after his death). Taking the throne as a teenager he began to shake up the system almost immediately. Conflicts were brewing in far away parts of China, but the enthusiastic Wudi was stopped from making military orders by his grandmother, who had been trusted with a tiger statue that was traditionally needed for any military action to be approved.
In a sign of things to come, Wudi ordered military action regardless. When the first person denied his tigerless orders, he simply had them killed. The intimidation tactic worked very nicely, and just like that, a centuries old military safe-guard was ignored.
Wudi’s quest for Chinese expansion begun with great success and China’s landmass doubled; opening trade routes to the western world and flooding China with foreign luxuries. It is said that during this time China was so wealthy that in the bursting treasury, the string used to hold the gold together began to rot.
The expansion also resulted in a rare historical cross-over, as Chinese forces found themselves so far west that they encountered traces of the Roman Empire and even fought against a handful of Roman centurions.
However, adventures like this don’t come cheap. Over time the wealth China had acquired slowly began to vanish. But not everyone was totally broke, newly raised taxes had to go somewhere… so there was still one person who had more money than they knew what to do with: Wudi.
As he grew older Wudi became superstitious and like Qin Shi Huang Di before him, became obsessed with living forever. In return to wizards offering a solution to the problem Wudi would end up giving away payments including: 1,000 slaves, 4,500kg of gold and even his own daughter’s hand in marriage.
With Wudi now in his 60s, it had given everyone in the palace plenty of time to argue who should replace him, as well as time to come up with nasty plans to make sure their pick got the throne. Maybe it was because of this, or perhaps his belief he would live forever, Wudi only managed to decide on his heir two days before eventually dying at age 69.
The last minute choice, an eight year old boy, would have a lot to live up to… and a lot of enemies. Good luck, Han Zhaodi.
Han Wudi is the first emperor to feature the character ‘Wu’ (武) in his title. In English it means ‘valiant’ ‘fierce’ or ‘warlike’ and is a name given to many emperors in China’s history, much like how monarchs in English are given appropriate nicknames like ‘The Great’ or ‘The Conqueror’.
However, unlike their English versions, these nicknames aren’t combined with a unique name like ‘Alexander’ and instead stand completely alone. So make sure to remember the correct dynasty for each… or the stream of identically named emperors will start to get confusing.