Wang Mang | middle reign: agrarian rebellions

Middle reign: agrarian rebellions

For a while, despite the failures of Wang's policies, the people were generally obedient, and all indications were that he should have survived. However, in 11, the Yellow River overflowed its riverbanks, flooding much of the surrounding land in the process. The ensuing famine led to prophecies that Wang had lost the Mandate of Heaven and that the Han dynasty would be restored.

About 17, as the burdens from the wars and the corruption continued to increase, several agrarian rebellions started and took hold, partly also because of a major famine in Jing Prefecture (modern Hubei, Hunan, and southern Henan). The more significant ones include:

  • Guatian Yi (瓜田儀), who occupied territory in modern Suzhou, Jiangsu.
  • Mother Lü, whose son was a minor civil servant who was wrongly killed by the county magistrate. She gathered a group of desperate young men and killed the county magistrate, and then went out to the sea to become pirates, but later returned to land when her forces became larger.
  • Zhang Ba (張霸), who occupied territory in modern Jingzhou, Hubei.
  • Yang Mu (羊牧), who occupied territory in modern Xiaogan, Hubei.
  • Diao Zidu (刁子都), who roved through modern western Shandong and northern Jiangsu.
  • The very important Lülin Mountain (綠林山, in modern Yichang, Hubei) rebels, who were led by Wang Kuang (王匡) and Wang Feng (王鳳, not to be confused with Wang Mang's uncle of the same name). Because both Wang Kuang and Wang Feng were from Xinshi (新市, in modern Jingmen, Hubei), these rebels were also known as Xinshi rebels.
  • The also very important Chimei (赤眉, "red eyebrows") rebels, who were led by Fan Chong (樊崇), who roved through large swaths of territory in modern southern Shandong and northern Jiangsu. (They got their names because, in order to distinguish themselves from government forces attacking them, they painted their eyebrows red.)

Wang sent messengers issuing pardons in hope of causing these rebels to disband. Once the messengers returned to Chang'an, some honestly reported that the rebels had gathered because the harsh laws made it impossible for them to make a living and therefore they were forced to rebel. Some, in order to flatter Wang Mang, told him that these were simply evil resisters who needed to be killed, or that this was a temporary phenomenon. Wang listened to those who flattered him and generally relieved from their posts those who told the truth. Further, Wang made no further attempts to pacify the rebels, but instead decided to suppress them by force.

At this time, Wang made another strategic mistake involving Xiongnu. In 18, Chanyu Xian died, and his brother Yu (輿) became chanyu. He wanted to consider peace with Xin, and he sent one of his key officials and a nephew of his to serve as ambassadors to Chang'an. In response, Wang Mang sent Wang Zhaojun's brother Wang She (王歙) to meet with Princess Yun and her husband Xuyu Dang. At the meeting, however, Xin forces surprised and kidnapped the princess and her husband and took them to Chang'an. Wang Mang created Xuyu chanyu and envisioned placing him on the Xiongnu throne by force. This ended any hope of peace with Xiongnu.

In 20, Wang Mang made a sudden change of his presumed heir—of sorts. He suddenly deposed Crown Prince Lin, under the rationale that disaster would come from the fact that Crown Prince Lin was younger than his brother Lord An, and should not have been crown prince. He then created Lord An the Prince of Xinqian and Wang Lin the Prince of Tongyiyang.

In 21, Empress Wang died. After her death, Wang Mang discovered that one of Empress Wang's ladies in waiting, Yuan Bi (原碧), with whom he had an affair, had also had an affair with Crown Prince Lin, and that she had conspired with Crown Prince Lin to kill Wang Mang, in light of Wang Lin's demotion. Wang Mang ordered Wang Lin to commit suicide by poison, but Wang Lin refused, and killed himself by sword. Later that year, Wang An died as well. Wang Mang then announced that he had in fact two sons by female servants, whom he then created dukes.

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