The Changing Face of Imperial Court Politics during the Reign of Later Han Emperor An: On the Rise of the Eunuchs
28 , 2016-12
In the research to date on the Later Han Dynasty, the Dowager Empress Deng’s (鄧太后) regency has been characterized as an era in which eunuchs rose to power at Court. However, alliances between eunuch and imperial in-laws in such practices as influence peddling for court appointments (選挙請託) became ingrained during the era of Emperor An’s (安帝) direct rule and the regency of Dowager Empress Yan (閻太后). As this period has not been duly noted due to its short duration, the author of this article examines it by focusing on imperial in-laws, eunuchs and literati bureaucrats, in an attempt to explain the reasons for the rise of the eunuchs at that time. The author begins with an investigation of two imperial in-law clans, the Gengs (耿) and the Yans (閻), discussing their family pedigrees, court appointments and influence they exercised at Court. The article then moves to the main question of the rise of the eunuchs and its various causes. To begin with, criticism of the governance during the regency of Dowager Empress Deng and the infiltration of the Deng Clan into the bureaucracy are discussed as factors. The author concludes the eunuchs in this period first gained influence at Court through the drafting and transfer of documents, before forming their affiliations with court in-laws. Then, regarding the political participation of eunuchs under the direct imperial rule of Emperor An, the author raises examples in order to show the motivation behind the Emperor and his in-laws coming to regard the eunuchs as indispensable. This is followed by an examination of the literati bureaucrats in office during the reign of Emperor An and the regency of Empress Dowager Yan. First, the author confirms the fact that a certain number of Deng Clan bureaucrats managed to retain their appointments during the reign of Emperor An, then shows that the Emperor resisted this move by summoning bureaucrats opposed to the Deng Clan to his side, as evidenced by the large anti-Deng character of the Office of Palace Writers (Shangshu 尚書). Finally, the author shows that this trend continued even during Empress Dowager Yan’s regency, when reaction arose to the deposing of the Heir Apparent, and the Yan Clan was unsuccessful in building friendly relations with bureaucrats, bringing about even heavier dependence upon the eunuchs. The author concludes that accelerated participation by the eunuchs in politics during the reign of Emperor An and the regency of Empress Dowager Yan marked an important era of transition in the history of the Later Han Dynasty.