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Chinese History - Rulers and titles

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Titles and names of rulers and emperors

Private, posthumous, temple name and reign motto

Chinese rulers were not named and counted by their personal name like in Europe (for instance, William I. the Conqueror), but with the honorific title "the Upper" (shang 上) or the epithet "Down of the stairs to the throne" (in order to avoid a direct addressing to the ruler; bixia 陛下).
After death, they were called with a posthumous name (shi 謚), that was mostly given in accordance to the circumstances during their lifetime (like "the Martial Emperor" or "the Lamentable King"). There are certain guidelines for the appointment of such titles. For the ceremony of ancestal veneration that is in use within the whole population of China and was accordingly exerted by the rulers, the deceased emperor was given a honorific title, his temple name (miaohao 廟號).
This custom means that a ruling person can be addressed with three names: 1) the "real" personal name, 2) the posthumous name, and 3) the temple name. Lists and tables of rulers are therefore somewhat confusing. While the rulers and feudal lords of the Zhou Dynasty and the rulers of Han, Three Kingdoms, Jin, the period of division in north and south, and the Sui Dynasty are - in most cases - listed with their posthumous name (Wudi 武帝 "Martial Emperor", Huidi 惠帝 "Benevolent Emperor", Pingdi 平帝 "Appeasing Emperor", Xiaowendi 孝文帝 "Filial-Cultured Emperor", Huangong 桓公 "Effector Duke", Xuangong 宣公 "Propagator Duke", etc.), the rulers the Tang Dynasty on are listed with their temple name (Gaozong 高宗 "High Ancestor", Taizong 太宗 "Great Ancestor", Shizong 世宗 "Ancestor of the Generations", Gaozu 高祖 "High Forefather", Taizu 太祖 "Great Forefather", Shizu 世祖 "Forefather of the Generations", etc.). Some rulers do not have a temple name or posthumous title (deposed, minors, and last rulers), and the rulers of the Sixteen Kingdoms and the Ten States are listed with their personal name although they had a temple name and posthumous title. Talking of an emperor it is important not only to call him "Taizu" or "Gaozu" but also adding the dynasty because every dynasty has an ancestor of this name, hence say "Tang Taizong" 唐太宗, "Song Taizong" 宋太宗, "Song Gaozong" 宋高宗, "Qing Gaozong" 清高宗.
The pre-Zhou rulers had other systems to address their ancestors. The Shang kings simply adresses their forefathers with a date according to the Ten Celestial Stems, like Waibing 外丙 "Outer III", Zhongren 中壬 "Middle IX", Taijia 太甲 "Great I", Woding 沃丁 "Fertile IV", Taigeng 太庚 "Great VII" etc. These numbers are not a counting of rulers with the same name, like Henry I, Henry II, but are given according to the date of a special event.
Emperor Han Wudi 漢武帝 (r. 140-87 BC) on rulers chose a reign motto (nianhao 年號) that could be changed every year - sometimes every few months - or only one or twice a reign. Ming and Qing emperors only chose one reign motto and are generally known with this reign motto (Hongwu 洪武, Yongle 永樂, Kangxi 康熙, Qianlong 乾隆) and not with their temple name (Ming Taizu 明太祖, Ming Chengzu 明成祖, Qing Shengzu 清聖祖, Qing Gaozong 清高宗).
Personal namePosthumous titleTemple nameReign motto
Zhu Yuanzhang 朱元璋Ming Gaodi 明高帝 "High Emperor of Ming"Ming Taizu 明太祖 "Great Forefather of the Ming"Hongwu 洪武 "Inundating martiality"

