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Han Dynasty: How Liu Bang, a Peasant became Emperor & founded Han Dynasty | Mr Art Of War

liu bang, Emperor Gauzu Han Dynasty
Liu Bang, a Peasant became Emperor & founded Han Dynasty

Liu Bang is the only commoner and a peasant that rise to be an Emperor and founded the Han Dynasty.

How a peasant became an Emperor of Han Dynasty?

One of his notable skills is his networking skills the ability to have the manage and hire incredible talents that help him become an Emperor.

Liu Bang, whose family are farmers. How a son of a farmer who has little interest in education and no military skills can became an emperor?

What Liu Bang is known for is his sweet talking, networking skills, and excellent people management skills.

Join me in discovering Liu Bang's strategies to get to the top from a peasant, to a County Sheriff, a rebel leader, and to an Emperor.

Liu Bang was born during the late years of the Warring States period in 256 BCE. His parents are only remembered as "Liu Taigong" which literally means, "Old Sir Liu" and "Liu Ao" which means, "Old Madam Liu".

His family was from Zhongyang in Pei County in the state of Chu. According to legend, Liu Bang was conceived after his mother, Liu Ao encountered a dragon during a rainstorm.

If you noticed, why dragons are used in China as a symbol of power and royalty status, it all started with Liu Bang.

According to records, the young Liu was outspoken, charismatic, also generous, patient and tolerant. He seems to have little interest in education or even work.

Liu Bang frequently ran into trouble with the law; he was dependent on his brother for financial support and his father called him a "little rascal". Most of his time is spend on drinking wine with his gang of friends, and networking. He does not like to work in the farm.

So his close friends at the county office were Xiao He and Cao Shen decided to help him to get a job.

They hid his delinquent behaviour and helped him to be appointed as the local sheriff at Sishui Pavilion, Jiangsu Province.

While working as a Sheriff, Liu Bang forged close relationships with most of the local county bureaucrats and earned a small reputation in the district. The connections he builds wherever he goes will be useful in his future career.

Liu Bang got married

Liu Bang's wife, Lü Zhi, was the daughter of Lü Wen, a wealthy and influential Nobel from Shanfu County. After moving to Pei County, Lü Wen held a feast for his many influential guests.

Xiao He who is Liu Bang's assistant, helped to collect gifts from the guests and declared that a seat inside the hall required gifts worth at least a thousand coins. Those who offer less than a thousand coins will have to sit outside the hall.

Liu Bang attended the feast without any money, and he said "I will make an offer of ten thousand coins!" which Xiao He knows Liu Bang was not serious.

Nonetheless, Lü Wen was impressed and had Liu Bang seated beside him based on appearance alone. Lü, further impressed by Liu in conversation, so much so he offered his daughter in marriage.

Liu Bang and Lü Zhi were married and had two children, his son Liu Ying (who will be the future Emperor Hui) and his daughter the future Princess Yuan of Lu.

The start of the Anti-Qin Dazexiang Uprising

The Qin Dynasty regime was very harsh and made the people very unhappy. After the death of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, there were many peasants took arms to go against the Qin Dynasty.

It all started in 209 BCE. Former Qin army leader Chen Sheng and Wu Guang decided to start the anti-Qin Dazexiang Uprising.

Here it's how it all started...Chen Sheng and Wu Guang were ordered by their military superior to march to Anhui Province but it suddenly rain heavily and it was flooded. They could not reach their post on time.

Following Qin's law, an army that failed to reach their military post on time is punishable by death. So they decided, to fight for their freedom that to die being executed.

They became the center of armed uprisings all over China, and in a few months, their strength congregated to around ten thousand men, composed mostly of discontented peasants. However, on the battlefield, they were no match for the highly professional Qin soldiers.

Liu Bang became a rebel

One of Liu Bang's responsibilities was to escort groups of penal labourers to the construction site of Emperor Shi Huang's mausoleum at Mount Li.

During one of his journeys, some prisoners escaped;

And under Qin law, allowing prisoners to escape was punishable by death.

Rather than face justice, Liu freed the remaining prisoners and fled.

