Xiang Yu and his uncle, Xiang Liang, joined the rebellion started by Chen She in 209 BCE, which set in motion events that would topple the Qin Dynasty in China. Once the rebels had secured a foothold, Chen She declared himself to be the king of Chu, and several other rebel leaders similarly proclaimed themselves to be the kings of the regions they liberated. In this way, new kings emerged in regions such as Zhao, Yan, Qi and Wei. When Chen She was assassinated not long after the rebellion started, Xiang Liang became the leader of most of the rebel forces. Xiang Liang chose not to make himself the king of Chu, as Chen She had done before him, he instead placed King Huai on the throne of Chu, but kept most of the military under his own control. Xiang Liang eventually died in battle in 208 BCE, and was succeeded by his nephew, Xiang Yu.
Under the leadership of Xiang Yu, the Qin Dynasty was successfully toppled. By 206 BCE, the rebels had defeated the armies of Qin, took the capital city of Xianyang and executed the last Qin prince, Ziying. With the empire in his hands, Xiang Yu let China slip back into feudalism, presumably with the hope that he would remain a hegemon in charge of the revived monarchies of ancient China. According to the historian, Sima Qian (145-90 BCE), Xiang Yu personally crowned or formally recognized at least nineteen kings around the year 206 BCE, giving them power to govern the newly freed regions of China. These are the kings and kingdoms he is known to have created or affirmed:
- Zhang Han was crowned king of Yong.
- Sima Xin was crowned the king of Sai.
- Dong Yi was crowned the king of Di.
- Shen Yang was crowned as king of Henan.
- Sima Ang was made king of Yin.
- Zhang Er was placed on the throne of Changshan.
- Qing Bu, previously a lord of Dangyang, was appointed as king of Jiujiang.
- Wu Rui, the lord of Po, was crowned king of Hengshan.
- Gong Ao was crowned the king of Linjiang.
- Xiang Yu allowed King Cheng to remain ruler of Hann (an extra “n” was added by the translators so that it is not confused with the Han Dynasty, formed by another kingdom).
- Xiang Yu demoted King Bao from his kingdom of Wei, and instead made him king of only Western Wei.
- Xiang Yu removed King Xie from power in Zhao and placed him on the throne of Dai.
- Xiang Yu removed King Huang Guang from his domain of Yan and instead made him ruler of Liaodong.
- With Huang Guang relocated, Xiang Yu made Zhang Tu the new king of Yan.
- Tian Shi, the king of Qi, was relocated to a new domain in the kingdom of Jiaodong.
- With Tian Shi gone, Xiang Yu crowned Tian Du as the king of Qi.
- Tian An was crowned king of Jibei.
- Not to be left out, Xiang Yu crowned himself the “Dictator King of Western Chu.”
- Most importantly, Liu Bang, the Governor of Pei, was crowned as the king of Han. He killed Xiang Yu around 202 BCE and eventually became Emperor Gaozu, the first emperor of the Han Dynasty. As such, all of the kingdoms listed above were eventually absorbed by the Han.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Picture Attribution: (Photograph of a Chinese terracotta miniature, from the Historian’s Hut Archives, on top of a Public Domain rubbing detail from Stone Chamber 1 on the West Wall of the Wu Family Shrine in Shandong Province, China, dated 2nd century AD during the Eastern Han Dynasty).
Records of the Grand Historian (Shi ji) by Sima Qian, translated by Burton Watson. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.