Top 10 Greatest Chinese Emperors

The Top Ten
1 Qin Shi Huang

He was the guy who unified China after hundreds of years, centralized money and units of measurement, and was the first person to use the title huangdi, or emperor. Note: Qin Shi Huang is a title. He never had a posthumous name, so Qin Shi Huang translates to First Emperor of Qin. His real name was Ying Zheng. He is also on my Cruelest Chinese Emperors list for killing his people while building the Great Wall and the Terracotta Army.

I heard he was the first emperor of China. This guy was a great leader.

2 Emperor Wu of Han

A good but overrated emperor. He was able to beat the northern nomadic tribes - and not being able to rein them in had disastrous consequences. The later Jin dynasty was unable to control them, leading to a 300-year period of disunity. However, he had to publicly apologize for his actions, killed his eldest son's family over witchcraft rumors, and became heavily invested in magicians.

Note: Emperor Wu is a posthumous name meaning martial. His personal name was Liu Che.

3 Emperor Wen of Sui

The guy who reunified China after the aforementioned 300-year period of disunity. Without him, the concept of a unified China might have been forgotten and could have become a thing of the past. He was also very loyal to his wife, Dugu Qieluo, and never had a child with any other woman - which was an impressive feat for a Chinese emperor. For example, Emperor Taizong of Tang loved his wife, Empress Zhangsun, deeply. It didn't stop him from doing his emperor's duty with other women.

Again, Emperor Wen is a posthumous title meaning civil. His personal name was Yang Jian.

4 Emperor Taizong of Tang

He encouraged his officials to speak out and criticize his actions, hating yes-men. This might not sound that different from a modern viewpoint, where political leaders are expected to take criticism, but 7th-century emperors weren't. Like Emperor Wu of Han, he was able to subdue his northern neighbors and created a prosperous empire where ethnic minorities were treated well. His reign was a well-known golden age and required study material for future crown princes.

Again, Taizong is a temple name meaning great ancestor. His personal name was Li Shimin. He took the throne in a fratricidal coup, but that's a matter for my own list Cruelest Chinese Emperors.

5 Emperor Taizu of Song
6 Yongle Emperor
7 Wu Zetian

She was able to select talented officials and was a very good administrator. She might have been cruel to her family, but she continued Emperor Taizong and Gaozong's golden age into her reign and selected officials based on merit rather than background. She even made a woman, Shangguan Wan'er, her secretary, and she enjoyed a lot of power. She was considered such a role model for ambitious imperial women after her death that her daughter-in-law, Empress Wei, her daughter, Princess Taiping, and her granddaughter, Princess Anle, tried to imitate her.

Her birth name is unknown. Zetian was part of her title. She changed her name to Zhao upon becoming the emperor (a gender-neutral title).

8 Qianlong Emperor
9 Kangxi Emperor
10 Kublai Khan
The Contenders
11 Emperor Guangwu of Han
12 Emperor Taizong of Song
13 Emperor Ming of Han
14 Emperor Wen of Han
15 Emperor Yongle of Ming
16 Emperor Zhang of Han
17 Emperor Jing of Han
18 Emperor Xuan of Han
19 Emperor Yingzong of Song
20 Emperor Gaozong of Tang
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