Private persons

Even private persons in China traditionally have different names (xingming 姓名). The clan or family name is called shi (e.g. Huang shi 黃氏, "Mister Huang"; better "Master", "Sir"). The surname is xing 姓 - surprisingly written with the radical "wife", probably a reminiscence of the old matrilinear clan organisation. In modern Chinese, the personal name of a person is called mingzi 名字, a combination of zi 字 (name given by birth) and ming 名 (how people call him). Moreover, many persons have epithets or styles (hao 號). For example, the Song Dynasty calligrapher Huang Tingjian 黃庭堅 has the family name Huang 黃, he is usually called Tingjian 庭堅 but was given the name Luzhi 魯直 by birth. He has the epithets Fu Weng 涪翁 ""Old Man Fu/Sichuan and Shangu Daoren 山谷道人 "Hermit the Mountain Valleys". Some people are called with their office (Du Gongbu 杜工部 "Du Minister of Official Works", i.e. the poet Du Fu 杜甫), some with their homeplace (Wei Suzhou 韋蘇州 "Wei Suzhou", i.e. the writer Wei Yingwu 韋應物), and some with a honorific feudal title (Sima Wengong 司馬溫公 "Sima Duke of Wen", i.e. the politician and historian Sima Guang 司馬光), or with their epithet (Huang Shangu 黃山谷 "Huang the mountain valley", i.e. Huang Tingjian 黃庭堅).

Feudal titles

One part of posthume names of rulers are the ruling ranks, according to the ruling rank during lifetime. The old Chinese feudal system (not "feudal" in the Marxist sense) is sometimes compared to the European Middle Age system of enfeoffment.
Traditionally, the feudal ranks are divided into five (the "Five Ranks" wujue 五爵) and translated with the English terms of aristocracy.
  • gong "Duke", like 魯哀公 Duke Ai the Lamentable of Lu, Lu Aigong
  • hou "Marquis", like 晉文侯 Duke Wen the Cultured of Jin, Jin Wenhou
  • bo "Count"
  • zi "Viscount"
  • nan "Baron"
The head of all these nobles was the ruler ("Lord" jun 君 or zhu 主), concretley: 王 wang "King", like 周文王 King Wen the Cultured of the Zhou Dynasty (Zhou Wenwang), and 帝 di "Emperor", like 漢武帝 Emperor Wu the Martial of the Han Dynasty (Han Wudi). The title huangdi 皇帝 (simply translated as "emperor") literally means "august god-like" and was first assumed by King Ying Zheng 嬴政 of the state of Qin.
A special title created during the Spring and Autumn period was that of "Hegemonial Lord" (ba 霸), a feudal noble that assumed the role as political leader instead of the weak Zhou rulers.
the Han Dynasty on, emperors bestowed their relatives and sons with the title of wang that has now on to be translated as "Prince".
Last rulers of a dynasty are often not venerated in the ancestor temple, they are simply called with the pattern 齊王建 "Jian, King of Qi". Names like Han Modi 漢末帝, Jin Shaodi 晉少帝, or Jin Feidi 齊廢帝 are normally not cited in this way but are translated as "the last ruler of Han", "the minor emperor of Jin", "the deposed emperor of Qi".
Empresses are called "Family name+hou", dowagers "Family name+taihou" as private person as well as in the ancestral temple (Lühou or Lü Hou 呂后, Lü Taihou 呂太后) - historians did not lay great stress on the surnames of women. Princesses are called with a honorific name: Yongtai Gongzhu 永泰公主 "Princess Everlasting Greatness".
Guideline for the names of dynasties and rulers:
Great dynasties are written in CAPITAL letters, the feudal states of the Warring States time in brackets (). Not to be confused, the feudal state 韓 is written "Hann", the dynasty 漢 is written "HAN". "JIN" 晉 is the follower of the Three Kingdoms, "JINN" 金 is the Jurchen empire of north China. XIA means the Western Xia 西夏.
There are a few titles that are not good to translate because they have a more general meaning or that are not real posthumous titles or temple names, like:
gao "the High", 高祖 Gaozu: HAN, TANG, HOUJIN, HOUHAN, 高宗 Gaozong: TANG, SONG, QING, 高帝 Gaodi: (HAN), QI, Empress Lü 呂后 called Gaohou: HAN
tai "the Great", 太祖 Taizu: HOULIANG, HOUZHOU, SONG, JINN, MING, 太宗 Taizong: TANG, LIAO, SONG, JINN
tai "the Grand", 泰武 Taiwu: BEI-WEI, 泰定 Taiding: YUAN
da "the Great", 大帝 Dadi: SUN-WU
zhong "the Middle" or "the Mean", 中宗 Zhongzong: TANG
mo "the Last", like 末帝 modi: SUN-WU, HOULIANG, HOUTANG, JINN, XIA; always translated
fei "the Deposed", 廢帝 feidi: JIN, LIU-SONG, XIWEI, BEIQI; always translated
shao "the Minor", 少帝 shaodi: HAN, LIU-SONG, TANG; always translated
孺子 ruzi, "the Kid", a person that has no title for ancestor veneration, like 孺子嬰 Ying the Kid, last emperor of the Han. Ying actually also means "baby" or "kid", but it was also a common name during Zhou and Han dynasties.
始皇 Shihuang "the First Emperor": QIN
二世皇 Ershihuang "the Second Emperor": QIN

