He ascended the throne when he was 20, having been made heir by his uncle, who was childless. He reigned from 141 to 87 BC. The people viewed him as intelligent, articulate, and capable. However, under Emperor Wu, corruption became even more prevalent and heavy taxes were placed on the people. In an unpopular act, he had his prime minister Wang Jia put to death for criticizing him, which made him appear tyrannical.
About 100 BC, Wudi started a relationship that made him further incapable of making decisions. He favored the minor official Li Guang, and historians believed that they had a romantic relationship, even though both men were married. In the later part of Wudi's reign, Li Guang became one of the most powerful officials.
While establishing an autocratic and centralized state, Wudi adopted the principles of Confucianism as the state philosophy for his empire and started a school to teach the Confucian classics. These reforms would have a great effect on China and neighbor civilizations.