The “Little” Emperor (Shaodi 少帝) , born as Liu Bian 劉辯, was the son of Emperor Ling 靈 and Empress He 何. Because several of the Emperor's children had died young, Liu Bian was brought up at the house of a Taoist named Shi Zimiao and became known as Lord Shi. His father favoured his younger half-brother Liu Xie 劉協 and had it in mind to grant the succession to him. He never made this official, and after his death Liu Bian ascended the throne at the age of 13.


Liu Bian was born in 176 A.D. as son of Emperor Ling and Lady He. Before the birth of Liu Bian, the Emperor had already lost several of his children. They had all died young. Based on superstitions of that time he believed it would be better for his children to be brought up outside the palace, to escape the evil influences within. Shi Zimiao, a Taoist, was chosen to raise Liu Bian.

Liu Bian had a younger half-brother named Liu Xie, son of the Beauty Wang. Because Lady He was made Empress, following the birth of her son and the Beauty Wang remained a concubine as well as the fact that Liu Bian was the eldest brother, he was considered as the heir to his fathers thrown. Emperor Ling, however, never named him crown prince.

In the spring of the year 189 A.D., all the senior ministers had asked that an Heir-Apparent be established. The Emperor considered Liu Bian to be frivolous and lacking dignity. He had it in mind to grant the succession to Liu Xie, but had not yet made a final decision.[1]

Around this time the Emperor became seriously ill and he entrusted Liu Xie to the care of Regular Palace Attendant Jian Shi 蹇碩.

On the day binchen, 13 May 189 A.D., the Emperor died in the Hall of Excellent Virtue.[2]

Ascending The ThroneEdit

Two days after his fathers death, on 15 May, Liu Bian was established as Emperor and named Shao. He was only 13 years old.[3] The Empress was honoured as Empress-Dowager and held court. An amnesty was proclaimed for the empire and the reigntitle was changed to Guangxi.

The Regular AttendantsEdit

During Emperor Shao's reign the political struggle between He Jin's faction and Zhang Rang's Regular Attendants continued. The eunuch Jian Shuo was executed for plotting to kill He Jin and trying to set Liu Xie upon the throne. Dong Zhong, an ally of Zhang Rang and the Regular Attendants, was stripped of his rank by He Jin and committed suicide.

On 22 September 189 A.D. the General-in-Chief was tricked by the eunuchs and beheaded by Qu Mu. When He Jin's forces heard of the death of their general they stormed the capital city and massacred the eunuchs. Before this, He Jin had summoned Dong Zhuo to aid him in his struggle against the eunuchs. Dong Zhuo was on his way to the capital city of Luoyang when the massacre began. Zhang Rang and his fellows went in and told the Empress-Dowager that the troops of the General-in-Chief had mutinied, burning the palace and attacking the entrance to the Office of the Masters of Writing. Then they forced junior officers of the palace to help them lead the Empress-Dowager, the Little Emperor and Liu Xie, and they fled along the Covered Way to the Northern Palace.[4]

Two days later, Zhang Rang, Duan Gui and others were in difficulty and distress. They took flight through the Gu Gate and took the Emperor and Liu Xie with them to the Yellow River. Chased by Min Gong and Lu Zhi, the eunuchs felt they had no other option but to release their prisoners. They said: "Now we must die. May Your Majesty maintain yourself." then jumped in the river and drowned.

Dong ZhuoEdit

Lu Zhi and Min Gong escorted the Emperor and Prince back to Luoyang, but were intercepted by Dong Zhuo. When Dong Zhuo asked the Emperor what had happened, the young Emperor was so shocked that he spoke incoherently and could not answer Dong Zhuo's questions. Liu Xie, however, described events from first to last and left no detail out. Dong Zhuo was very impressed with the King and from then on, he took it in mind to depose Shao and put Liu Xie upon the throne.

Dong Zhuo took over the court and was feared throughout, no one dared to oppose him. On 28 September 189 A.D. Dong Zhuo summoned all officials for an assembly, where he compelled the Empress-Dowager to issue an edict dismissing the Little Emperor:

"In mourning, the Emperor lacked the feelings of a true son, while his dignity and conduct are unworthy of a ruler. We now depose him to be King of Hongnong and we establish Liu Xie, King of Chenliu, as Emperor."[5]

After this, Yuan Wei, uncle of Yuan Shao, removed the Emperor's seal and ribbon and presented them to the King of Chenliu, who was then made the new Emperor.


On 22 May 190 A.D. Liu Bian committed forced suicide after one last song by Tang Ji.



  • Shao means Little Emperor, a title given to Liu Bian because of his short reign.


  1. HHS 10B, 449-50 (10a), the Biography of the Empress He of Emperor Ling
  2. HHS 8, 357 (15b), the Annals of Emperor Ling.
  3. HHS 8 says that he was seventeen sui at the time of his accession. Sima Guang, however, chose to follow the Hou Han ji of Zhang Fan. Some of the young man's conduct, as reported in passage V below, would indicate immaturity. HHS 10B, 450-51, however, telling of his death in the following year, confirms the age of eighteen, and adds a touching account how he had his concubines drink and dance for him, and sang a song of farewell before drinking a forced draught of poison: passage C and note 5 of Chuping 1. Depending which statement of his age is correct, Liu Bian was born either in 173 or in 176.
  4. HHS 69/59, 2250 (9a-10b), the Biography of He Jin.
  5. HHS 72/62, 2323 (4a), the Biography of Dong Zhuo.