Liu was joined by some of the grateful ex-prisoners, and he became their leader. They took over an abandoned stronghold on Mount Mangdang

Liu secretly remained in contact with some loyal friends, including Xiao He and Cao Shen in Pei County.

Liu became "Duke of Pei"

The magistrate of Pei County considered joining the rebellion, and – on the advice of Xiao He and Cao Shen – invited Liu's group to the county to support him; the invitation was transmitted by Fan Kuai, Liu Bang's brother-in-law. However, the magistrate changed his mind and rescinded the offer; he also ordered Xiao and Cao to be killed lest they open the gates for Liu Bang, but they escaped and joined Liu. On Xiao's advice, Liu Bang secured the aid of commoners from the county beside Pei through written appeals delivered by arrows fired across the border. Peasants responded by killing the Pei County magistrate and welcoming Liu's return. Liu Bang became known as the self-styled "Duke of Pei" (沛公).

In 208 BC, the Qin Empire faced rebellions that sought to restore the states conquered during the wars of unification. In Wu County, the uprising of Xiang Liang – a commoner and son of a Chu general – installed Xiong Xin as "King Huai II" (楚後懷王) of Chu.

Liu Bang joined the Xiang Liang

Liu Bang decided to join forces with Xiang Liang's uprising.

Xiang Liang has been winning a few battles without much resistance, but he has been warned not to be overconfident and has been advised to slow down. Unfortunately, the rebel leader Xiang Liang was killed at the Battle of Dingtao in 208 BCE.

King Huai II who was installed by Xiang Liang as the King of Chu took over the lead to rebel against the Qin Dynasty. King Huai was the grandson of the former King Huai of Chu.

He then sent Xiang Yu who was Xiang Liang's nephew and minister Song Yi to lead an army to reinforce the Zhao state against the attacking Qin.

Liu Bang was then made "Marquis of Wu'an" (武安侯) and ordered to lead an army against Guanzhong in the Qin heartland.

King Huai II promised to grant rulership of Guanzhong as "King of Guanzhong" to whoever entered the region first.

The Fall of the Qin Dynasty 

In 206 BCE Liu Bang won the race to Guanzhong over rebel leader Xiang Yu and arrived outside Xianyang, the Qin capital.

The last Qin ruler, Ziying, surrendered the city without resistance.

Liu Bang's Guanzhong occupation policies were informed by his brother-in-law Fan Kuai – who is now his bodyguard – and Zhang Liang – his strategist. Troops were forbidden from mistreating the population and looting.

The harsh Qin laws were abolished; murder, robbery and burglary remained subject to strict punishments. Order was quickly restored in the city, and Liu Bang won the respect of the Guanzhong population.

Xiao He who is his old-time best friend ordered the collection of all legal documents in the Qin Palace and government facilities for preservation.

Liu Bang became the King of Han

However, when Xiang Yu eventually arrived in the Guanzhong region, Liu Bang was forced to give up control of the region to rebel leader Xiang Yu despite an earlier agreement between them that whoever occupied Guanzhong first would be the "King of Guanzhong".

After Xiang Yu took control of Xianyang which was the capital of the former Qin Dynasty, he allowed his troops to pillage and plunder the city and ordered the burning of the Epang Palace.

Xiang Yu's advisor Fan Zing advised Xiang Yu to kill Liu Bang because he will be a big potential threat in the future.

Based on the advice, Xiang Yu attempted to assassinate Liu Bang at the Feast at Swan Goose Gate but Liu Bang survived and escaped due to Xiang Yu's indecisiveness.

Later, Xiang Yu forced Liu Bang to relocate from Guanzhong. He was allocated to the remote and underdeveloped Bashu region and became King of Han.

Xiang Yu proclaimed himself the "Hegemon-King of Western Chu"

He then divided the former Qin Empire into numerous vassal states, each ruled by either a rebel leader or a surrendered Qin general.

The states were collectively known as the Eighteen Kingdoms, with the Kingdom of Chu as the nominal sovereign power over the other kingdoms.

