The short and brutal rule of Chinese Emperor Fu Sheng, the one-eyed tyrant
According to Chinese historical records, the history of Chinese kingship can be traced all the way back to the Xia Dynasty at the end of the 2 nd millennium B.C. Over the course of almost 4,000 years, the Chinese civilization produced numerous rulers. Some of these rulers, such as Emperor Tang Taizong of the Tang Dynasty, Kublai Khan of the Yuan Dynasty, Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty, have been remembered as benevolent and virtuous emperors. On the other hand, there are also rulers who were notorious for their cruelty, incompetence, and decadence. One such figure was Fu Sheng.
Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. 260–210 B.C. Public Domain
A painting of Shizu, better known as Kublai Khan. The grandson of Genghis Khan was considered a skilled ruler, unlike Fu Sheng. Public Domain
Technically speaking, Fu Sheng was not an emperor who ruled over the whole of China. Rather, he was one of the petty kings who came to power during the era of the Sixteen States, a period of turmoil and fragmentation between the 4 th and 5 th centuries A.D. following the breaking up of the Jin Dynasty. It should be pointed out that the historical record of this period is scarce. Our knowledge of the Sixteen States era is derived from the fragmentary Spring and Autumn Annals of the Sixteen Kingdoms , which was composed in the early 6 th century B.C. The Book of Wei and the Book of Jin , compiled during the middle of the 6 th and 7 th century respectively, has the Annals of the Sixteen Kingdoms as one of its chief sources, and may thus be used as its complement. Nevertheless, the view point of the respective authors ought to be taken into consideration when reading these sources.
Map showing the location and extent of the Former Qin Dynasty, circa 376 A.D. Wikipedia, CC
Fu Sheng was the second ruler of the Former Qin Dynasty, founded by his father, Fu Jian. Originally, Fu Sheng was not expected to inherit his father’s throne, as he had two older brothers. According to one account, Fu Jian overheard a children’s rhyme whilst inspecting his people one day. Another account suggests that he read a prophecy whilst deciding to designate an heir following the death of his oldest son, Fu Chang. This rhyme/prophecy contained the phrase ‘three goats shall have five eyes’, which he interpreted as the decree of heaven. As a result, Fu Jian decided to make Fu Sheng his heir, as he was blind in one eye.
Due to his blindness in one eye, Fu Sheng is also referred to today as the ‘One Eyed Tyrant’. According to one account, Fu Sheng lost this eye to an eagle whilst trying to steal its eggs. Due to this blindness, he would kill anyone who used words such as ‘missing’, ‘lacking’, ‘less’ and ‘without’, as he believed that people who used such words were making fun of his disability. Fu Sheng’s cruelty can also be seen during his reign, as numerous important officials were brutally punished and executed according the king’s whim and fancy. For instance, Fu Sheng’s astrologers warned him earlier in his reign that a great funeral and the death of major officials would befall the kingdom in three years unless the king changed his ruthless ways. Rather than reforming his ways, Fu Sheng chose to fulfil the prophecy by executing his own wife, the Empress Liang, along with some important officials, including the empress’ father, Liang An, and uncle, Mao Gui.
Despite his blood-thirsty nature, Fu Sheng was not without merit. According to the historical records, Fu Sheng possessed exceptional physical strength, and his brutal nature made him a ferocious warrior in battle. He was even said to be strong enough to fight wild beasts on his own. Nevertheless, he lacked the commanding skills that would otherwise make him a better general.
Fu Sheng’s reign of terror lasted for a brief two years. He was deposed by his cousins, Fu Fa and Fu Jian, who immediately attacked the palace with their armies when it became known that Fu Sheng was planning to execute them. The royal guards, who were already resentful of the king, decided to defect. As a result, Fu Sheng’s rule was over. He was captured and executed by being dragged by a horse.
Featured image: A famous silk scroll, The Emperor's Approach, showing the luxury in which the Chinese emperor travelled during the Ming Dynasty, more than a thousand years after Fu Sheng’s short and brutal rule. Public Domain