Biographical Notes

Abaoji (r. 907-926): Founder of the Liao dynasty of the Khitan people on the northern frontier of China following the collapse of the Tang dynasty.

An Lushan (d. 757): Turkic military commander for the Tang army garrison at modern Beijing. He was a favorite of the emperor Xuanzong but came under suspicion of an illicit relationship with the emperor’s favorite concubine, Yang Guifei. Led a major rebellion in 755.

Cao Cao (155-220): Late Han general whose military genius became legendary. Father of Cao Pei, who founded the Kingdom of Wei at the beginning of the Three Kingdoms period.

Chen Duxiu (1879-1942): Intellectual leader of the May 4th Movement and early advocate of Marxism. Helped found the Chinese Communist Party in 1921, though he did not attend the First Congress in Shanghai.

Cheng Hao/Cheng Yi (1032-1085/1033-1107): Brothers who were early advocates of the ideas that developed into Daoxue Neo-Confucianism in the Song dynasty.

Chiang Kaishek (1888-1975): Military leader and strongman of the Guomindang Nationalist Party from 1926 until his death. Strongly anticommunist, he directed Nationalist forces primarily against the CCP, rather than the Japanese who invaded China in the 1930s. After defeat in the civil war, he led the Nationalist regime on Taiwan.

Cixi (1835-1908): Consort of emperor Xianfeng in the 1850s, she was the mother of the Tongzhi emperor (r. 1860-1872) and, later, as Empress Dowager, was the power behind the throne in the last decades of Manchu rule.

Confucius (551-479 B.C.E.): Political thinker in the Warring States period whose ideas about human relations, ritual, and learning came to be the core ideology of the imperial state.

Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997): Joined the Communist Party as a student in France in the 1920s. Later returned to China and took part in the Long March. Rose to a leading position in the 1950s, then was purged during the Cultural Revolution. Returned to power in 1978 and became supreme leader, guiding the reforms of the 1980s.

Dong Zhongshu (2nd century B.C.E.): Political and cosmological thinker during the reign of Wudi. His ideas about connections between natural phenomena and human actions influenced concepts of legitimacy and succession for the imperial state.

Duke of Zhou (11th century B.C.E.): Uncle and chief advisor of King Wu at the time of the founding of the Zhou dynasty. He became the model of the sage advisor, the ideal for the later shi administrative elite.

Fan Kuan (active c. 1023-1031): Landscape painter during the Northern Song dynasty. His depictions of massive mountains with tiny human figures in marginal positions typified the changing view of man and nature in the 11th century.

Gu Kaizhi (c. 345-c. 406): First identifiable painter in China. Several paintings attributed to him survive but most are probably slightly later copies.

Guangxu (1871-1908): Next-to-last emperor of the Qing. Dominated by his great aunt, the Empress Dowager Cixi, he began to rule in his own right in the mid-1890s. His support for reform in the summer of 1898 led to his house arrest in September. He died in 1908 on the eve of Cixi’s death, leading to speculation that he was poisoned.

Han Fei (d. 233 B.C.E.): Philosopher of the state of Qin. He developed a sophisticated rationale for the Legalist doctrines of rewards and punishments.

Han Fei argued that human nature was a blank slate and that, by use of rewards and punishments, people could be shaped to be obedient citizens.

Han Yu (768-824): Scholar and official in the late Tang dynasty who promoted a Confucian revival through his advocacy of guwen, or “ancient-style,” prose writing. He criticized what he saw as the baleful influence of Buddhism on Chinese culture and called for a return to the values of the early Han dynasty.

Hong Xiuquan (1813-1864): Founder and leader of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. He was a failed examination candidate from Guangdong province who had visions that he believed to be a revelation that he was the younger brother of Jesus Christ. His movement almost toppled the Qing dynasty, and its suppression cost some 20 million lives.

Hu Yaobang (1915-1989): Communist Party official who rose to be general secretary during the reform period of the 1980s. PI is death in April 1989 triggered the student movement that culminated in military suppression in June.

