The Han dynasty in 195 BC and its vassal kingdoms

After Liu Bang defeated Xiang Yu and proclaimed himself emperor of the Han dynasty, he followed the practice of Xiang Yu and enfeoffed many generals, noblemen, and imperial relatives as kings (Chinese: ; pinyin: wáng), the same title borne by the sovereigns of the Shang and Zhou dynasties and by the rulers of the Warring States. Each king had his own semi-autonomous kingdom. This was a departure from the policy of the Qin dynasty, which divided China into commanderies governed by non-hereditary governors.

The kings were divided into two groups: yìxìng wáng, literally "kings of different surnames", and tóngxìng wáng, literally "kings of the same surname", i.e., the imperial surname Liu. All of the initial kings were yixing wang, with many tongxing wang being created on former territories of removed yixing wang. The yixing wang represented an obvious threat to the Han empire, and Liu Bang and his successors suppressed them as quickly as was practical: they had disappeared by 157 BC. The tongxing wang were originally left to their own devices but, after the Rebellion of the Seven States in 154 BC, their independence was curtailed. Eventually they lost most of their autonomy. For this reason, the title is also translated as "prince" when referring to later kings of the dynasty, to reflect both their link to the ruling house and the vestigial nature of the former vassal kingdoms.

Yixing Kingdoms

The kings from other dynasties (Chinese: ; pinyin: yìxìng wáng) were mostly remnants of the rebellion against the Qin dynasty. Following the Dazexiang Uprising, many noblemen rose in rebellion. Heirs, pretenders, and warlords called themselves "kings" and claimed sovereignty as continuations of the six states previously suppressed by Qin. Among these, Chu was the most powerful. However, its rightful ruler Huai II was assassinated on the orders of the warlord Xiang Yu and the 18 Kingdoms Xiang had formed rose in rebellion against him. Liu Bang, king of Han, ultimately defeated Chu and established the new Han dynasty. The kings who had sided with him were then permitted to maintain their titles and lands. A few other kingdoms were also formed by Liu Bang for generals and favorites.

Although nominally under the rule of the Han, these kings were de facto independent and held considerable power within their territories, which could span several prefectures. As these kingdoms proved unruly, Liu Bang gradually subdued them through conspiracies, wars, and political maneuvering. Many were thus deposed and their kingdoms annexed by Han. As he was dying, the emperor ordered his ministers to swear an oath that only members of the royal house of Liu would be created as kings thenceforth. This injunction was violated by his widow, Empress Dowager Lü, who established several kingdoms with her own relatives as kings. They were destroyed after her death. The last king of the Western Han was Wu Zhu, King Jing of Changsha, who died without an heir in 157 BC. After that, there were no kings outside the royal clan until the end of the Han dynasty, when Cao Cao styled himself King of Wei in AD 216.

Original kingdoms

Established by Liu Bang

Established by the Empress Dowager Lü

Tongxing Kingdoms

The "kings of the same surname" (Chinese: ; pinyin: tóngxìng wáng) were members of the House of Liu, sons, brothers, or descendants of the Han emperors. The Han emperors initially felt that creating these kingdoms would strengthen the house, particularly against the other kings. However, these princes became even more dangerous, as they were eligible to succeed the throne.

Several rebellions were attempted by these powerful princes during the reigns of the emperors Jing and Wu. After the Rebellion of the Seven Princes, Emperor Wu reformed the principalities, reducing them to single prefectures and granting superior authority to prime ministers appointed by the central government. The institution continued until the very end of the dynasty, however.

Established by Liu Bang

Established by Emperor Wen

Established by Emperor Jing

Established by Emperor Wu

Established by Emperor Xuan

Established by Emperor Yuan

Established by Emperor Cheng

Established by Emperor Ai

Established by Emperor Ping

Crown Prince

Main article: Taizi

The Crown Prince in the Han dynasty was the heir apparent to the throne. The Crown Prince was normally the eldest son of the Emperor and the Empress, but not always. The power to nominate the Crown Prince lay with the throne, although the Emperor generally had to obtain the advice or consent of his high ministers. The Crown Prince would not be given a princedom but instead lived with the Emperor in the capital. When a prince became heir apparent, his principality merged with the realm and became extinct. The Crown Prince could be dismissed and this did indeed happen several times in the Han dynasty.

List of Crown Princes

See also