An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Tian Fen 田蚡

Aug 25, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

Tian Fen 田蚡 (d. 131 BCE) was a high minister of the Former Han period 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE). He was a relative of Empress Wang 王后, wife of Emperor Jing 漢景帝 (r. 157-141) and was appointed Grand counsellor of the palace (taizhong dafu 太中大夫) during the last years of Emperor Jing's reign.

Emperor Wu 漢武帝 (r. 141-87 BCE), son of Empress Wang, gave him the title of Marquis of Wu'an 武安侯 and appointed him Defender-in-chief (taiwei 太尉). Tian Fen attracted the hatred of Empress Dowager Dou 竇太后, an ardent adherent of the Huang-Lao religion 黄老, by advocating to make more use of Confucian scholars. He had to leave his official post but because of his relationship with the Empress Dowager Wang, he continued playing a role in court decisions.

In 135, after Empress Dowager Dou's death he was made Counsellor-in-chief (chengxiang 丞相) and factual regent for the young Emperor Wu. He was thus the first (if not counting Empress Dowager Lü 呂太后, r. 188-180) in a long line of regents that dominated the court of the Former and Later Han 後漢 (25-220) periods and endangered the continuance of the dynasty.

Historians ascribe to Tian Fen arrogant manner, corrupt practice and a luxurious lifestyle. He is said to have cast an evil spell on Dou Ying 竇嬰 and Guan Fu 灌夫 in order to kill them. When the dykes of the Yellow River broke in 132 BCE, he refused to undertake costly works of repair because his own estate was not affected.

Cang Xiuliang 倉修良, ed. (1996). Hanshu cidian 漢書辭典 (Jinan: Shandong jiaoyu chubanshe), 190.