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Ancient China

Emperors of China

History >> Ancient China

China was ruled by an emperor for over 2000 years. The first emperor was Qin Shi Huang who took the title in 221BC after he united all of China under one rule. The last emperor was Puyi of the Qing Dynasty who was overthrown in 1912 by the Republic of China.

How was the emperor chosen?

When the current emperor died, typically his oldest son became emperor. It didn't always happen this way, however. Sometimes there were disputes over who should become emperor and rivals were killed or wars began.


The Chinese word for "Emperor" is "Huangdi". There were a number of titles that people used to refer to the emperor including "Son of Heaven", "Lord of Ten Thousand Years", and "Holy Highness."

Many emperors also had a name that referred to their reign or era. For example, the Kangxi Emperor or the Hongwu Emperor.

Great Emperors

Here are some of the most famous emperors of China.

Emperor Wu of Han by Unknown
[Public Domain]

Qin Shi Huang (221 BC to 210 BC) - Qin Shi Huang was the first emperor of China and founder of the Qin Dynasty. He united China under one rule for the first time in 221 BC. He began many economic and political reforms throughout China. He also built up the Great Wall of China and was buried with the Terracotta Army.

Emperor Gaozu of Han (202 BC to 195 BC) - Emperor Gaozu started life as a peasant, but helped to lead a revolt that overthrew the Qin Dynasty. He emerged as the leader and established the Han Dynasty. He reduced taxes on the common people and made Confucianism an integral part of the Chinese government.

Emperor Wu of Han (141 BC to 87 BC) - Emperor Wu ruled China for 57 years. During that time he greatly expanded China's borders through a number of military campaigns. He also established a strong central government and promoted the arts including poetry and music.

Emperor Taizong (626 AD to 649 AD) - Emperor Taizong helped his father to establish the Tang Dynasty. Once emperor, Taizong implemented many changes in the economy and government that helped to usher China into a golden age of peace and prosperity. His reign was considered one of the best in Chinese history and was studied by future emperors.

Empress Wu Zetian (690 AD to 705 AD) - Empress Wu was the only woman to rule China and take the title of emperor. She promoted officials based on talent, not on family ties. She helped to expand the empire and reformed areas of the economy and government that caused China to flourish in the future.

Kublai Khan (1260 AD to 1294 AD) - Kublai Khan was the ruler of the Mongolians who conquered China. He established the Yuan Dynasty in 1271 and took the title of Emperor of China. Kublai built up the infrastructure of China and established trade with outside countries. He brought different cultures and peoples into China.

Hongwu Emperor (1368 AD to 1398 AD) - The Hongwu Emperor founded the Ming Dynasty in 1368 AD when he forced the Mongols from China and ended the Yuan Dynasty. He established a powerful Chinese army and distributed land to the peasants. He also established a new code of laws.

Kangxi Emperor (1661 AD to 1722 AD) - The Kangxi Emperor was the longest ruling emperor of China at 61 years. His reign was a time of prosperity for China. He expanded the borders of China and had a dictionary of Chinese characters compiled that later became known as the Kangxi Dictionary.

Interesting facts about Emperors of China

For more information on the civilization of Ancient China:

Timeline of Ancient China
Geography of Ancient China
Silk Road
The Great Wall
Forbidden City
Terracotta Army
The Grand Canal
Battle of Red Cliffs
Opium Wars
Inventions of Ancient China
Glossary and Terms

Major Dynasties
Xia Dynasty
Shang Dynasty
Zhou Dynasty
Han Dynasty
Period of Disunion
Sui Dynasty
Tang Dynasty
Song Dyanasty
Yuan Dynasty
Ming Dynasty
Qing Dynasty

Daily Life in Ancient China
Numbers and Colors
Legend of Silk
Chinese Calendar
Civil Service
Chinese Art
Entertainment and Games

Kangxi Emperor
Genghis Khan
Kublai Khan
Marco Polo
Puyi (The Last Emperor)
Emperor Qin
Emperor Taizong
Sun Tzu
Empress Wu
Zheng He
Emperors of China

Works Cited

History >> Ancient China

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