In the Three Character Classic, it says, “Xia passed on to his son, and the family world.” Since Dayu passed the throne to his son, China has continued the hereditary system of passing the throne from father to son. But there was one dynasty in which the emperor passed the throne to his own brother.
Just in the second year of the newly established Northern Song Dynasty, the first Empress Dowager of the dynasty – Empress Dowager Du – became seriously ill and had to make a mysterious posthumous edict. The official history records that at that time, the founding emperor Song Taizu was beside the Empress Dowager, serving soup and medicine day and night. When the Empress Dowager was on her deathbed, she specially summoned the meritorious minister Zhao Pu.
The Empress Dowager asked the emperor, “Do you know how the world was defeated?” The filial Taizu was very worried about his mother’s condition and cried so much that he could not answer. The Empress Dowager continued to ask him before Taizu said, “I was able to gain the world because my ancestors and mother had accumulated great virtue.” But the Empress Dowager said, “No, it is because the Zhou Shizong before you just let the young emperor rule the world. If the Zhou dynasty had an older man as emperor, would the world still be the Great Song’s?”
Therefore, the Empress Dowager made a decree: “After your death, you should pass the throne to your younger brother. The world is so big and the affairs of government so complicated, it would be a blessing to the country if the Song dynasty could establish an elder as its ruler!” Immediately, Taizu knelt and wept, saying, “I dare not disobey your teachings.” The Empress Dowager then ordered Zhao Pu to write what he had just said into an imperial edict, and at the end he signed it, “I, Pu, write”. After finishing it, the Empress Dowager hid the imperial edict in a golden cabinet and put it under special custody. This is the famous “golden alliance” in history.
Later, when Taizu died, the throne was indeed passed to his own brother, Zhao Guangyi, who was also known as Emperor Taizong of Song. According to the relationship of affinity, Taizong definitely wanted his son to be the emperor. But every dynasty has a shaky foundation when it is first established, and the fact that Taizong was willing to give up his son’s interests for the sake of the Song dynasty’s foundation shows that he was a wise ruler who took the big picture into consideration. And from this interaction between him and the Empress Dowager, we can also see that Taizu was a wise man who valued filial piety and kept his promises!
Of course, Empress Dowager Du was also a woman of deep understanding, which is why her words had great influence on the emperor! Here we share with you a short story about the life of Empress Dowager Du. When Tai Zu was crowned in yellow and had just ascended to the throne, someone rushed to report: “Your son has become the emperor!” The Empress Dowager, however, simply said indifferently, “My son has always had great ambition, and today it seems that he has.”
When she was formally crowned Empress Dowager, the Empress Dowager became sullen and sad again when she saw the courtiers paying respectful congratulations. Someone advised her, “I have heard that ‘a mother is honored by her son,’ and now that your son has become emperor, why are you not happy?”
The Empress Dowager said, “I have heard that ‘it is difficult to be an emperor’, the emperor is the lord of all the people, if he rules the country well, the throne can last long; once the country is out of control, it is impossible to be a commoner again, that is what I am worried about!” When Taizu heard this, he immediately said to his mother, “I will listen to your teaching!” Empress Dowager Du was the Empress Dowager for only one year, but she left three talks in the official history, which is rare in history, right!
Her own son suddenly became the emperor, but she was very calm as a mother; she became the woman with the most honored position, but she was soberly aware of the importance of governing the country. This kind of character of Empress Dowager Du, who was indifferent to fame and fortune and worried about the country and the people, also played a good role in assisting and urging the emperor, and she deserved to be the first of the consorts of the Song Dynasty!
Generally speaking, the emperor would choose the first-born son as the heir to the throne, and a few were passed on to brothers or others. This is not because these emperors have any prejudice against their sons, but from the perspective of the overall situation of the country, choosing a truly talented and virtuous sage to take on the important task of governing the world. Just like the ancient sage kings Yao, Shun and Yu passed the throne through the Zen transfer system, this was actually a responsible practice for both the country and the people. Let’s take a look at some other emperors in history who passed on their sages but not their sons!
Sun Ce, the founder of the Sun-Wu regime, passed the throne to his younger brother Sun Quan. Although Sun Ce did not claim the title of emperor, he was the first leader of Wu in the era of the Three Kingdoms, when he pacified Jiangdong, but unfortunately died young. Before his death, Sun Ce did not entrust the cause of Eastern Wu to his young son, but chose Sun Quan, who had both virtue and talent. According to the “Three Kingdoms”, Sun Ce told Sun Quan, “If I were to raise the people of Jiangdong and decide between the two fronts to compete with the world, I would not be as good as you. I am not as good as you when it comes to appointing the best and the brightest to protect Jiangdong.” Sun Quan did live up to the expectations of the people, and developed the hegemony of his father and brother and became the founding emperor of Eastern Wu.
Song Gaozong Zhao Ge, having no heir, passed the throne to his adopted son, Song Xiaozong. Thanks to the accession of Song Xiaozong, the throne of Song Dynasty finally returned to the lineage of the descendants of the great ancestor Zhao Kuangyin, which is considered as the “return of the original owner”. Xiaozong was also the most effective emperor of the Southern Song Dynasty, and the History of the Song Dynasty praises him as “the first of all the Southern Emperors”. For example, he vindicated the injustice of Yue Fei, and advocated the recovery of lost territories in the Central Plains; he rectified corrupt officials and attached importance to agriculture, and the Southern Song Dynasty entered a period of prosperity from turmoil, known as “the rule of Qian-Sun”.
Ming Hizong ZhuYuZheng, son died early, passed to his younger brother Ming SiZong ZhuYuQi. Ming Hizong is a rare “carpenter emperor” in history, in the dynasty did not have much success, but before his death decided to pass the throne to his brother Zhu Yuqian. Ming history of the Chronicle of the end of his words: “my brother when the ruler of Yao Shun.” The last emperor of the Ming dynasty is also known as Chongzhen Emperor. But he himself was diligent in government, vigorously removing the eunuchs and trying to reverse the defeat of the Ming Dynasty. When the Ming dynasty fell, he hanged himself, and was also a very courageous emperor.
(References: “The Three Kingdoms”, “History of the Old Five Dynasties”, “History of the Song Dynasty”, “Chronicle of the Ming Dynasty”)