Jiang Qing (1914-1999): Wife of Mao Zedong. During the Cultural Revolution, she was responsible for the reform of performing arts. She became the leader of the so-called Gang of Four, who sought to promote a radical vision of egalitarian revolution.

Jiang Zemin (1926- ): Communist Party official and former mayor of Shanghai who became general secretary after the suppression of the Tiananmen student movement in June 1989. He restored order and returned to the path of reform and openness to the outside world inaugurated by Deng Xiaoping.

Kang Youwei (1858-1927): Confucian reformer who was one of the leaders of the 100 Days Reforms of 1898. He later became a conservative advocate of a constitutional monarchy.

Kangxi (1654-1722): Second emperor of the Qing dynasty. He presided over the suppression of the rebellion of Wu Sangui and launched campaigns to bring the Mongol tribes of Xinjiang into the Qing Empire. His tax edict of 1712 fixed the fiscal system of the dynasty “in perpetuity.”

Khubilai (1214-1294): Grandson of Temujin and first emperor of the Mongol Yuan dynasty in China. He completed the conquest of the Song and established the Mongol capital at Dadu, present-day Beijing.

Laozi (6th century B.C.E.): Semi-legendary philosopher of the Warring States period whose ideas became the foundation for Daoism. He rejected the positivism of Confucian thought and encouraged a skeptical approach to knowledge and action; he also advocated seeking harmony with nature.

Li Dazhao (1889-1927): Educator and radical thinker during the May 4th period. One of the founders of the Communist Party. Killed during the split with Chiang Kaishek in 1927.

Li Shimin (597-649): Second emperor of the Tang dynasty. He encouraged his father, Li Yuan, to rebel against the Sui dynasty and found a new order, then succeeded his father in 626.

Li Zicheng (1606-1645): Leader of a peasant rebellion against the Ming in Shanxi in the early 1640s, he succeeded in capturing Beijing in April 1644. He established a short-lived dynasty of his own but was chased out of the capital by Wu Sangui and the Mongols in early June.

Liang Qichao (1873-1929): Reformer and writer. He was active with Kang Youwei in the 1898 Reforms and, later, became a publisher of radical newspapers in Shanghai and Japan.

Lin Biao (1908-1971): Communist military leader and later minister of defense. He became Mao’s designated successor in 1969 but, shortly thereafter, was killed in an apparent split within the radical leadership. He is reported to have attempted to assassinate Mao before fleeing in an airplane, which was shot down over Mongolia.

Lin Zexu (1785-1850): Qing official who was put in charge of opium suppression in Guangzhou in 1838. His strong efforts to eliminate the drug trade led the British to launch the Opium War (1939-1942).

Liu Bang (247-195 B.C.E.): Petty official of the Qin state who rebelled and raised an army that allowed him to establish a new dynasty, the Han, in 202 B. C.E. Reigned as first emperor until his death.

Liu Bei (162-223 C.E.): Descendant in a minor line of the Han imperial family, he founded the state of Shu Han in 220 at the beginning of the Three Kingdoms period.

Liu Shaoqi (1898-1969): Communist Party leader and president of the People’s Republic in the 1950s and early 1960s. He became the chief focus of opposition to Mao and was denounced as a “capitalist loader” in the Cultural Revolution, when he was purged from office and imprisoned. Died of cancer while still under arrest.

Mao Zedong (1893-1976): One of the founders of the Communist Party, he became an advocate of the “peasant strategy” in the late 1920s. Became chairman of the Party in 1935 and remained its chief leader until his death.

Marco Polo (1254-1324): Venetian traveler who visited China from с. 1275— 1290. He served as an official under Khubilai and left a rich memoir of his travels, which was criticized in Europe as wildly exaggerated.

Mencius (372-289 B.C.E.): Philosopher and interpreter of Confucius. Mencius emphasized the reciprocal nature of social relationships, especially the right of people to overthrow unjust rulers. He also stressed the natural division of society into those who labor with their backs and those who work with their minds.

Mozi (late 5th-early 4th centuries B.C.E.): Warring States period thinker who advocated “universal love” and promoted defensive warfare to make aggression unprofitable.

