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(202 - 157 BC) China

Han Wen-ti

Han emperor


Han Wen-ti (also spelled Hàn Wén Dì), after eliminating the powerful Lü clan, was deliberately chosen as the emperor, since his mother, Consort Bo, had no powerful relatives. His reign brought a much needed political stability that laid the groundwork for prosperity under Emperor Wu.

According to historians, Emperor Wen trusted and consulted with Confucian-educated ministers on state affairs; under the influence of his Daoist wife, Empress Dou, the emperor also sought to avoid wasteful expenditures.

Legends noted that the tax rates were at a ratio of "1 out of 30" and "1 out of 60", corresponding to 0.03 and 0.016 percent, respectively. Warehouses were so full of grain, that some of it was left to decay.

In a move of lasting importance in 165 BC, Emperor Wen introduced recruitment to the civil service through examinations. Previously, potential officials never sat for any sort of academic examinations. Their names were sent by local officials to the central government based on reputations and abilities, which were sometimes judged subjectively.

According to a legend, Han Wen-ti was related to the Lantern Festival. The Emperor Han Wen-ti suppressed a riot threatening his throne position on the 15th of the first month of the lunar calendar year, so he went out of his palace to enjoy himself with the people at the night of this day each year, and he named this day the Lantern Festival.


His known lovers were Deng Tong, Zhao Tan, Beigong Bozi.

Once emperor Wen dreamed that he was trying to climb to Heaven but could not seem to make his way up. Just then a yellow-capped boatman boosted him from behind, and was able to reach heaven. When the emperor turned around to look at the man, he noticed that the seam of the boatman's robe was split in the back just below the sash.

After the emperor awoke, he went to the Terrace of Lapping Water, and began to search furtively for the man he saw in his dream. There was Deng Tong, who happened to have a tear in the back of his robe exactly like that of the man in the dream.

The emperor summoned him and asked his name, and when he learned that the man's family name was Dend (= ascend) and his personal name was Tong (= reach), the emperor was overjoyed. From this time on, the emperor bestoved ever-increasing favor and honor upon Deng. ... The emperor from time to time even paid visits to Deng Tong's home to amuse himself there.


Source: Bret Hinsch, Passions of the Cut Sleeve, University of California Press, 1992

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