Taishang Huang

Taishang-huang was a Chinese title, sometimes translated in English as Retired Emperor, Grand Emperor or Emperor Emeritus used throughout East Asia, occasionally given to former emperors who had (at least in name) abdicated voluntarily to their sons. The title originated, however, from Liu Bang (Emperor Gao of Han)'s father Liu Zhijia (劉執嘉), who was honored as such after Liu Bang declared himself emperor in 202, even though Liu Zhijia was never emperor himself. The title, or variants thereof, were occasionally used in all states within the Chinese sphere of influence, including China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Although technically no longer the reigning sovereign, there are instances like the Qianlong Emperor of the Qing dynasty, where the emperor continued to exert considerable if not more power than the reigning emperor.

In Japan the title was Daijō-tennō (kanji: 太上天皇 Hepburn: daijō-tennō), or just Jōkō (kanji: 上皇; Hepburn: jōkō). In Vietnam the title was Thai thuong hoang (quoc ngu: Thái thượng hoàng; chu nom: 太上皇), or just Thuong hoang (quoc ngu: Thượng hoàng; chu nom: 上皇), and it was used even for a retired king (there were no emperors in Vietnam before 1802). The title in Korean is Sang-hwang (hangul: 상황; hanja: 上皇), or sometimes even Taesang Hwang (hangul: 태상황; hanja: 太上皇). After 1897, when Korea became an empire, there was only one instance of retired emperor: Emperor Gojong, who was forced to abdicate by the Japanese in 1907. However, he was given the title Tae Hwangje (hangul: 태황제; hanja: 太皇帝).

Instances of Chinese rulers who were granted the title Taishang Huang:

  • Emperor Gaozu of the Tang, who abdicated in 626 and was made Taishang Huang until his death in 635.
  • Emperor Ruizong of Tang, who abdicated in 712 and was made Taishang Huang until his death in 716.
  • Emperor Xuanzong of Tang, who abdicated in 756 and was made Taishang Huang until his death in 762.
  • Zhengtong Emperor (Yingzong) of the Ming from his capture by the Mongols in 1449 until his return to the throne in 1457.
  • Qianlong Emperor (Gaozong) of the Qing who abdicated in 1796 and was made Taishang Huang until his death in 1799.

In Japan, there was a political system called Cloistered rule, in which Jōkō exerted power and influence from behind the scenes even after retirement.

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