Wang Mang - the Founder of the Xin Dynasty
Wang Mang (王莽) (45 BC–October 6, 23), courtesy name Jujun (巨君), was a Han Dynasty official who seized the throne from the Liu family and founded the Xin Dynasty (新朝), ruling AD 9–23. The Han dynasty was restored after his overthrow and his rule marks the separation between the Western Han Dynasty (before Xin) and Eastern Han Dynasty (after Xin). Some historians have traditionally viewed Wang as a usurper, while others have portrayed him as a visionary and selfless social reformer. Though a learned Confucian scholar who sought to implement the harmonious society he saw in the classics, his efforts ended in chaos.
Wang was born into a distinguished family, but his father died when he was young and he held only minor posts until being made a marquess in 16 BC. His father's half sister was the powerful Grand Empress Dowager Wang who had been the consort of Emperor Yuan and mother of Emperor Cheng. In 8 BC Wang was appointed regent for Emperor Cheng, but Emperor Cheng died in 7 or 6 BC and was succeeded by Emperor Ai, who was not related to the Empress Dowager. Wang Mang thereupon resigned.
However, in 1 BC, Emperor Ai died and Empress Dowager Wang immediately had Wang Mang appointed regent for the new Emperor Ping. Wang consolidated his power by having his daughter made the Emperor Ping's empress. When Emperor Ping died as a child in AD 6, Wang Mang chose (to his own advantage) an infant successor, the Emperor Ruzi, who had only been born in AD 5. At this time, Wang claimed for himself the title of acting emperor and engaged in a propaganda campaign to convince others that the Han dynasty no longer held the mandate of heaven and was to be replaced. Finally, in January of AD 9, he ascended the throne and declared the Xin Dynasty.
As regent, Wang had gained a reputation as a competent administrator and his accession was at first seen in a good light. He sought to refill the imperial coffers by instituting government monopolies and restoring the well-field system. His decision to nationalize gold and keep issuing new currencies caused hardship and discontent among merchants. In AD 9 he decreed that all large estates, which had gradually grown larger and threatened imperial power, be dissolved and their lands distributed among tax-paying peasants. This did not sit well with the aristocracy, which forced Wang to rescind his decree in AD 12.
Another major reason for the deterioration of Wang's reign was that in the diplomatic arena he was prone to extreme arrogance and faux pas when dealing with allies and tributary states. In particular, with the Xiongnu, he denigrated their Chanyu (king) and tried to interfere in their internal affairs. This led to the breakdown of diplomatic relations and prolonged wars with Xiong-Nu and many other tributary states, further adding to the tax and human costs of his administration.
Between AD 2 and AD 5 and again in AD 11, the Yellow River changed course to flow south (instead of north) of the Shandong Peninsula, causing famine, epidemics, and migration among the peasants. Peasants banded together and led larger and larger rebellions. In October of AD 23, the capital Chang'an was attacked and the imperial palace ransacked. Wang Mang and his 1,000 courtiers made their last stand and fought until they were completely obliterated. Wang Mang died in the battle.
The Han dynasty was reestablished in AD 25 when Liu Xiu (Emperor Guangwu) took the throne.