Emperor Gaodi was born in 247 BCE. His name at birth was Liu Bang (also known as Lui Ji). His family were peasants and his mother and father are unknown.
In 209 BCE, Liu Bang was known as Lord of Pei and became king of Han in 206 BCE.
During the people’s rebellion at the end of the Qin dynasty, Liu Bang, as the king of Han, raised an army and joined with other rebellious rulers to remove the Qin dynasty emperor, Er Shi. He did not agree with the other rulers that looting and killing of Qin imperial family members was the right thing to do.
After the death of Emperor Er Shi of the Qin dynasty, a general, Xiang Yu attempted to create his own dynasty. He wanted China to remain as a feudalistic state – rulers and peasants. Lui Bang disagreed and his Han troops fought Xiang Yu’s troops from 206-202 BCE. After Xiang Yu’s defeat in 202 BCE, Lui Bang became Emperor Gaodi (Kao-ti), which means “High Emperor”. He is also known as Gaozu (Kao-tsu) meaning “High Progentitor”. He proclaimed his dynasty as the Han dynasty.
Today, Gaodi’s Han dynasty is known as the Western or Former Han dynasty.
Gaodi made his Han dynasty capital in Chang’an (now known as Xi’an) not far from the ruined capital, Xianyang, of the Qin dynasty.
Emperor Gaodi reunified China by placing his brothers and his sons as rulers over the separate kingdoms.
He believed he was responsible for assuring the people had what they needed. He did not live a lavish lifestyle. He did not build new palaces, government buildings, or other public spaces. He did not grow the kingdom by spending money on his armies to fight others.
Emperor Gaodi did impose new taxes on merchants and others who profited by charging more than necessary for goods sold to those less fortunate.
Executions and other strict punishments also lessened during Emperor Gaodi’s reign.
Being born a peasant may have strengthened Emperor Gaodi’s belief that good government means good people. His Han dynasty government was based on Confucianism, which allowed the people to have a voice without fear of punishment.
Although poorly educated and lacking in the refinements that the upper class families in China believed were important, Emperor Gaodi has become one of China’s most revered emperors. He had nine children, an empress (Lu Hou), and many concubines, four of which were major concubines.
Emperor Gaodi died in 195 BCE from a wound received in battle while fighting against the Huainan. His tomb is in Xi’an, Shaanxi.