Nurhaci (1559-1626): Creator of the Manchus. He sought to revive the former Jin dynasty of the Jurchen people and overthrow the Ming dynasty.

Ouyang Xiu (1007-1072): Scholar and official of the Northern Song, he was a representative figure of the “literary gentlemen,” who advocated clear prose writing and traditional Confucian values.

Peng Dehuai (1898-1974): Military leader and veteran of the Long March. He led Chinese forces in the Korean War and served as minister of defense in the 1950s. Purged in 1959 for criticizing Mao over the Great Leap Forward.

Puyi (1905-1967): Last emperor of the Qing. He was put on the throne in 1908 at the age of three. Abdicated in 1912. He was later puppet emperor of Manchuguo under the Japanese from 1934-1945.

Qianlong (1711-1799): Fourth emperor of the Qing, he reigned for 60 years, from 1736-1795. Retired in order not to exceed the reign of his grandfather, Kangxi. Qianlong’s reign was, in some ways, the high point of the Qing era.

Qinshihuangdi (259-210 B.C.E.): King of the state of Qin at the end of the Warring States, he proclaimed himself First Emperor in 221 B.C.E., when Qin’s last rival was defeated. His mausoleum near Xian contains the famous terra cotta warriors.

Shun (с. 2200 B.C.E.): Legendary sage king of antiquity. Named to succeed Emperor Yao, who set aside his own son in favor of Shun’s moral uprightness.

Siddhartha (6lh century B.C.E.): Indian prince who founded Buddhism. He rejected the material luxury of his life and sought to understand the origins of suffering and how to transcend it.

Sima Guang (1019-1086): Statecraft thinker of the Northern Song. Critic of the reforms of Wang Anshi, he promoted a view of government that emphasized the role of the literati as sage advisors to the emperor.

Su Shi (1037-1101): Scholar, official, and literary theorist. Follower of Ouyang Xiu, he promoted the assimilation of classical literary models as a basis for one’s own spontaneous expression.

Sun Quan (181-252): Three Kingdoms ruler of the southeastern state of Wu.

Sun Yatsen (1866-1925): Nationalist revolutionary leader and founder of the Guomindang, the Nationalist Party. Developed the three People's Principles of nationalism, democracy, and socialism.

Sunzi (6th century B.C.E.): Military strategist of the Warring States period. His doctrines of deception and careful preparation became fundamental to Chinese military thinking.

Temujin (с. 1162-1227): Leader of the Mongols in their great age of expansion. Became Chinggis Khan, or Oceanic Ruler, in 1206.

Wang Anshi (1021-1086): Statecraft thinker and political leader. Presided over the reform effort known as the New Policies in the 1070s. Advocated a stronger role for the central government and restriction of the powers of local elites.

Wang Mang (33 B.C.E.-23 C.E.): An official at the Han court, he seized power in 9 C.E. and proclaimed his own dynasty, the Xin. He instituted various reforms, but following his death in 23 C.E., the Liu family reclaimed the throne.

Wang Yangming (1472-1528): Philosopher and official who developed new interpretations of Confucian ideas about knowledge and action. Believed that everyone has an “innate knowledge of the good” and that there was a necessary link between knowing and acting. His ideas have been seen as a Chinese version of individualism and humanism.

King Wen (d. c. 1045 B.C.E ): Last leader of the Zhou people before their overthrow of the Shang. He guided the consolidation of the alliance of subordinate peoples that brought the dynasty to an end.

King Wu (d. c. 1039 B.C.E.): King of the Zhou at the time of the Conquest, he was largely guided by his uncle, the Duke of Zhou.

Wu Sangui (d. 1678): Chinese general who allowed the Manchus to cross the Great Wall in 1644. He was given a large territory to govern in south China but rebelled in 1673 in the last serious challenge to the new dynasty.

Wu Zetian (625-705): Concubine in the harem of Li Shimin, she became empress consort of the next emperor and mother of yet another emperor. In 690, she set aside the Li family and assumed the throne for herself, becoming the only woman ever to rule China in her own name. She abdicated in 705, and the Li family regained the throne and restored the Tang dynasty.