A special case is empress 武則天 Wu Zetian who founded a dynasty called Zhou during the great Tang dynasty
ai "the Lamentable": ZHOU (Lu, Hann), HAN, JIN, TANG, JINN
an "the Peaceful": ZHOU, HAN, JIN, combination 安釐 anxi: (Wei)
cheng "the Completer": ZHOU (Lu, Zhao), HAN, JIN, YUAN, MING, combination 文成 wencheng: BEIWEI, wucheng 武成: BEIQI, 孝成 xiaocheng: (Zhao)
chong "the Venerated": XIA
chong "the Offender": HAN
chu "the Outstanding": (Qin), HOUJIN
chun "the Faithful"
dai "the Respectful"
dai "the Dynastical": TANG, MING
dao "the Well-Lead": LIAO, combination 道武 daowu: BEIWEI
dao "the Mournful": (Chu), combination 悼襄 daoxiang: (Zhao)
de "the Virtuous": TANG, QING
ding "the Settler": ZHOU (Lu), combination 貞定 zhending: ZHOU, 泰定 taiding: YUAN
du "the Careful": SONG
duan "the Upright": SONG
e "the Honest"
gong "the Reverent": JIN, XIWEI, SUI, HOUZHOU, SONG
gong "the Common": ZHOU, error for 恭 gong
guang "the Bright": SONG, MING, combination 光武 guangwu: HAN
he "the Harmonious": HAN, QI,
huai "the Mindful": (Chu), JIN
huan "the Effector": ZHOU (Lu, Qi, Yan), HAN, XIA, combination 桓惠 huanhui: (Hann)
hui "the Benevolent": ZHOU (Qin, Yan, Wei), HAN, JIN, XIA, MING, combination 惠文 huiwen: (Qin, Zhao), 桓惠 huanhui: (Hann)
hui "the Honorable": SONG
jian "the Simple": ZHOU (Qin, Yan), combination 簡文 jianwen: JIN, LIANG
jie "the Integer", combination 節閔 jiemin: BEIWEI
jing "the Honorable": ZHOU (Zhao), LIANG, TANG
jing "the Luminous": ZHOU (Hann), HAN, SUN-WU, LIAO, XIA, combination 景閔 jingmin: (Wei)
jing "the Tranquil", DONGWEI (孝靜 xiaojing), BEIWEI
jing "the Quiet", combination 慎靚 shenjing: ZHOU
kang "the Strong": ZHOU (Qi), JIN
kao "the Deceased": ZHOU, combination 考烈 kaolie: (Chu)
kuang "the Corrector": ZHOU
li "the Severe": ZHOU
li "the Well-ordered": SONG
lie "the Eminent": ZHOU (Zhao, Hann), combination 威烈 weilie: ZHOU, 考烈 kaolie: (Chu)
ling "the Clever": ZHOU, HAN, combination 武靈 wuling: (Zhao)
min "the Grievable": (Lu), HOUTANG, combination 節閔 jiemin: BEIWEI, 孝閔 xiaomin: BEIZHOU
min "the Commiserated": JIN
min "the Confused": (Qi), combination 景湣 jingmin: (Wei)
ming "the Luminous": HAN, CAO-WEI, JIN, LIU-SONG, QI, BEIZHOU, HOUTANG, YUAN, combination mingyuan 明元: BEIWEI, 孝明 xiaoming: BEIWEI
mu "the Respectful": ZHOU, JIN, TANG, LIAO, MING, QING
nan "the Embarrassed": ZHOU.
ning "the Peaceful": SONG, YUAN
ping "the Appeaser": ZHOU, HAN
qin "the Respected": SONG
qing "the Inclined": ZHOU, combination 頃襄 qingxiang: (Chu)
ren "the Human": SONG, XIA, YUAN, MING, QING
rui "the Wise": TANG
shang "Young Deceased": HAN
