We took a peek at the world of Chinese princesses last week . This time, we shall have a quick look at their male counterparts. Unlike their essentially silenced sisters, aunts and nieces, male members of the imperial clan had much more visible roles in national life and a great deal more was written about them in the history books. The main title for a Chinese emperor’s son is wang , a word that in pre-imperial times (before 221BC) meant a monarch that ruled over an independent domain. This designation, usually translated as “king”, was also used in imperial China by rulers of breakaway states when the nation was fragmented by civil war. For the most part, however, wang referred to a prince of the blood. In the first centuries of the imperial period, princes had parcels of land reflected in their conferred titles, such as the Prince of Qi (present-day Shandong province) or the Prince of Jin (present-day Shanxi province), and where they resided in palaces with their immediate family and servants. They were allowed to maintain a full staff, sometimes even an army, and collect taxes from the people in their domains. This feudal system coexisted awkwardly with regional governments that were headed by civilian officials appointed by the emperor. Gradually, imperial princes were divested of their lands and their titles became ceremonial rather than denoting actual custody of a fiefdom and the power that came with it. Princes usually lived in the capital with some of them playing active roles in politics. Unlike the Myanmar coup, some takeovers in Chinese history were welcomed While primogeniture was the default rule of succession, being the firstborn son of the emperor and his principal wife the empress was no guarantee a prince would succeed his father. The rule was often upended by the vagaries of human emotions such as when an emperor favoured a younger son over his eldest; by factional infighting involving powerful individuals at court who hedged their bets on different princes and expected something in return when their horses won; and by the naked ambition of princes who lusted after the pomp and power of the throne. Hence, court intrigues and all-out wars of succession occurred often, especially when sitting emperors were weak and the country was in varying levels of dysfunction. A violent example was the 16-year War of the Eight Princes, from AD291 to 306, which wrecked the Western Jin dynasty. In their attempts to grab the throne for themselves, these imperial princes – great-uncles, brothers and cousins of the intellectually disabled Emperor Hui – fought with one another. The Western Jin was so weakened by internecine strife that the nomadic peoples in the north took advantage of the power vacuum to invade China. By AD316, the whole of northern China was occupied by non-Han peoples and China remained divided for the next three centuries. Another princely spat was the Xuanwu Gate Incident, in AD626, when the Prince of Qin and his guards murdered his brothers and their sons. He then forced his father, who was still emperor, to abdicate in his favour. This Prince of Qin was Li Shimin, known in history as Emperor Taizong of the Tang dynasty, regarded by many as the greatest Chinese ruler of all time. There are no more princes in China today. Since the early 20th century, however, prominent and influential descendants of officials in both the Republic of China and the People’s Republic have been informally referred to as “princelings”, who, like imperial princes of old, live a life of privilege and precariousness.