Let’s go back in time a moment to the reign of Emperor Han Wudi. Towards the end of his reign, in his old age and growing paranoia, he sentenced his own favoured son to death for attempted overthrow and witchcraft. While most of the prince’s family suffered the same fate, the prince’s baby grandson escaped and was let off ‘lightly’… with a lengthy jail sentence.
With no family to care for him, he was raised by his jailer and brought up as a commoner, his nobility long forgotten. That is, until one day he came to the attention of the palace under the rule of Wudi’s son: Zhaodi.
Many years and a few emperors later, the palace found themselves with the problem of finding a replacement for the arrogant and disrespectful Liu He and his 27 day long reign. In comparison to their previous mistake, the cool-headed and intelligent great-grandson of Wudi seemed like a pretty good candidate after all. Going from commoner to noble, then noble to emperor in just a few days, emperor Han Xuandi took the throne in 74BCE, at the age of 17.
But coming from a world without politics and etiquette caused its own problems. Xuandi already had a wife upon taking the throne, which resulted in a whole lot of angry potential empresses and their ambitious mothers being denied a shot at the throne. In ancient Chinese style, it didn’t take long until assassination was the hot new trend, and eventually a hopeful future spouse was successful in killing the now pregnant empress as well as fooling an oblivious Xuandi to marry her soon afterwards.
But it didn’t stop there; the new empress was quick to discover that Xuandi’s existing son had already been chosen as Xuandi’s heir, essentially making the previous murder completely pointless. So, of course… more murder was the only answer. The new empress now began a series of attempts to kill her step-son in an attempt to give her own children a shot at the title of crown prince.
One wife and almost one son later; Xuandi eventually found out about the entire plan, stripped his wife of her status as ’empress’ and exiled her, where she committed suicide.
Xuandi became ill and died at the age of 42 and despite all the attempts, had somehow managed to keep his heirs intact. Having survived the wrath of his step-mom, just how did this constantly ‘almost-murdered’ prince hold up when taking the top job?