Wudi (r. 142-87 B.C.E.): Dynamic emperor of the Han dynasty, he pursued an activist policy for the state in economic and social life; launched military campaigns to expand the empire; and promoted the synthesis of Confucian, Daoist, and Legalist thought that became the imperial orthodoxy.

Xiang Yu (233-202 B.C.E.): Military leader of the former state of Chu, he joined the rebellion against Qin in 207 B.C.E. and soon became one of the major contenders to found a new dynasty. He was defeated by Liu Bang in 202.

Xuanzong (r. 713-756): Emperor of the Tang, he presided over a long period of growth and stability. Over time, however, he withdrew from active participation in court life and devoted himself to his favorite concubine, Yang Guifei. His jealousy was exploited by officials and led to the rebellion of An Lushan.

Yang Guifei (d. 756): Daughter of an official, she became a consort of the emperor Xuanzong. They became so close that she influenced his decisions on government. Jealous officials alleged an illicit relationship with An Lushan, which led to his rebellion. Yang Guifei was strangled and left by the roadside as the emperor’s entourage fled the capital in 756.

Yang Jian (540-605): General who overthrew his emperor and established his own dynasty, the Sui, in 581. He ruled as emperor until his death and was succeeded by his son, Yang Guang.

Yao (c. 2300 B.C.E.): Legendary sage ruler of antiquity. He set aside his own son to appoint Shun as his successor because of his sterling moral qualities.

Yongzheng (1677-1735): Third emperor of the Qing. His attempts to reform the finances of the state were thwarted by both local officials and elites.

Yuan Shikai (1859-1916): Military leader of the late Qing. He commanded the modernized Beiyang Army in northern China. In 1898, he supported the suppression of the reformers. In 1911, he negotiated the abdication of the emperor and secured the presidency of the new Republic for himself. After an abortive attempt to assume the throne in 1916, he fled Beijing and died shortly thereafter.

Zeng Guofan (1811-1872): Military leader and provincial-level official who led the Hunan army against the Taipings in the 1860s. He played a leading role in the early Self-Strengthening Movement.

Zhang Juzheng (d. 1582): Chief grand secretary for the young Wanli emperor, he supervised much of the Single Whip tax reforms. His attempt to carry out an empire-wide survey of landholdings to revise the tax registers was resisted by local literati elites.

Zhang Xueliang (1898-2001): Warlord in northwestern China who placed Chiang Kaishek under house arrest in December 1936 to coerce him into forming a new alliance with the Communists to resist Japanese aggression. After the negotiations concluded and Chiang was released, he placed Zhang under arrest; Zhang was held by the Nationalists until 1996.

Zhu Di (1360-1424): Third emperor of the Ming dynasty. Fourth son of Zhu Yuanzhang, Zhu Di resented the naming of his nephew as emperor in 1398 and soon rebelled. He captured Nanjing in 1402 and took the throne for himself.

Zhu Xi (1130-1200): Philosopher who brought together ideas about natural patterns and principles and the nature of moral values to synthesize the school of Daoxue, the “Learning of the Way.” His interpretations of the Confucian classics became the standard for the imperial examination system from the mid-13th century on.

Zhu Yuanzhang (1328-1398): Founding emperor of the Ming dynasty. He rose from being an impoverished orphan to become leader of the Red Turbans rebel movement at the end of the Yuan. In 1368, he defeated the last Mongol forces and established his new regime. His paranoia about the literati led him to launch repeated purges of his officials, claiming tens of thousands of victims.

Zhuangzi (late 4th-early 3rd centuries B.C.E.): Philosopher who developed and interpreted the teachings of Laozi. He emphasized the relativity to knowledge and the ideas of uselessness and emptiness.

Zhuge Liang (181-234): General known for his clever stratagems during the Three Kingdoms period. He was an advisor to Liu Bei, ruler of the Shu Han kingdom in modern Sichuan. 

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