Sunday, 19 February 2017

Meet Liu Ziye, the Chinese Caligula

Rome is justly notorious for several of its Emperors, whether Nero with his cruelty and artistic vanity, Commodus with his gladiatorial obsessions, or Heliogabalus with his perverse sexuality. But the most notorious of the Emperors is undoubtedly Caligula, who committed acts of evil, depravity, and insanity with a degree of panache that makes him the epitome of Lord Acton's famous axiom that power corrupts while absolute power corrupts absolutely.

But Rome was not alone in bestowing such corrupting power on men. The Chinese have an even longer history of Emperors, and although they found ways to contain and enervate their emperors behind silken curtains and clouds of incense and opium, ministered by eunuchs and concubines, they too had their mad, bad, and dangerous-to-know emperors. 

The closest comparison to Caligula was perhaps Liu Ziye (劉子業), who reigned as the Emperor Qianfei over a vast area of Southern China as part of the Southern Song Dynasty (420-479).