King Jayavarman VII of the Khmer Empire


A Sculpture of Jayavarman

     Jayavarman VII ruled as King of the Khmer Empire from 1181 until his death in 1218. His reign lasted 37 years. He was married twice during his life.

The exact date of Jayavarman’s birth is unknown. Most historians agree, though, that he was born sometime between 1120 and 1125. His childhood, too, is very mysterious. It is believed that he spent his early years away from the Khmer capital, Angkor. What is known is that when his father, King Dharanindravarman II, died in 1160, Jayavarman did not become king. Instead, his brother, Yasovarman II, claimed the throne. Jayavarman did not fight his brother and, in self-imposed exile, moved to the neighboring kingdom of Champa.

In 1166, Yasovarman was usurped by a court official and assassinated. Upon hearing this, Jayavarman rushed to Khmer. When he arrived, he found that the new regime was already strongly rooted in the country. He decided to bide his time and wait for the perfect oppurtunity to capture the throne. This oppurtunity came in 1177 when Cham invaded and conquered Khmer, sacked Angkor, and killed all of the top government officials. Jayavarman then campaigned for independence, organizing an army and defeating his Cham oppressors. In 1181 he was crowned king of the Khmer Empire and set about conquering his neighbors.

By 1185, Jayavarman had completely defeated and conquered all of the kingdoms neighboring Khmer. In fact, he conquered so many countries, that under his reign, the Khmer Empire reached its territorial zenith. Jayavarman then decided to improve the infrastructure of his kingdom. He rebuilt many highways that had been destroyed during the Cham invasion and built 4 new ones. He then built a new capital city, Angkor Thom, and constructed many palaces and Buddhist temples. At the center of his great city was a huge temple complex called Bayon. He also built 121 rest houses and 102 hospitals throughout his kingdom.

Today, Jayavarman is remembered as the greatest of Khmer’s rulers. Not only did he expand Khmer territory greatly, but he also improved the infrastructure of the country and constructed architectural gems. His reign was marked with religious tolerance and great advances in education. Jayavarman died in 1218. He was in his 90s at the time of his death.

Interesting Fact #1: Jayavarman was a devout Buddhist. This was very uncommon in Khmer, where most people were Hindu. Jayavarman was one of the few Buddhist kings of Khmer. He built large Buddhist temples throughout his kingdom, but did not force his religion upon his people.

Interesting Fact #2: Upon the early death of his wife, Jayarachadevi, Jayavarman married her older sister, Indradevi.

Interesting Fact #3: Jayavarman’s son, Indravarman II, succeeded him upon his death. Some historians believe that Indravarman was the Leper king of Cambodian legend due to the lack of celebrations upon his coronation as king. However, we can never know for sure whether this is true or not.

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Jiajing Emperor of Ming

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Jiajing Emperor

     The Jiajing Emperor was the ruler of Ming from May 27, 1521 to January 23, 1567. He reigned for 45 years, the second longest reign in the history of the Ming Empire.

     Jiajing was the cousin of the Zhengde Emperor. When Zhengde died in 1521 without an heir, Jiajing was his closest relative and was appointed Emperor. He was fourteen at the time.

     Jiajing developed a reputation for cruelty. He appointed lazy and incompetent people to high posititions in the government, while able people were banished, exiled, or executed. Jiajing also refused to recieve official audiences, and sent messages through eunuchs. This created great corruption in the Ming government which would last until the end of the 16th century.

     In 1542, a group of the Emperor’s concubines plotted to assassinate him. Their plan was to strangle him in his sleep with ribbons from their hair. This assassination attempt ultimately failed, though, due to a concubine tying a knot that could not be tightened. When Jiajing awoke, the concubines and all of their families were executed.

     Towards the end of his reign, Jiajing refused to take part in the government. He made no attempt to effectively rule Ming. However, many accomplishments were made during his reign despite his incompetence and idleness. These accomplishments included several innovations in pottery, the defeat of the Mongols, the expansion of Beijing, and the defeat of Japanese pirates raiding Chinese coasts.

