Emperor Ai of Han (27 BC – 15 August 1 BC) was an emperor of the Chinese Han dynasty. He ascended the throne when he was 20, having been made heir by his childless uncle Emperor Cheng, and he reigned from 7 to 1 BC.The people and the officials were initially excited about his ascension, as he was viewed by them (as well as Emperor Cheng) to be intelligent, articulate, and capable. However, under Emperor Ai, corruption became even more prevalent and heavy taxes were levied on the people. Furthermore, Emperor Ai was highly controlled by his grandmother Consort Fu (consort of his grandfather and his predecessors father Emperor Yuan), who demanded the title of Grand Empress Dowager—even though she had never been an empress previously and therefore did not properly hold that title, and this led to the unprecedented and unrepeated situation of four women possessing empress dowager titles at the same time—Empress Wang (Emperor Chengs mother and Emperor Yuans wife), Empress Zhao Feiyan (Emperor Chengs wife), Consort Fu, and Consort Ding (Emperor Ais mother).Consort Fus control of the political scene extended until her death in 2 BC, including an episode where her jealousy of Consort Feng Yuan—another consort of Emperor Yuans (and therefore her romantic rival) and the grandmother of the future Emperor Ping—resulted in Consort Feng being falsely accused of witchcraft and subsequently being forced to commit suicide. During Emperor Ais reign, he also stripped the Wang clan (Empress Wangs clan), which had been powerful during Emperor Chengs reign, of much of their power, and substituted members of the Fu and Ding clans in their stead (which, ironically, caused the people, who were not enamored with the Wangs initially, to long for their return to power as they associated the departure of the Wangs from power with Emperor Ais incompetence in administration). In an unpopular act, Emperor Ai had his prime minister Wang Jia (王嘉, unrelated to the Wang clan mentioned above) put to death for criticizing him, an act that made him appear tyrannical. Emperor Ais shortcomings quickly led to the demoralization of the people towards the government and the acquisition of power by Wang Mang, in a backlash, after Ai died in 1 BC.Emperor Ai was also famous for being the most effusive homosexual emperor of the Han dynasty. Traditional historians characterized the relationship between Emperor Ai and Dong Xian as one between homosexual lovers and referred to their relationship as the passion of the cut sleeve (斷袖之癖) after a story that one afternoon after falling asleep for a nap on the same bed, Emperor Ai cut off his sleeve rather than disturb the sleeping Dong Xian when he had to get out of bed. Dong was noted for his relative simplicity contrasted with the highly ornamented court, and was given progressively higher and higher posts as part of the relationship, eventually becoming the supreme commander of the armed forces by the time of Emperor Ais death. Dong was afterward forced to commit suicide.
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