Xiang Yu also honoured King Huai II with a higher title, "Emperor Yi of Chu". Shortly after that, he exiled the figurehead emperor to Chen County, and secretly ordered Ying Bu, the King of Jiujiang, to intercept and assassinate Emperor Yi along the way.

The Chu - Han Contention 

From 206 to 202 BC, Liu Bang engaged Xiang Yu in a power struggle. This event is historically known as the Chu–Han contention – for supremacy over China, while simultaneously attacking and taking control of the other kingdoms.

It is not surprising that this arrangement of dividing China into eighteen different states led to an immediate civil war.

The conflict between Liu Bang and Xiang Yu was the most significant, but at the same time, several other kings went to war with each other.

Conquest of the Three Qins

Liu Bang's army were having a hard time adapting to the mountainous Bashu lands.

There were more and more deserters on a daily basis.

Food supply was also an issue in Bashu.

Liu Bang was very worried about the situation.

During the uncertainty, Liu Bang's trusted friend and Prime Minister Xiao He introduced Han Xin. Han Xin was a low-ranking officer that was recently recruited into Liu Bang's army.

Prime Minister Xiao He was impressed with his work and art of war knowledge, and who laid out his strategic plan to conquer the states.

Impressed and convinced, Liu Bang formally assigned Han Xin as the supreme commander of his army.

In this civil war, Liu Bang's two main commanding generals are Han Xin and Peng Yue.

The first conquest is to take control of the three Qins. These were the nearest states and it is a good base for food supplies.

Liu Bang created a diversion by sending his men to pretend trying to repair the previously burnt gallery roads, drawing away the attention of the Three Qins.

At the same time, Han Xin used the distraction to invade Guanzhong unexpectedly via Chencang and quickly defeated the state leader Zhang Han in a surprise attack.

Han Xin's art of war tactics are now part of the 36 Military Stratagems, which is today known as


"Advance to Chencang by Hidden Path"

It is deliberately exposing your whereabouts to trick the enemy into laying an ambush for you. Then return secretly in another direction to spring an attack. By catching the enemy off guard, victory is certain"


Following that, the respective state leader Sima Xin and Dong Yi both surrendered to Liu Bang, and by August or September 205 BCE, the Three Qins became part of Liu Bang's Kingdom of Han.

Defeat at Pengcheng

With Xiang Yu occupied to the east, Liu Bang gathered a force of 560,000 troops from his subordinate lands and marched east to attack Xiang Yu the Hegamon - King of Western Chu in his territory, Western Chu.

En route, he encountered Peng Yue, who joined his cause upon a promise of a fiefdom in Wei. As opposed to combining forces, Liu Bang sent Peng Yue's 30,000 troops to pacify the surrounding area.

Liu Bang's army entered Xiang Yu's capital of Pengcheng apparently unopposed, looting its valuables and taking its women, getting drunk and at the same time began to lack discipline.

Hearing of the fall of Pengcheng, Xiang Yu ordered the bulk of his forces to maintain the attack on Qi, while he personally led 30,000 crack troops to retake Pengcheng.

He encamped about ten miles from a city in present-day Xiao County, Anhui, and launched an attack on Pengcheng at dawn, and by noon had routed the unprepared Han army, driving them into the nearby Gu and Si Rivers, where over 100,000 men drowned or were killed by Chu soldiers.

The remaining Liu Bang's troops fled south to high ground, but were cornered by Xiang Yu's forces by the Sui River, where another 100,000 of Liu Bang’s soldiers drowned, and their corpses damming up the river.

Liu Bang manage to escape the city with a handful of mounted bodyguards.

At the same time, Xiang Yu's troops were on his tail. Liu Bang rushed to nearby Pei County to collect his family.

At the same time Xiang Yu also dispatched troops to Pei County in an attempt to kidnap Liu Bang's family.

His family had all fled, but Liu Bang encountered on the road his eldest daughter and second eldest son Liu Ying.

The Xiang Yu's army forced a local into leading them to capture two of Liu Bang's family as hostages: his father Liu Taigong and Liu Bang's wife Lü Zhi.

Battle of Jingsuo

After the devastating defeat at Pengcheng, Liu Bang's army strength have decreased drastically.