     Jiajing’s reign sparked the beginning of the end for the Ming dynasty. By the end of the 16th century, Ming was a mere shadow of its former glory and the dynasty eventually died out.

Interesting Fact #1: Jiajing was a devoted Taoist, and built many lavish temples during his reign.

Interesting Fact #2: Jiajing’s name means “admirable tranquility”. His reign was very stable and peaceful, largely due in part to his lackadaisical attitude.

Interesting Fact #3: The deadliest earthquake of all times, The Shaanxi Earthquake of 1556, in which over 800,000 people perished, occured during Jiajing’s reign.

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Emperor Hirohito of Japan

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Emperor Hirohito

      Hirohito ruled Japan from December 25, 1926 to January 7, 1989. He reigned for 62 years and was the longest living monarch of modern history. His reign encompassed a tumultuos era when Japan rose to its zenith and hit the lowest point in its history.

     Hirohito was born on April 29, 1901 in Tokyo. He was the eldest child of Emperor Taisho and Empress Teimei. As a child, Hirohito acted with dignity and reserve, and was known as being responsible and serious well beyond his years. After his father ascended to the throne and became Emperor of Japan, Hirohito began studying natural history. He developed a paticular interest in marine biology, and in his adulthood he was known as an expert in the subject.

     On January 26, 1924, Hirohito married Princess Nagako. Their first child, Shigeko, was born in 1926. Hirohito also became Crown Prince of Japan. In 1921, Hirohito became the first Crown Prince of Japan to visit countries abroad. He visited much of Europe, including France and England.

     On December 25, 1926, Hirohito became Emperor of Japan. Early in his reign, Hirohito resisted several rebellions formulated by army officers to take over the country. Japan was restless and clamoring for reform. These rebels wanted to establish a military government “lead” by the Emperor. In reality, the government would be ruled by military officers, and Hirohito would be Emperor of Japan in name only. Hirohito believed that politicians should be modest and nonmilitaristic, and disapproved of the radical military leaders.

     In 1937, war broke out with China. During this war, Japan conquered Manchuria and commited many atrocities, such as killing civilians, raping women, and burning entire cities to the ground. These acts would later be considered war crimes, and the generals who authorized these acts would be tried as criminals. Next, Japanese officials made a pact with Nazi Germany and Italy. Hirohito did not approve of this pact, but he did nothing to prevent it from being made. Hirohito also disapproved of the attacks on Pearl Harbor in 1941, but once again, he did nothing to stop it. When Hiroshima was bombed in 1945, Hirohito urged his military officials to surrender, but they refused. When Nagasaki was bombed, Japanese military officers still did not want to surrender, but Hirohito forced them to.

     After World War II, Hirohito was not tried as a war criminal, causing much controversy. Many claimed that he approved all of his military commanders’ decisions, while others claim that he was mild mannered and did not care about the military. General McArthur decided not to try him as a war criminal because he thought it would cause a rift between the Japanese people and Americans, and would hinder his plan to demilitarize Japan and make it a democracy.

     Hirohito travelled to the United States in 1975 and formally apologized to the world for all the suffering caused under his reign. Some treated this as an acceptance of personal responsibility for the war, while others simply thought of it as a formality. Hirohito died on January 7, 1989 at the age of 87.

Interesting Fact #1: Upon becoming Emperor of Japan, Hirohito took the name Showa, which means “Enlightened Peace”. This is quite ironic, considering the fact that World War II and a bloody war with China occured during his reign.

Interesting Fact #2: During World War II, Hirohito never left his palace in Tokyo. Even when some of the buildings in the palace compound were bombed to the ground, he refused to leave. He insisted that he must suffer like his subjects were.

Interesting Fact #3: Supposedly, Hirohito was burried with a microscope in his casket, symbolic of his love of science and marine biology.

Credits:,, 5,000 Years of Royalty by James Craughwell, Picture: