Top 10 Cruelest Chinese Emperors

I made this as a counter-list to ‘Greatest Chinese Emperors’. Before adding an item, be aware 'cruel' and 'incompetent' are different adjectives. Cruel does not automatically equal bad. There have been cruel emperors who led a prosperous China. Both cruelty to subjects, to officials and to family members count. If you think an emperor was particularly cruel either in his personal life or to his country ,add them.

Guidelines for commenting:
1. No hate speech in any form.
2. No severe 'emperor-bashing': Just state why you think this emperor is bad/good.
3. I will accept constructive criticism, it helps me to improve my future lists.
The Top Ten
1 King Zhou of Shang

- He built a lake of wine big enough to sail in and a forest of meat and taxed the people to starvation.
- He enjoyed watching people being tortured.
- He and his wife Daji invented a new torture method, and laughed at their cries of agony.

This is a great list. Can you do "Top 10 Cruelest Japanese Emperors" list?

2 Liu Ziye (Emperor Qianfei of Liu Song)

- He committed incest with his aunt and sister. His aunt's husband, He Mai, eventually found out what was going on. Liu Ziye decided to kill a lady in waiting and tell him that it was his wife (Ziye's aunt). He realised it wasn't and Liu Ziye killed him.
- He refused to visit his mother when she was sick because he thought there were ghosts in sick people's rooms. His mother asked her ladies in waiting to cut her open to see how'this animal' came out of her.
- He forced three of his uncles (including his successor Liu Yu) to live as pigs, forcing them to live in cages and eat disgusting food meant to look like pig food out of troughs. Liu Yu had it worst as his hands and feet were tied together and he was forced to live in a pigsty.
- He held orgies where his male guests raped princesses, one refused and she was whipped and her sons executed.
- Anyone who criticised his debauchery was executed, forced to commit suicide or otherwise punished.
- Emperor Xiaowu (his ...more

3 Gao Yang (Emperor Wenxuan of Northern Qi)

- He raped all the women in the Gao clan. The concubine Erzhu Ying'e refused to have sex with him and he killed her himself.
- He murdered all the previous Yuan clan, including women and children. Even distant relatives were murdered except for a select few households like the future Empress Yuan's, as she was the wife of his brother Gao Yan.
- He threatened to marry his own mother to a barbarian ruler.
- He had a very beautiful concubine who had an affair. He killed her and tossed her head on a table before playing with her leg.
- He was homicidal when drunk. A whole line of prisoners had to be created for him to kill.
- He thought his son, Gao Yin, was too Confucian (read 'nice') and ordered him to kill a criminal. Gao Yin couldn't do it, and he beat him so hard it psychologically traumatised him and left him with a panic disorder which left him unable to speak at times.

4 Yang Guang (Emperor Yang of Sui)

- He possibly poisoned his own father.
- He taxed the people to starvation.
- He was determined to invade Goguryeo even if his people were starving and rebelling.

5 Fu Sheng

- He murdered the officials his father put in place to serve as his assistants.
- He was an alcoholic who made decisions while drunk.
- His posthumous name literally means violent.
- He threw animals into boiling water and skinned them alive. He broke his uncle's skull with a hammer.
- He banned some words, like 'missing' or 'without' because he thought people would tease him about being blind in one eye.

6 Liu Yu (Emperor Houfei of Liu Song)

- He personally cut people open.
- He went on murderous rampages where he murdered every man, woman and child he found.

- He got depressed if a day went by without killing someone.
- He nearly poisoned his own stepmother, because her gift was not as lavish as he wanted. He only didn't because he wouldn't be able to spend his time on fun and games if he killed her.
- He personally murdered four of his officials' entire families after the officials plotting against him. Even infants were killed and he cut the bodies to pieces.


- When the general Xiao Daocheng was sleeping, he became intrigued by his big belly. He decided to shoot him non-lethally and successful targeted his belly button. He got fed up of this and killed Houfei, who was only 14.

7 Gao Zhan (Emperor Wucheng of Northern Qi)

- He forced his nephew Gao Xiaoyu to drink 37 cups of wine before poisoning him.
- He raped his sister-in-law Li Zu'e, threatening to kill her son Gao Shaode if she refused sexual relations. She got pregnant and Gao Shaode was not very happy. Ashamed, she killed her newborn daughter(which shouldn't have been born in the first place). Gao Zhan summoned her son to the palace and beat her son to death. Li begged for his life and he severely beat her.
- His brother Gao Yan had a son, Gao Bainian who Gao Yan had begged him to spare on his deathbed. Gao Bainian's teacher got him to write out a word only the emperor could use. Gao Zhan, furious, ordered he was beaten. His blood was all over the hall and when he was dying he begged to be Gao Zhan's slave. Gao Zhan personally finished off his nephew and threw the body into the pool, which stained it red. He was only 8.
- He tortured to death his nephew Gao Xiaowan and smiled as he wailed in agony. When he called Gao Zhan 'Uncle' Gao ...more

8 Sun Hao

- He largely ignored Sima Yan of Jin's army.
- He killed quite a few relatives for some reason.
- He liked torturing people by having their skin peeled from their faces.

9 Yongle Emperor

- He used not only nine, but ten familial exterminations, the tenth being the students and friends. He murdered 873 people just because Fang Xiaoru refused to write an inaugural address.
- When the forbidden city was built more than a million labourers were forced into gathering building materials from all over China, including whole logs of precious tropical wood from the jungles of Southwestern China and massive slabs of marble hauled across ice in the freezing north. If any stone was flawed, those who delivered it were beaten or slow-sliced

- He executed 2,800 concubines via lingchi to suppress a sex scandal in his harem.

10 Wu Zetian

- She was good to her country, but in her personal life, not so much.
- She killed her romantic rival Empress Wang but cutting off her limbs and placing her in a wine jar.
- She forced one of her own sons to commit suicide.
- She possibly strangled her baby daughter to frame Empress Wang,

The Contenders
11 Jie of Xia
12 King You of Zhou
13 Qin Shi Huang Qin Shi Huang

1st Emporer of a unified China. An interesting, and all powerful ruler. Briefly, the Great Wall was first conceived and construction began under his rule. It has been estimated that between 100,000 and close to a million slave laborers died during it's construction ( and that many of these poor souls remains were added to the mortar of it's early construction). These estimates may be impossible to ever lock down, as the early portions of the Wall's construction were a crude packed earth structure, and have long since been lost to time. These early efforts were nowhere near as elaborate or as strong as the Great Wall we see today. In any case, the number of people who died as a direct result of it's construction is significant, and it's amazing how today these losses are considered cruel and inhumane, but during the time of it's construction were not even worthy of a footnote.

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