Marquis of Haihun

Liu He
Emperor of Han
Reign 18 July – 14 August 74 BC
Predecessor Emperor Zhao
Successor Emperor Xuan
King of Changyi
Reign 88–74 BC
Predecessor Liu Bo
Marquis of Haihun
Reign 63–59 BC
Born c. 92 BC
Died 59 BC (aged 33)
Issue Liu Daizong
Full name
Liu He 劉賀
Era dates
Yuanping (元平)
Posthumous name
House Han dynasty
Father Liu Bo, Prince Ai of Changyi

Liu He (Chinese: 劉賀; pinyin: Liú Hè; died 59 BC) was an emperor of the Chinese Han dynasty with the era name Yuanping (Chinese: 元平; pinyin: Yuánpíng). Originally King (Prince) of Changyi (Chinese: 昌邑王; pinyin: Chāngyì Wáng), he was installed by the powerful minister Huo Guang as emperor in 74 BC, but deposed only 27 days later, and omitted from the official list of emperors. He lost his original kingdom of Changyi and was demoted to the rank of marquis. He was given the new fief of Haihun in modern Jiangxi Province, and became commonly known as the Marquis of Haihun (Chinese: 海昏侯).

Background and career as King of Changyi

It is not known when Liu He was born, though it is often thought to have been in or around 92 BC. His father, Liu Bo (劉髆), King Ai (i.e., the lamented) of Changyi died in 86 BC, and he inherited his father's kingdom. (Historical records imply that he was at youngest a teenager at that time.) Liu Bo was a son of Emperor Wu of Han, whose death in 87 BC predated Liu Bo's by only one year.

(Note: the below description of Liu He's life as King of Changyi are based on description of him written after he was deposed, and may very well be biased or fabricated.)

When Emperor Wu died, Liu He was supposed to be in a period of mourning, but he continued to hunt incessantly. The mayor of the kingdom's capital, Wang Ji (王吉) offered honest criticism of him when this happened, and urged him to be more studious and humble. Liu He appreciated Wang's report and rewarded him, but did not change his ways. Similarly, when Liu He associated with people with ill reputation who engaged in vulgarity and engaged in wasteful spending, he was begged by the commander of his guards, Gong Sui (龔遂) to change his ways, and Liu He agreed—but soon after chased away the solemn guards that Gong had recommended and brought his prior companions back, and Gong could do nothing about it.

Accession to the throne

When Prince He's uncle Emperor Zhao died in 74 BC without a son, the regent Huo Guang rejected Liu Xu (劉胥), the Prince of Guangling and the only surviving son of Emperor Wu, from succession, because Emperor Wu himself did not favor Prince Xu, who was known for being compulsive in his actions. He therefore turned to Prince He, as Emperor Wu's grandson. Prince He was ecstatic, and immediately departed from his capital Shanyang (山陽, in modern Jining, Shandong) and headed for the imperial capital Chang'an, at such a high speed that the horses of his guards fell dead from exhaustion. Wang Ji urged him from racing at such speed, reasoning that it was inappropriate during a time of mourning, but Prince He brushed aside the suggestion. On the way, he ordered local governments to offer him a special kind of chicken (known for their ability to crow for a long time) and women. (During periods of mourning, he would have been required to abstain from sexual relations.) When Gong confronted him about it, he blamed it on the director of his slaves, who was then executed.

When Prince He arrived at the capital, he first stayed at the Changyi mission to the capital. He then attended a formal session of mourning for Emperor Zhao, before accepting the throne.

Brief reign as emperor

Once he became emperor, Prince He immediately began to give unlimited promotions to his subordinates from Changyi. He also failed to observe the period of mourning properly, but rather feasted day and night and went out on tours. Gong became concerned, but was unable to get Prince He to change.

Prince He's behavior as emperor surprised and disappointed Huo, who pondered his options. At the suggestion of the agricultural minister Tian Yannian (田延年), he began to consider deposing the new emperor, and he also consulted General Zhang Anshi (張安世) and Prime Minister Yang Chang (楊敞), who agreed to the plan.

Removal from the throne

Just 27 days into the new emperor's reign, Huo and the other officials took action. They summoned a meeting of high level officials and announced the plan to depose the emperor, forcing those other officials to go along at the pain of death. They then, in group, went to Empress Dowager Shangguan's palace to report to her Prince He's offenses. She agreed with their plan, and immediately ordered that Prince He's Changyi subordinates be immediately barred from the palace, and those subordinates (some 200) were then arrested by Zhang. She then summoned Prince He, who still did not know what was going to happen. He only knew something was wrong when he saw Empress Dowager Shangguan seated on her throne and wearing a formal dress made of jewels, and the officials lined up next to her.

Huo and the top officials then offered their articles of impeachment against Prince He, and these articles were read out loud to the empress dowager. Empress Dowager Shangguan verbally rebuked Prince He. The articles of impeachment listed these as the main offences (a total of 1127 misconducts) that Prince He committed during his 27-day reign as an emperor:

Empress Dowager Shangguan approved the articles of impeachment and ordered Prince He deposed. He was then transported under heavy guard back to the Changyi mission. Both Prince He and Huo offered personal apologies to each other.

Post-reign life

As part of the articles of impeachment, the officials asked that Empress Dowager Shangguan exile Prince He somewhere remote. However, she did not do so, but rather returned him to Changyi without any titles, although he was given a small fief of 2,000 families who would pay tribute to him. His four sisters were also awarded smaller fiefs of 1,000 families respectively.

Prince He's Changyi subordinates were accused of failing to keep his behavior in check and were almost all executed. Wang and Gong were spared because of their prior advice to him, but were ordered to hard labor. The only other official also spared was Prince He's teacher Wang Shi (王式), who successfully argued that he tried to use his teachings of poems to show Prince He what was proper and what was improper. Some historians argued that the reason why the Changyi officials were dealt with so harshly was that Huo was convinced that they were plotting with Prince He to have him killed, but there is no conclusive evidence of either such a plot or that the harsh treatment was as the result of such a plot or suspected plot.

Huo later settled on Liu Bingyi (劉病已), the commoner grandson of the former Crown Prince Liu Ju, an uncle of Prince He, as the new emperor, and he ascended to the throne 27 days later as Emperor Xuan. For years, although Prince He was powerless and without titles, Emperor Xuan was suspicious of him, but a report by Zhang Chang (張敞), the governor of the Commandery of Shanyang, in 64 BC, in which Zhang downplayed Prince He's level of intelligence, alleviated those concerns. In 63 BC, therefore, Emperor Xuan created Prince He the Marquess of Haihun—a county located in modern Jiangxi. (Although one can also speculate that in fact Emperor Xuan was concerned about Prince He, and therefore chose to send him far away from his former principality.) The former emperor died in 59 BC as a marquess. His son Liu Daizong (劉代宗) was not initially allowed to inherit his title, but ultimately was allowed to during the reign of Emperor Yuan.


Haihunhou tomb in Jiangxi, excavated 2011-2016 was identified as Liu He's tomb.



Prince of Changyi
Died: 59 BC
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Emperor Zhao of Han
Emperor of China
Western Han
74 BC
with Huo Guang (74 BC)
Succeeded by
Emperor Xuan of Han
Chinese royalty
Preceded by
Liu Bo
Prince of Changyi
88–74 BC
Title abolished
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