Assessment of former chief executive Leung Chun-ying and his work had begun even before the end of his term last month. Now that Hong Kong has a new(-ish) government, more critiques will appear in the media.

When an emperor died in imperial China, he would be appraised in historians’ biographies but there was also a formal mechanism to assess his character and achievements, or the lack thereof. The miaohao, or temple name, placed the dead emperor within the pantheon of ancestral spirits in the temple of the imperial clan, and the name chosen by the next emperor, with the advice of his ministers, was a pithy description or commentary on the previous reign. For example, Li Chan, who reigned from 840 to 846, was given the temple name “Wuzong” (“the martial ancestor”) after his death, referring in part to his military pacification of the Uygurs in the far west and an armed rebellion within his empire.

Besides temple names, dead emperors were also given shihao, or posthumous epithets. Consider Li Zhu, who, at the age of 12, became the last emperor of the Tang dynasty, in 904. He was deposed in 907 and murdered a year later. His usurper and murderer, by then the emperor of a new dynasty, conferred on him the posthumous epithet “Ai Huangdi” or “Aidi”, literally “sorrowful emperor”.

Chinese emperors such as Li Chan and Li Zhu were seldom referred to by their personal names. Instead they are known in history as Tang dynasty’s Emperor Wuzong (“Tang Wuzong”) and Emperor Ai (“Tang Aidi”), respectively.