Many of the kings who had surrendered to Liu Bang earlier had also defected to Xiang Yu's side. At the same time the Qi and Zhao kingdom, which were previously at war with Chu, also requested to make peace with Chu.

Upon reaching to Xiayi which was defended by Fan Kuai, his brother-in-law, Liu Bang reorganised his troops for a retreat. To build up his army strength, Liu Bang went to city of Yu. He sent an envoy to meet Ying Bu who is the King of Jiujiang to appeal for support.

Ying Bu, who held a grudge over Xiang Yu's unfair enfeoffment over the Eighteen Kingdoms, agreed to join Liu Bang and rebelled against Western Chu.

Once Xiang Yu heard about it he responded by sending his general, Long Ju to attack Liu Bang's new ally, Ying Bu.

In 205 BCE, Ying Bu was unable to defeat General Long Ju so he gave up on the city of Jiujiang and went to join Liu Bang.

Liu Bang reorganised his army, which now included reinforcements from Guanzhong (sent by Xiao He) and Han Xin's troops, and attacked Chu at Jing County and Suoting. He emerged victorious and drove Xiang Yu's forces east of Xingyang.

Battle of Chenggao and Treaty of Hong Canal

In 204 BCE, the Han army was running short of supplies. Liu Bang decided to negotiate an armistice with Xiang Yu and agree to let go of the land, east of Xingyang to Western Chu.

Xiang Yu wanted to accept Liu Bang's offer, but Xiang Yu's advisor Fan Zeng advised him to reject it and use the opportunity to destroy Liu Bang.

Xiang Yu changed his mind and continues his attack on Xingyang and besieged Liu Bang's forces inside the city.

Liu Bang then took his advisor Chen Ping's suggestion. That to bribe Xiang Yu's men with 40,000 catties of gold, that is 24000kg of gold for them to spread rumours that Fan Zeng had the intention of betraying Xiang Yu. Xiang Yu fell for the bluff and dismissed Fan Zeng. And Fan Zeng went home and on the way home he passed away.

Later that year, while Xiang Yu was busy suppressing the rebellion in the Qi kingdom, Liu Bang was advised by another of his advisor Li Yiji to take this opportunity to attack Western Chu.

Han forces conquered Chenggao and defeated the Chu army led by Cao Jiu near the Si River. Liu Bang's forces advanced further till they reached Guangwu. Chu forces was led by Zhongli Mo were trapped and defeated by the Han army at the east of Xingyang.

Following Han Xin's victory in the Battle of Wei River, the Chu army's morale fell and it ran short of supplies months later.

Xiang Yu had no choice but to request to make peace with Liu Bang and released Liu's family members, who were held hostage by him.

Chu and Han agreed to a ceasefire at the Treaty of Hong Canal, which divided China into east and west under their respective territories.

Battle of Gaixia

This is the final "art of war" battle. In 203 BC, while Xiang Yu was retreating eastward, Liu Bang, took the advice of his advisors Zhang Liang and Chen Ping to break the Treaty of Hong Canal and ordered an attack on Western Chu.

Next Liu Pang requested assistance from his commanding generals, Han Xin and Peng Yue to attack Xiang Yu simultaneously from three directions.

However, Han Xin and Peng Yue did not engage their troops and Liu Bang was defeated by Xiang Yu at Guling, and was forced to retreat.

At the same time, he sent messengers to meet Han Xin and Peng Yue again and promised to give them land and titles if they joined him in attacking Xiang Yu, and they finally agreed.

Three months later in 202 BC, Han forces led by Liu Bang, Han Xin and Peng Yue attacked Western Chu from three directions.

They surrounded Xiang Yu and his army and wait on until they run low on supplies.

To put on pressure, Han Xin ordered his troops to sing Chu folk songs to create a false impression that the

Chu state which is Xiang Yu's home had fallen to Han forces. The Chu army lose hope and many soldiers deserted.

Out of desperation, Xiang Yu tried to break out of the siege, and after fighting out, he was left with only 28 men when he reached the northern bank of the Wu River.

