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LGBT History Month: Who is Emperor Ai of Han?

This LGBT History Month we are looking at a range of important figures in LGBTQ+ history. Fraizer, your LGBTQ+ Representative, has chosen a variety of people who are important to LGBTQ+ history for different reasons and who come from varied backgrounds. Each week we will look at people in politics, art and more, and from as early as 27 BC.

This week we are featuring Emperor Ai of Han (27 BC - 2 BC).

Emperor Ai of Han was an emperor of the Chinese Han dynasty. He ascended the throne when he was 20, having been made heir by his childless uncle Emperor Cheng, and he reigned from 7 to 1 BCE.

Emperor Ai is known for being one of the most homosexual emperors of the Han dynasty. His most notable relationship was with Dong Xian, which historians have characterised as one between homosexual lovers and referred to their relationship as "the passion of the cut sleeve". Despite being known for their relationship, both men were actually married.

The name "the passion of the cut sleeve" comes from a story that one afternoon, after falling asleep for a nap on the same bed, Emperor Ai cut off his sleeve rather than disturb the sleeping Dong Xian when he had to get out of bed. It was widely known that the two men regularly slept together on straw mats.

Throughout their time together, Dong was given many 'promotions' to higher positions, eventually become the supreme commander of the armed forces by the time of Emperor Ai's death. This was unlikely due to skill, many believe it was because of their relationship.

After his sudden death, Dong was unable to act. The Palace Secretary was ordered to issue an article of impeachment against Dong, accusing him of failing to attend to Emperor Ai during his illness. Dong was prohibited from entering the palace, and was relieved of his job. That night, Dong and his wife committed suicide.

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