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Posthumous name

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Posthumous name, or in Chinese, shi hao (諡號 shi4 hao4) or, less commonly, yi hao (謚號 yi4 hao4), also commonly called "respectful name" (尊號 zun1 hao4), is the name commonly used when naming most Chinese royalties and all of emperors of Japan, except the four recent emperors, Akihito, Hirohito (the Showa emperor), the Taisho emperor and the Meiji emperor.

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History Having the origin in the Zhou Dynasty, posthumous name had been used 800 years earlier than temple name. The first person named posthumously was Ji Fa (姬昌), named by his son Ji Fa (姬發) of Zhou, as the "Civil King" (文王). The use of posthumous names was stopped in the Qin Dynasty, because Qin Shi Huangdi proclaimed that it is disrespectful for the descendants, or "later emperors" (嗣皇帝) to judge their elders, or the "prior emperors" (先帝). The practice was revived in the Han Dynasty after the demise of the Qin Empire.

Royalties All Chinese posthumous names for rulers end in one or two of the characters for "emperor", huangdi (皇帝), which can be shortened to di; except about a dozen or so less recognonized ones who have had only di and no huang.

Starting with Emperor Xiaowen[?], every single Han emperor, except the final one of the Eastern Han, has the character of "filial" (孝 xiao4) at the beginning of his posthumous names. "Filial" is also used in the full posthumous names of virtually all emperors of Tang, Song, Ming and Qing Dynasties. For Qing emperors, "filial" is placed in various position in the string of characters, while the those Qing empresses who were given posthumous names, "filial" is always at the beginning.

The number of characters in posthumous increased slowly. The emperors of the Tang Dynasty have names in between seven to eighteen characters. Those in the Qing Dynasty have over twenty characters, for example, Kangxi's name is The Emperors of Order who Observes the Heavenly Rituals with a Solemn Fate, Destined to Unify, Establishes with Extreme Talented Insights, Admires the Arts, Manifests the Might, with Great Virtue and Vast Achievement, Reaches Humanity, Purely Filial" (禮天隆運定統建極英睿欽文顯武大德宏功至仁純孝章皇帝 li3 tian1 long2 yun3 ding4 tong3 jian4 ji2 ying1 rui4 qin1 wen2 xian3 wu3 da4 de2 hong2 gong1 zhi4 ren2 chun2 xiao4 zhang1 huang2 di4).

The woman with the longest posthumous name is Empress Cixi[?], who is "The Empress who is Admirably Filial, Initiates Kindness, with Blessed Health, Manifests Much Contentment, Solemn Sincerity, with Longevity, Provides Admiration Prosperously, Reveal Adoration, Prosperous with a Merry Heaven, with a Holy Appearance" (孝欽慈禧端佑康頤昭豫莊誠壽恭欽獻崇熙配天興聖顯皇后 xiao4 qin1 ci2 xi1 duan1 you3 kang1 yi2 zhao1 yu4 zhuang1 cheng2 shao4 gong1 qin1 xian4 chong2 xi1 bei4 tian1 xin4 sheng4 yan2 xian3 huang2 hou4).

Posthumous names can be praises (褒字) or depreciations (貶字). There are more praises than depreciations. Sima Qian's Records of the Great Historian outlines extensively the rules behind choosing the names:

  • Praises
    • Those who are unyielding and upholds reasons (剛強直理) are called "Martial" (武 wu3). [This is one of the most honourable name.]
    • Those who sympathize with the people and are able to _?_ (憫民會椅) are called "Civil" (文 wen2). [This is one of the most honourable name.]
    • Those who respect the talented and value righteousness (尊賢貴義) are called "Reverent" (恭 gong4).
    • Those who are kind and wise (溫柔賢善) are called "Benign" (懿 yi4).
    • Those who use righteousness to aid (由義而濟) are called "Admirable" (景 jing3).
    • Those who treat the people compassionately with a gentle quality (柔質慈民) are called "Compassionate" (惠 hui4).
    • Those who eliminate destructions and purge cruelty (除殘去虐) are called "Tang" (湯 tang1). [Possibly named after the revered ruler, Chengtang[?] (成湯), the founder of the Shang Dynasty.]
    • Those who calm the people and establish (安民立政) are called "Established" (成 cheng2). [Possibly named after Chengtang.]
    • Those who whose considerations are determined and farsighted (果慮果遠) are called "Brilliant" (明 ming2).
    • Those who widely distributes his virtues and righteousness (布德執義) are called "Majestic" (穆 mu4).
    • Those who cultivate the land and journeys afar (辟土服遠) are called "Willow-like" (桓 huan2).

  • Depreciations
    • Those who lived short lives without much accomplishment (短折不成) are called "Passed Away Prematurely" (殤 shang1).
    • Those who encountered depressive[?] emotions during their time in the nation (在國遭憂) are called "Pitiful" (愍 min3).
    • Those who are alone young and die young (蚤孤短折) are called "Lamentable" (哀 ai1).
    • Those who are without restraint and often make sacrifices to the ancestors (肆行勞祀) are called "Mournful" (悼 dao4).

However, most of these qualifications are subjective, repetitive, and highly stereotypical, hence the names are chosen somewhat arbitrarily.

Because it is given by the descendants, the last one or two emperors of a dynasty are usually without posthumous names.

Japanese Emperors Japanese posthumous are also called "emperor names" (帝号). Almost all Japanese emperors' posthumous names have two Kanji characters, a few have three. Some names are given several generations later, this is case for Jimmu and Antoku. Others are given immediately after death, like Mommu.   Many have style like the Chinese, for example

  • Jimmu (神武) "Divine Might"
  • Nintoku (仁徳) "Humane Virtue"
  • Ojin (応神) "Answering the Gods"
  Some have Japanese style:
  • Naming after a place where the emperor was born or lived.
  • Naming after an emperor whose admirable characteristics resemble those of an earlier one, by adding the character Go (後) "latter", for example, Go-Ichijo, Go-Daigo
  • Combining characters from previous emperors, e.g.

Commoners Some prominent East Asian commoners were named posthumously, including:

Ocassionally, politically and culturally insignificant persons, like immediate ancestors of the first emperor of a dynasty, are given posthumous names.

  • Liu Zhijia (劉執嘉), a Qin commoner farmer who was given the name Emperor Taishan (太上皇) "Absolute Superiority," just because he was the father of Han Gaozu.

An exception to insignificant ancestor-naming is Lao Zi, the claimed ancestor of the Li family of the Tang Dynasty, was named posthumously (see the "Lao Zi" article). He has been culturally important after death.

Miscellaneous To combine an emperor's temple name and posthumous name, place temple first.

The process of naming somebody posthumously is in Chinese called "retroactively posthumously naming" (追謚).

A fuller description of this naming convention for royalty appears in the Chinese sovereign entry.

See also: Emperor of Japan, name, Japanese name, Chinese name



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