I recently had lunch with two people who have the same name. While it is not uncommon for Chinese to share the same name, it is not often that they share similar career paths in the same historical period. I refer to the two Han Xins who served the rebel leader and, later, founding emperor of the Western Han dynasty, Liu Bang. The more famous Han Xin (230–196BC) was a brilliant military strategist and commander, who was one of Liu’s ablest lieutenants. Stories from Han’s early youth as a penniless commoner, which attest to his ambition and fortitude in the face of humiliation, acquired folkloric status not only in China but among neighbouring peoples. In his late teens, he joined the armed rebellions that broke out across the empire after the death of the First Emperor of the Qin dynasty in 210BC, eventually ending up in Liu’s rebel army. Initially a lowly functionary, Han managed to impress Xiao He, a trusted adviser of Liu, who recommended him to the leader. Very soon, he was winning battles and had acquired a fearsome reputation among Liu’s rivals. In return, Liu rewarded Han, who was still in his early 20s, with a princely title and his own fiefdom. After Liu Bang vanquished the rebel forces and proclaimed himself emperor, in 202BC, he became suspicious of his former retainers, especially capable ones like Han, who was demoted from the rank of prince to marquess and his movements were restricted. In 196BC, when the emperor was away putting down a rebellion, his wife, Empress Lü , and Xiao lured Han into the palace and murdered him, before executing most of his extended family for “treachery”. One of China’s first empresses was an able ruler, despite psychopathic tendencies To differentiate him from his colleague and contemporary, the other Han Xin (died 196BC) was referred to as Xin, Prince of Han. He was a scion of the royal house of the defunct state of Han, whose territories covered present-day southern Shanxi and northern Henan provinces. At the time, China had been unified for only about 20 years. The warring independent states of the preceding centuries were still in living memory, and the descendants of their royal houses could still rally many to their banners. It was for this reason that Liu made Xin a part of his rebel forces. Like the other Han Xin, the Prince of Han was also an outstanding military commander who made invaluable contributions to Liu’s cause. But he too fell victim to Liu’s suspicion and insecurity. Wary of his royal status, Liu removed Xin from his territory in the former state of Han, in central China, and sent him to the northern frontier to defend the realm against the nomadic Xiongnu people. However, as it became increasingly clear that Liu was intent on killing his former lieutenants, Xin defected and threw in his lot with the Xiongnu. He was killed in battle when Liu sent troops to punish him for his defection. The fate that befell the likes of the two Han Xins was sadly repeated several times during Chinese history, where many former advisers and commanders of founding emperors were killed or exiled for being so capable as to pose a threat to their lords.