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Notorious Chinese Emperors

Throughout history, China was a land of prosperity, but even back then, there were a number of leaders who abused their power.

Here are some notorious Chinese emperors.


Emperor Sun Hao (242-284)


Sun Hao was the fourth and last emperor of the state of Eastern Wu during the Three Kingdoms period of China. He may have been able to fulfill his promise to “make Wu great again” by reducing taxes and increasing grain payment to the poverty-stricken people, but he fell from grace due to his own paranoia and superstition. He forced his aunt, the wife of his predecessor, to commit suicide and then executed most of his cousins since he became overly obsessed with conquering the state of Jin.


King Jie (1728-1675 BCE)

He is regarded as a tyrant and oppressive ruler who was responsible for the collapse of the Xia dynasty. He is known for his irresponsible behavior as a ruler, including his sexual indulgence and alcohol addiction. He was heavily corrupted by his infatuation with his concubine Mo Xi, who was described as beautiful but non-virtuous.

Both Mo Xi and the emperor even had a lake filled with alcohol where naked men and women would bathe, drink, and have relations. The concubine later commanded those thousands of men in the lake to drink the lake, and as a result, they all drowned.

The king also had very specific requirements for his food and alcohol supply. King Jie wanted his vegetables to come from the northwest, fish from the East Sea, seasonings and sauces from ginger that grew in the south, and sea salt from the north. His alcohol had to be pure and not just regular drinking wine. Anyone who didn’t abide by King Jie’s wishes ended up being decapitated or had people ride on their backs like horses.


Emperor Duzong (1240-1274)

Emperor Duzong chose to abuse his power and wealth, spending most of his time drinking and hooking up with numerous women in the palace when his empire was struggling. The Mongols spent decades trying to conquer the territories of the Song and the entire country of China, but the emperor ignored the problem completely.


Emperor Di Xin (1075-1046)

As the last emperor of the Shang dynasty, he is described as one of the most wicked tyrants in history and is responsible for the destruction of his own kingdom. He was aggressive, outrageous, and extravagant. During his reign, he hosted gatherings with concubines in the palace.

His wife, Empress Su Daji, who shared the same evil traits as him, is known to have loved watching her enemies tied to white-hot metal pillars. Some say that she was fully responsible for influencing her husband to abandon all morals and commit all manner of cruel deeds with her. 

Ultimately, their kingdom was taken away from them by the Zhou armies. But instead of facing his enemies and leading his own army, Di Xin lit his palace on fire and committed suicide.


Prince Sui Yangdi (569-618)

The prince thought that it was wise to invade Vietnam in 602 with a series of ill-conceived attempts to conquer the Goguryeo Kingdom, but it eventually led to China’s bankruptcy. In order to pay for his wars, he increased taxes and military recruitment, which led to his people’s unrest throughout his reign. 

While there were quite a few notorious Chinese emperors, they all eventually met their downfall and paved the way for more of China’s rich imperial history and significant emperors.


Want to know more China history trivia? Get to know the most powerful Chinese concubines here.

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