Upon hearing of the death of the previous emperor, and that he’d been chosen as his successor, Liu He jumped on his horse and rode towards the capital as fast as he could to claim his throne. It is said he rode so fast that his horse died from exhaustion during the journey; which serves as a perfect example of Liu He’s major flaw: Irresponsible enthusiasm.
China was still in the middle of the period of mourning for Emperor Zhaodi’s death, a time which sees the country refraining from pleasures such as meat, wine and sex. Sensing there could be trouble if this attitude continued, those close to Liu He advised him to maybe… calm down just a little bit, to avoid seeming disrespectful to the previous emperor.
But Liu He had just been made Emperor of China and had a million reasons to celebrate! Charging into the capital Liu He announced all his family and friends were now promoted, drank an enormous amount of wine and ordered women from across China be brought to satisfy his… other needs.
As this continued for weeks, Han officials, now able to see their mistake with their own eyes wasted no time in finding a way to get rid of Liu He. Just 27 days after Liu He had become the new emperor, former emperor Zhaodi’s 14-year-old widow (and the palace officials) announced that ‘Sorry Liu He, our mistake. You’re fired.’ stripping him of his former titles and kicking him out of the city, with his life intact, but his ego severely bruised.
As a result of his disgrace, Liu He never became an official emperor, and his time on the throne is mostly scrubbed out of Chinese history.
With another hiccup on the road to replacing Emperor Wudi, maybe third time is the charm, as a mysterious commoner returns to the capital with a big claim about his family tree.
While you’d expect Liu He to not be given a title ending with ‘Emperor’, you may be confused as to why he doesn’t even have ‘Han’ (漢) in his name. After all, he is a member of the same family as all the other Han emperors, right?
The answer is actually quite simple, while the emperors of Han up until now have always been refered to with ‘Han'(漢), their family name has actually always been ‘Liu'(劉).
So, what’s with the whole Han thing? It goes back all the way to the first emperor of Han, ‘Han Gaozu’; who you may remember was born ‘Liu Bang’. As a result of his wartime successes before becoming emperor, he was awarded the title ‘King of Han’, a title that officially followed him to the throne.
So Liu He isn’t an imposter within the Han Dynasty. He’s a genuine, but nevertheless rubbish, entry into the alternatively named ‘Liu Dynasty’.