Wang Du

Wang Du (Chinese: 王都) (died March 26, 929[1][2]), né Liu Yunlang (劉雲郎), was a warlord during the early Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period of China as the military governor (Jiedushi) of Yiwu Circuit (義武, headquartered in modern Baoding, Hebei). He seized control of Yiwu from his adoptive father Wang Chuzhi in a coup, and subsequently ruled it semi-independently as a vassal of Jin and Jin’s successor state Later Tang. In 928, then-reigning Emperor Mingzong of Later Tang, believing that Wang was about to openly rebel, ordered a general campaign against him, and, after a lengthy siege, Wang killed himself and his family by self-immolation as his capital was falling.

This article is about the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period warlord. For the modern artist, see Wang Du (artist).

. . . Wang Du . . .

It is not known exactly when Wang Du was born—although subsequent events cast a timeframe as to when his birth might have been, and it was clearly late in the Tang Dynasty. He was initially born in a household in Xingyi (陘邑, in modern Shijiazhuang, Hebei), with the name of Liu Yunlang. At one point, he was taken by the sorcerer Li Yingzhi (李應之) and raised by Li as his child. At one point, Li became acquainted with Wang Chuzhi—although it is not known whether Wang Chuzhi was then still an officer under his brother Wang Chucun or Wang Chucun’s son and successor Wang Gao, or whether he was already military governor after succeeding Wang Gao—and healed Wang Chuzhi of an illness. As a result, Wang Chuzhi believed that Li had supernatural powers and came to trust him. At that time, Wang Chuzhi did not yet have a son, and Li gave Liu Yunlang to him to be his child, stating to him, “This boy has an honored appearance.” Wang agreed to take the boy as a son, renaming him Wang Du.[3][4]

Due to Wang Chuzhi’s trust in Li, apparently after he became military governor in 900,[5] he entrusted many military decisions to Li, causing resentment among his officers. There was a time when an army of neighboring Lulong Circuit (盧龍, headquartered in modern Beijing) was passing through Yiwu, and Wang, concerned that Lulong forces might launch a surprise attack, mobilized his troops to prepare. The officers took this chance to surround his mansion and kill Li. They then also tried to force Wang to kill Wang Du as well. Wang Chuzhi insisted on not doing so, and the officers relented. The next day, Wang Chuzhi held a feast for them to comfort them, but secretly recorded the names of all who attended. Over the next 20 years, he gradually found excuses to kill them one by one.[3][6]

Wang Chuzhi did have biological sons later, but he did not favor them, instead favoring Wang Du, who as he grew, was good at flattering his father and treachery. He established a new army and put Wang Du in charge of it. Among Wang Chuzhi’s biological sons, apparently the oldest one was Wang Yu (王郁), born of a concubine. Unhappy that Wang Chuzhi did not favor him, he fled to Li Keyong the military governor of Hedong Circuit (河東, headquartered in modern Taiyuan, Shanxi), and Li Keyong gave him a daughter in marriage, eventually promoting him to be the military prefect (團練使, Tuanlianshi) of Xin Prefecture (新州, in modern Zhangjiakou, Hebei). As all of Wang Chuzhi’s other sons were young, Wang Chuzhi made Wang Du the deputy military governor, and planned to pass the military governor office to him.[4]

As of 921, Tang had long fallen, and Wang Chuzhi’s Yiwu Circuit was aligned with Li Keyong’s son and successor Li Cunxu the Prince of Jin in a long-term war with Tang’s successor state Later Liang. That year, another ally of theirs, Wang Rong the Prince of Zhao (also known as Chengde Circuit (成德, headquartered in modern Shijiazhuang)), was killed in a coup by his adoptive son Zhang Wenli (known as Wang Deming while Wang Rong’s adoptive son), and Li declared a general campaign against Zhang. Wang Chuzhi, believing that over the late Tang decades, Yiwu and Chengde had been geographically reliant on each other for defense, and that if Li took control of Chengde directly, Yiwu would be isolated, opposed the campaign. Li, however, sent a response stating that because of Zhang’s great crimes, he could not be spared. Wang, apprehensive of the consequences, decided to secretly contact Wang Yu, asking him to entice Khitan Empire‘s Emperor Taizu to invade, to divert Jin troops. Wang Yu agreed, but extracted a promise from Wang Chuzhi that he, not Wang Du, would become Wang Chuzhi’s heir.[4]

The officers at Wang Chuzhi’s own headquarters, however, did not want to invite Khitan troops, and Wang Du was also concerned that Wang Yu would take over his position. He thus secretly plotted with his secretary He Zhaoxun (和昭訓) to seize Wang Chuzhi. They took an opportunity to act when Wang Chuzhi welcomed Zhang’s emissary to Yiwu and feasted with the emissary. As Wang Chuzhi was returning to headquarters after the feast, Wang Du had several hundred new army soldiers hidden around the mansion, and seized Wang Chuzhi. He put Wang Chuzhi under house arrest at his western mansion, and slaughtered Wang Chuzhi’s male descendants and close associates. He declared himself acting military governor and reported what happened to Li Cunxu. Li Cunxu officially sanctioned him as acting military governor.[4] (Only Wang Chuzhi’s young son Wang Wei (王威) escaped the slaughter and fled to Khitan.)[7]

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