In this post last year talked about honorary imperial titles given to (or claimed by) people who weren't actually emperors. Today I am going to write about something at the other end of the scale: the word 廃帝, haitei (or fèidì in Chinese, the original source), which refers to a deposed ex-emperor. As you might expect, it is not a polite term: one translation of the characters would be "discarded/abandoned emperor," using the same 廃 as you see in words like haikyo 廃墟 "ruins".

The first weird thing about this word is that, to judge from Wikipedia, English-language Chinese historiographers translate it "Emperor Fei," treating the "Deposed" part as if it were actually a name rather than a title or descriptor. Maybe this reflects how things were done in the original Chinese sources: once you were deposed, your official name was changed to Deposed, and that's how people referred to you. Or, it might just be a weird style quirk introduced by some 19th-century European scholar who didn't quite understand what he was translating. Or maybe it's a descriptor like "Emperor regnant"? Anyone know?

The Japanese wikipedia page lists some haitei for Vietnam, Korea, and Japan as well as China — although note that both of the Japanese examples, now Emperor Junnin and Emperor Chūkyō (previously known as "Awaji Haitei" and "Kujō Haitei" respectively), were relieved of their shameful haitei status by the Meiji government in 1870 as part of the general imperial history sprucing-up of that time.

(Another interesting point: Emperor Chūkyō was also known as the "latter Haitei", the "former" being Emperor Junnin. Even though they were separated by 500 years, "former" and "latter" makes sense in Japan because the imperial lineage is understood as one long-lived house fending off pretenders rather than several competing houses jostling for the top.)

Today, the best-known haitei is probably Pǔ yí 溥儀, last emperor of the Qing dynasty and therefore of China (later notoriously called back into service as figurehead for Japan's puppet state in Manchukuo). Interestingly, the designation of Pǔ yí as a haitei was (according to Wikipedia) a revolutionary thang; those sympathetic to the old order preferred the face-saving sontei (xùndì) 遜帝, "abdicated emperor" (e.g.).

Related terms: shōtei 小帝, "little emperor" or "Emperor Shao", for emperors deposed or killed at a very young age (think pre-teens), and matsutei 末帝, "last emperor" or "Emperor Mò[dì]", for emperors who were the last in their line before their holdings were taken over by another imperial line. (Pǔ yí gets this one sometimes too.)

Popularity factor: 9


So that lascivious American biography of Pu Yi and its accompanying inaccurate movie should have not been titled "The Last Emperor" but rather "The Fallen Emperor" or "The Deposed Emperor" or something like that. If the author had at all cared about how Chinese people see history, that is.


I haven't seen the film, was it that bad? Anyway, he was indeed the Last Emperor, so the title wasn't a lie or anything.

Not knowing anything about the guy's image in China these days, I can only note that the zh Wikipedia article on him says "因其为中國最後一個王朝的末代皇帝,所以有人稱其清末帝。而其生前也有人根據其退位,稱他為遜帝或廢帝", which I roughly translate as "Because he was the last emperor of the last dynasty, some call him the Qing 'Matsutei.' While he was alive people called him 'Haitei' or 'Sontei' depending on how they felt about his abdication." It wouldn't surprise me if there wasn't a whole lot of anti-Emperor sentiment left by the 1980s, anyway.


I got an A from Mo Di for sticking to kings!

language hat:

It's been a while since I saw the movie (when it came out), but I don't remember it as being particularly bad; more lumbering and solemn, a la Gandhi. Anyway, why should an American movie see history the way Chinese people do?


If you don't find out about that "Emperor Fei" thing, when I'm back in the 'states, I'll ask around and see if it's not just a bad translation Wikipedia quirk. Because you do have those sometimes.


Infelicity? In MY Wikipedia? Yeah, if you could ask someone that would be great. I checked Google Books, but results are inconclusive:

"The Palace of Eternal Life was one of the buildings erected by the Emperor Fei 廢 (r. 499-501) of the Southern Qi [...] for one of his consorts, Lady Pan. The troops are those of Emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty [...]" in "Writing another's dream: the poetry of Wen Tingyun" by Rouzer. (Note possibly meaningful distinction: "the Emperor Fei" vs determinative-free "Emperor Wu".)

"He was succeeded by his eldest son, Gao Yin, who took the throne as Emperor Fei and reigned for only two years (599-560)" in "The Great Wall: From Beginning to End", by Yamashita and Lindesay (This one just seems wrong; he can't have taken the throne under the title "Deposed", that would just be defeatist)

"During the Guangdazhong reign period (567-568), Emperor Fei of the Chen 'once again made Empress Zhao the companion for the northern suburb sacrifice.' In so doing, he restored the northern suburb companion system that Emperor Wu of the Chen had put into practice and corrected Emperor Wen's mistake of recklessly altering the nature of the sacrifice" in "Early Chinese Religion: The Period of Division (220-589 AD). Part Two, Volume 1", by Lagerwey and Lü (No distinction in determinative or anything else between "Emperor Wu", "Empress Zhao" and "Emperor Fei")


Below's what I have learnt, take 'em with some good-looking grains of salt.

废 is a posthumous name like other posthumous names. The right of giving the name stays with the bureaucracy. So with a dynasty change, the bureaucracy changed its allegiance along, and it's only too natural to name a deposed emperor "Deposed".

Abraham Lincoln:

Interesting. I had never thought of this until I read the post.


Thanks, minus273, I guess that does make sense, although it is still ice-cold.

Abe: Glad to be of service.

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