shen "the Godlike": SONG, XIA, MING
shen "the Careful", combination 慎靚 shenjing: ZHOU
sheng "the Holy", LIAO, QING
sheng "the Famous": (Chu)
shi "the Generationer": HOUZHOU, LIAO, JINN, YUAN, MING, QING (shizu and shizong)
shun "the Obedient": HAN, LIU-SONG, TANG, YUAN, combination 天順 tianshun: YUAN
si "the Thoughtful": ZHOU, MING
su "the Reverential": (Chu, Zhao), TANG
tian "the Heavenly", combination 天順 tianshun: YUAN
wei "the Mighty": (Qi, Chu), combination 威烈 weilie: ZHOU
wen "the Cultured": ZHOU (Lu, Yan, Hann, Wei), HAN, CAO-WEI, LIU-SONG, XIWEI, SUI, TANG, YUAN, QING, combination 文成 wencheng: BEIWEI, 文宣 wenxuan: BEIQI, 簡文 jianwen: JIN, LIANG, 顯文 xianwen: BEIWEI, 孝文 xiaowen: (Qin), BEIWEI, 惠文 huiwen: (Qin, Zhao)
wu "the Martial", often the founder or most important emperor of a dynasty: ZHOU (Qin, Wei), HAN, JIN, LIU-SONG, QI, LIANG, BEIZHOU, TANG, YUAN, MING, combination wucheng 武成: (Yan), 武靈 wuling: (Zhao), BEIQI, 悼武 daowu: BEIWEI, 光武 guangwu: HAN, 孝武 xiaowu: JIN, LIU-SONG, BEIWEI
xi "the Blessed", combination 安釐 anxi: (Wei)
xi "the Joyful": (Lu), TANG, error for 釐 xi "the Blessed": ZHOU
xi "the Brilliant": JINN
xi "the Dawning": MING
xian "the Clear": ZHOU
xian "the Dedicated": (Qin), HAN, XIA, combination 獻文 xianwen: BEIWEI
xian "the Intelligent": TANG, MING
xiang "the Accomplisher": ZHOU (Lu, Qi, Hann, Wei), XIA, combination 頃襄 qingxiang: (Chu), 悼襄 daoxiang: (Zhao)
xiao "the Filal": ZHOU (Qin, Yan), SONG, MING; during Han added to the dynastic title, making combinations like 孝武 xiaowu: JIN, LIU-SONG, BEIWEI, 孝文 xiaowen: BEIWEI, 孝明 xiaoming: BEIWEI, 孝莊 xiaozhuang: BEIWEI, 孝昭 xiaozhao: BEIQI, 孝成 xiaocheng: (Zhao)
xing "the Prosperous": LIAO
xuan "the Propagator": ZHOU (Lu, Qi, Chu), HAN, BEIZHOU, TANG, JINN, MING, QING, combination 宣武 xuanwu: BEIWEI, 宣惠 xuanhui: (Hann), 文宣 wenxuan: BEIQI
xuan "the Mysterious": TANG
yang "the Brilliant": SUI
yi "the Amiable": (Yan)
yi "the Modest": ZHOU (Hann), TANG
yi "the Respectful": ZHOU
yi "the Resolute": XIA
yin "the Retiring": HOUHAN
ying "the Flowering": SONG, YUAN, MING
you "the Darkened": ZHOU (Chu)
yuan "the Originator": ZHOU, HAN, CAO-WEI, JIN, LIANG
zao "the Hot-tempered" (Qin)
zhang "the Exemplarious": HAN, JINN
zhao "the Prominent": ZHOU (Lu, Qin, Yan, Hann, Wei), HAN, TANG, combination 孝昭 xiaozhao: BEIQI
zhe "the Wise": SONG
zhen "the Devoted", combination 貞定 zhending: ZHOU
zhen "the True": SONG
zhi "the Elementarious": HAN
zhuang "the Dignified": ZHOU (Lu), HOUTANG, combination 孝莊 xiaozhuang: BEIWEI, 莊襄 zhuangxiang: (Qin)
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