Emperor Taizu of the Later Liang

The Emperor Taizu (852 to 912), born as Zhu Wen, overthrew the Tang dynasty in 907 and established the Later Liang Dynasty, starting the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms. He and his brother joined the rebel army, headed by Huang Chao, around 877. By all accounts he was a good fighter and adept in political maneuvering, which led him to become the Emperor Taizu in 907.

The Beginning

He rose through the ranks of the Huang rebel army and after the capture of the imperial capital in 881; he was given a separate command. He proved his worth to Huang by capturing Tongzhou and was appointed the defense commissioner. By 882, Huang Chao was encircled by the Tang forces and he had control of only two prefectures, one of which was Tongzhou, controlled by Zhu Wen. Sensing that the time was ripe to change sides, Zhu Wen surrendered to the Hezhong Governor Wang Chongrong and was rewarded with the post of Grand General of the Imperial Guards and Deputy Field Commander. He was appointed as prefect of Bianzhou and Governor of Xuanwu command. He cultivated Wang Chongrong, one of the chief architects of the offensive against Huang and his patron helped him in his ambitions. The imperial capital Chang’an was re-taken by the Tang army soon after Zhu had been appointed.

Campaigns Against Huang Chao

The Xuanwu command under him was one of the strongest military commands and Zhu ensured that they were loyal to him personally. He appointed Zhu Zhen to select, train and reorganize the army, which he carried out professionally. The newly reorganized army was put to the test when Huang Chao attacked Caizhou and then Chenzhou. Chenzhou did not fall and held out. All the Governors of the region called in Li Keyong, who had defeated Huang before, to take charge of the Imperial counter offensive. Huang was defeated decisively and killed a few years later. Several rebel commanders now pledged allegiance to Zhu and would serve him loyally for many years. Zhu, who had fallen out with Li Keyong, attempted to have Li assassinated on the night of 11 June 884, but the plot failed.

Campaigns for Supremacy

After Huang Chao died, other rebels took his place and Zhu, due to the loss of Li Keyong’s forces, was not strong enough to defeat the rebels. The Emperor, whose authority had been seriously weakened, left a power vacuum with no strong central authority. Zhu Wen’s position, now considerably strong, became even stronger in 886 when his army managed to capture Huazhou. Zhu now had control of multiple provinces.
He reorganized his army and created a strategic reserve with his own trusted commanders. The Emperor recognized the clout wielded by Zhu and bestowed the title of Prince of Wuxing. The year 886 saw a lot of skirmishes with the rebels. The rebels were weakened by successive defeats at the hands of Zhu’s forces.

The Subjugation of Henan

When the Governor of Huainan was been killed in a mutiny, the Tang court made Zhu the Governor of Huainan too. In early 888, Zhu set out to take charge of Huainan. He obtained a loyal follower, Zhang Quanyi of Luoyang, whom he helped by defeating Li Keyong’s army. With the fall of Caizhou, Zhu was elevated to Prince of Dongping. His commander, Zhu Zhen, had acquired a lot of power and Zhu had him killed and made sure no one else ever gained such power. In April 890, the Suzhou garrison mutinied and Zhu’s attempts to regain control proved unsuccessful and it took a year and a half to reclaim Suzhou. His attempts to oust his arch rival Li Keyong with his clout at the Imperial court did not prove successful. In 893, Zhu’s commander managed to capture and decapitate another rival, Shi Pu. In 901, the Emperor promoted him as the Prince of Liang.

The Founding of the Later Liang Dynasty

Zhu was on the ascendency and destroyed many of his neighboring rivals. This gave him enough power to force the Imperial capital to move to Luoyang, within his territorial control. In 904, he had Emperor Zhaozong killed and installed his 13 year old son as a puppet on the throne. In 907, he forced the boy to abdicate in his favor. Zhu now proclaimed himself as Emperor Taizu, the founder the Later Liang Dynasty. His reign came to an end in 912, when he was murdered by his son, Zhu Yougui.

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