Xiang Yu made a last stand and managed to slay several hundred Han soldiers before giving up and eventually committing suicide.

The Beginning of the Han Dynasty

In 202 BC, Liu Bang was enthroned as the emperor. He named his dynasty "Han", and was historically known as "Emperor Gaozu" (or "Emperor Gao").

He then declared the capital of the Han Dynasty was Luoyang, but later with the advice from Zhang Liang, it was at Chang'an. Chang'an stands for "Eternal Peace" and was previously Xianyang which was the former capital of the Qin Dynasty.

Emperor instated his official spouse Lü Zhi as the empress and their son Liu Ying as the crown prince. The following year, Emperor Gaozu followed up by rewarding his subjects who had contributed to the founding of the Han Empire.

The reward process took a year because they could not agree on the distribution of the rewards.

Emperor Gaozu believes his old friends and comrades which are Xiao He and Cao Shen contribute the greatest, so they receive the most rewards.

He awarded Xiao He the title "Marquis of Zan" and gave him the largest amount of food stores. And Cao Shen was rewarded accordingly.

Some of the others expressed objections because they thought that Xiao was not directly involved in battle so his contributions should not be considered the greatest.

Emperor Gaozu's Reign

Emperor Gaozu ruled the Han Dynasty from 202 to 195 BCE.

Which is a total of 7 years. Emperor Gaozu set the foundation of the dynasty

Reducing taxes and corvée

Emperor Gaozu disbanded his armies and allowed the soldiers to return home. He gave an order stating that the people who remained in Guanzhong were exempted from taxes and corvée for 12 years while those who returned to their respective native territories were exempted for six years and that the central government would provide for them for a year.

He also granted freedom to those who had sold themselves into slavery to avoid hunger during the wars.

In his final year, 195 BCE, the emperor issued two orders: the first is to officialise the lowering of taxes and corvée;

the second was to set the amount of tribute to be paid by the vassal kings to the imperial court in the 10th month of every year. The land tax on agricultural production was reduced to a rate of 1/15 of crop yield. He also privatised the coinage.

Emphasis on Confucianism

It is known Emperor Gaozu does not like reading and hates Confucianism.

After becoming the emperor, he still held the same attitudes towards Confucianism as he did before until he encountered the scholar Lu Jia.

It was said that Emperor Gaozu said to the Confucian scholar Lu Jia,

"I do all my conquering from the back of my horse, what use have I for the documents and odes?"

Lu Jia replied, "Once my lord is done with the conquering, does he intend to do all his ruling from the back of his horse?"

He wrote a 12-volume book called Xinyu, which shows the benefits of governing by moral virtue as opposed to using harsh and punitive laws like the Qin dynasty).

Lu Jia read each volume to the emperor after he finished writing it. The emperor was deeply impressed.

Under Emperor Gaozu's reign, Confucianism flourished and gradually replaced Legalism as the state ideology.

Confucian scholars, including Lu Jia, were recruited to serve in the government.

Emperor Gaozu also reformed the legal system by relaxing some laws inherited from the Qin Dynasty and reducing the severity of certain penalties.

The Death of Emperor Gaozu 

From January to February 195 BCE, after suppressing a rebellion by Ying Bu, he passed by Shandong, the birthplace of Confucius, and personally prepared for a ceremony to pay respect to the philosopher.

It was during that time, Emperor Gaozu was wounded by a stray arrow during the campaign against Ying Bu. He became seriously ill and remained in his inner chambers for a long period of time

He died in Changle Palace in Chang'an, on 1 June 195 BC and was succeeded by Liu Ying, who became historically known as Emperor Hui.

The Legacy of Emperor Gaozu and Han Dynasty

Much of Chinese culture, education and arts was established during the Han dynasty and it is sometimes called the Golden Age of Ancient China.

It was an era of peace and prosperity and allowed China to expand to a major world power.

What we can learn from Liu Bang or Emperor Gaozu is that though he lacked an education and military skills, he has the ability to attract, hire and manage military strategists, generals, and advisors to help him the Han Dynasty.

He is known to be a great ancient Chinese leader that rise from a peasant to be an Emperor.


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