Emperor Xian of Han (2 April 181 – 21 April 234), personal name Liu Xie,
courtesy name Bohe, was the 14th and last
emperor of the
Eastern Han dynasty in China. He reigned from 28 September 189 until 25 November 220.
Liu Xie was a son of
Liu Hong (Emperor Ling) and was a younger half-brother of his predecessor,
Liu Bian (Emperor Shao). In 189, at the age of eight, he became emperor after the warlord
Dong Zhuo, who had seized control of the Han central government, deposed Emperor Shao and replaced him with Liu Xie. The newly enthroned Liu Xie, historically known as Emperor Xian, was in fact a puppet ruler under Dong Zhuo's control. In 190, when a coalition of regional warlords launched a punitive
campaign against Dong Zhuo in the name of freeing Emperor Xian, Dong Zhuo ordered the destruction of the imperial capital,
Luoyang, and forcefully relocated the imperial capital along with its residents to
Chang'an. After Dong Zhuo's assassination in 192, Emperor Xian fell under the control of
Li Jue and
Guo Si, two former subordinates of Dong Zhuo. The various regional warlords formally acknowledged Emperor Xian's legitimacy but never took action to save him from being held hostage.
In 195, Emperor Xian managed to escape from Chang'an and return to the ruins of Luoyang, where he soon became stranded. A year later, the warlord
Cao Cao led his forces into Luoyang, received Emperor Xian, took him under his protection, and escorted him to
Xu, where the new imperial capital was established. Although Cao Cao paid nominal allegiance to Emperor Xian, he was actually the de facto head of the central government. He skillfully used Emperor Xian as a "trump card" to bolster his legitimacy when he attacked and eliminated rival warlords in his quest to reunify the Han Empire under the central government's rule. Cao Cao's success seemed inevitable until the winter of 208–209, when he lost the decisive
Battle of Red Cliffs against the southern warlords
Sun Quan and
Liu Bei. The battle paved the way for the subsequent emergence of the Three Kingdoms later.
In late 220, some months after Cao Cao's death, Cao Cao's successor,
Cao Pi, forced Emperor Xian to abdicate the throne to him. He then established the state of
Cao Wei with himself as the new emperor – an event marking the formal end of the Han dynasty and the beginning of the Three Kingdoms period in China. The dethroned Emperor Xian received the noble title Duke of Shanyang (山陽公) from Cao Pi and spent the rest of his life in comfort and enjoyed preferential treatment. He died on 21 April 234,
[a] about 14 years after the fall of the Han dynasty.