Emperor of China

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The Emperor of China (Chinese: 皇帝; pinyin: Huángdì) refers to any sovereign of Imperial China reigning between the founding of China, united by the King of Qin in 221 BCE, and the fall of Yuan Shikai's Empire of China in 1916. When referred to as the Son of Heaven (Chinese: 天子 tiānzì), a title that predates the Qin unification, the Emperor was recognized as the ruler of "All under heaven" (i.e., the world). In practice not every Emperor held supreme power, though this was most often the case.

Emperors from the same family are generally classified in historical periods known as Dynasties. Most of China's imperial rulers have commonly been considered members of the Han ethnicity, although recent scholarship tends to be careful about the dangers of applying current ethnic categories to historical situations. During the Yuan and Qing dynasties China was ruled by ethnic Mongolians and Manchurians respectively. A prominent historical view over the years sees these dynasties as non-native dynasties that were sinicized (i.e. made Chinese) over time, though some more recent writers argue that the interaction between politics and ethnicity was far more complex.[1]


Origin and history

The pre-Qin monarchs were called Wang (王), roughly translated as King. In 221 BCE, after the then King of Qin completed the conquest of the various kingdoms of the Warring States Period, he adopted a new title to reflect his prestige as a ruler greater than the kings before him. He created the new title Huangdi or "Emperor", and styled himself Shi Huangdi, the First Emperor. Before this, Huang (皇) and Di (帝) were the titles of several pre-historical leaders.

Chinese political theory does not totally discourage or prevent the rule of non-royals or foreigners holding the title of "Emperor of China". Historically, China has been divided, numerous times, into smaller kingdoms under separate rulers or warlords. The Emperor in most cases was the ruler of a united China, or must at least have claimed legitimate rule over all of China if he did not have de facto control. There have been a number of instances where there has been more than one "Emperor of All China" simultaneously in Chinese history. For example, various Ming Dynasty princes continued to claim the title after the founding of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), and Wu Sangui claimed the title during the Kangxi Emperor's reign. In dynasties founded by foreign conquering tribes that eventually became immersed in Chinese culture, politics, and society, the rulers would adopt the title of Emperor of China in addition to whatever titles they may have had from their original homeland. Thus, Kublai Khan was simultaneously Khagan of the Mongols and Emperor of China.

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