The Emperor Gao, who lived from 256 BC or 247 BC – 195 BC and known commonly throughout China as Gaozu, was the first ever emperor of the Han Dynasty, and ruled all of China from 202 BC to 195 BC. Also known by his personal name Liu Bang, he was among the very few dynasty creators in all Chinese history to have emerged from peasant class and into stardom. Upon his meteoric rise, and just before his conquest of China, he was also addressed as the “Duke of Pei,” as his beginnings can be traced back to his hometown Pei County.
Liu Bang was born from a peasant family. History had no record of his parents, but what it knows was that before Liu’s birth, his mother dreamt meeting a divine being. At that moment, the sky darkened and was followed by lightning and thunder. When Liu’s father came in to attend to his wife, he was shocked to see a dragon beside her. Soon after, his wife became pregnant finally gave birth to Liu.
He had a high nose, complete with whiskers and a striking beard. Others would observe that his distinct features had some resemblance to that of a dragon. He also had 72 dark spots all over his left leg. As a young boy, he was clearly outspoken and full of charisma. But even with these ideal characteristics, he enjoyed loafing around, and had no interest in both reading and farming. It was noted that his father had scolded him at times, calling him a little rascal. Things finally changed when he finally grew up. He was an appointed patrol officer, and this he used to forge relationships with other officials in his county, earning for himself some reputation for his hometown. Whenever he was drunk, his friends would always notice a silhouette of a dragon all over him. Everybody felt there is something special with this young upstart.
In the years following, Liu was seen aligning himself against Qin Dynasty. He worked himself up serving the big guns of the rebellion. He was sent on a mission to occupy some disputed areas and accomplished this with ease. A great war that lasted for five years finally killed his bitter rival Xiang Yu who supposedly dominated the whole conflict as the former Qin Empire had aligned with him. He proclaimed himself emperor, established the Han Dynasty in 202 BC and chose Chang’an at the Wei principality as his new capital. He then went onto history as the Emperor Gao of Han.
With his new power, he re-centralized the whole of China following the footsteps of the former Qin dynasty. The economy was among the first that got his attention, as the whole countryside was devastated following the destruction of the Qin dynasty. Without hesitation, he reduced taxes, developed agriculture that reached new heights at the time and restricted spending. And with the corruption that engulfed Qin merchants, he leashed commerce activities by levying heavy taxes and restrictions on them.
While in the middle of all this, he also made peace with his rivals. Under his reign, Confucian ideas slowly sidelined legalist ideas for good. He also devoted himself into subduing other unruly kings within the neighborhood. He soon annexed them all, appointing his sons and relatives as princes of these subjugated kingdoms, thereby consolidating all the powers of his new empire.
Liu Bang was mortally wounded during his Ying Bu rebellion campaign with a stray arrow. He fell ill, and saw that his health is slowly failing him. He refused treatment until the very end. The Emperor Hui of Han succeeded him.