Daughter of Emperor Xiaoming of Northern Wei

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Daughter of Emperor Xiaoming of Northern Wei
10th Emperor of Northern Wei
Reign1 April 528
Predecessor Emperor Xiaoming
Successor Yuan Zhao
Born12 February 528
Luoyang, Northern Wei
(present-day Luoyang, Henan, China)
Full name
Family name: Yuan (元)
Given name: Unknown
Era name and dates
Wutai (武泰): 1st month – 4th month, 528 [note 1] (Chinese calendar)
February – June, 528 (Gregorian calendar)
Father Emperor Xiaoming
MotherPan Wailian

The daughter of Emperor Xiaoming of Northern Wei (12 February 528 – ?), whose given name is unknown, was briefly the emperor of Northern Wei (386–534), a Xianbei dynasty that ruled Northern China from the late fourth to the early sixth century AD. She bore the surname Yuan (Chinese :; pinyin :Yuán), originally Tuoba. [note 2] Yuan was the only child of Emperor Xiaoming (r. 515–528), born to his concubine Consort Pan. Soon after her birth, her grandmother the Empress Dowager Hu, who was also Xiaoming's regent, falsely declared that she was a boy and ordered a general pardon. Emperor Xiaoming died soon afterwards. On 1 April 528, Empress Dowager Hu installed the infant on the throne for a matter of hours before replacing her with Yuan Zhao the next day. Xiaoming's daughter was not recognised as an emperor (huangdi) by later generations. No further information about her is available. [3]



Empress Dowager Hu (d. 528), known posthumously as Empress Dowager Ling, was originally one of Emperor Xuanwu's (483–515, r. 499–515) consorts; she gave birth to his only living heir Yuan Xu (510–528). Following Xuanwu's death, Yuan Xu ascended the throne as Emperor Xiaoming, and Hu was honoured as Consort Dowager, and soon Empress Dowager. [4] Because Emperor Xiaoming was still young, she became his regent. [4] To exert her power as the highest ruler of Northern Wei, she addressed herself as Zhen (Chinese : ; pinyin :Zhèn), a first-person pronoun reserved for use by the emperor after the Qin dynasty. Officials addressed her as Bixia (Chinese : 陛下 ; pinyin :Bìxià), an honorific used when addressing the emperor directly. [5]

When Emperor Xiaoming grew up, however, his mother refused to hand authority over to him. She successfully eliminated many of her opponents, including favourites of the emperor. [6] The ancient Chinese historians who wrote the official history of the Northern Wei portrayed her as promiscuous. [7] Both her lifestyle and her ruling style elicited widespread dissatisfaction among officials and from her son. [8] Emperor Xiaoming gathered the people to oppose her and executed her lover Yuan Yi (元怿) in 520, [9] causing deep hatred from his mother. [10] After several failed attempts to overthrow the empress dowager, Xiaoming secretly ordered General Erzhu Rong to send troops to the capital Luoyang to coerce her into handing over the authority. [11] When she learned about the plot, she discussed strategies with the officials who supported her. [12]

As these events were occurring, on 12 February 528, Consort Pan, one of Emperor Xiaoming's nine concubines, gave birth to a daughter. [13] [14] Empress Dowager Hu falsely declared that the child was a son; [13] she issued an edict the following day, ordering a general pardon and changing the emperor's reign title from Xiaochang (孝昌) to Wutai (武泰). [15] [16]

Accession and dethronement

On 31 March 528, Emperor Xiaoming suddenly died in Xianyang Palace (显阳殿). [17] The following day (1 April 528), Empress Dowager Hu declared the 50-day-old baby girl Yuan the new emperor, while she herself continued to be regent. [18] She ordered another general pardon. As the year of Emperor Xiaoming's reign had not ended, the era name was not changed and the name "Wutai" remained in use. Empress Dowager Hu continued to be effectively in power. [18]

Just a few hours later,[ citation needed ] Empress Dowager Hu issued an edict [19] [20] to dethrone the infant Emperor and declared that Yuan was a girl. She placed Yuan Zhao son of the deceased Yuan Baohui (元宝晖), Prince of Lintaoon the throne instead. [21] Yuan Zhao ascended the throne on 2 April 528, the day after Empress Dowager Hu issued the edict. [22]

As he was too young to rule, Yuan Zhao was made a puppet emperor under Empress Dowager Hu. [23] The series of events involving her son's death and the installation of the infant girl and the two-year-old Yuan Zhao on the throne occurred to ensure the continuation of her regency. [23]


Because Empress Dowager Hu replaced the emperor in an unbridled manner, General Erzhu Rong sent in troops to overthrow her, stating that she had deceived Heaven as well as the Imperial Court by letting the infant girl succeed to the throne. [24] Erzhu Rong made Yuan Ziyou (507–531) emperor. [25] Not long after, Erzhu Rong sent troops to occupy the capital Luoyang, and Empress Dowager Hu and Yuan Zhao were held captive. They were delivered to his camp at Heyin (河阴). Empress Dowager Hu begged him for mercy, but he refused and had her and Yuan Zhao drowned in the Yellow River. [26] Erzhu later killed thousands of Han Chinese officials and their families who had served at the Northern Wei court during her regency. [27] [28] This massacre is known as the Heyin Incident (河阴之变). [29] Erzhu Rong became the highest authority of the empire. From that time on, political power fell into the hands of powerful ministers and warlords. Gao Huan and Yuwen Tai were generals during the Erzhu Rong era who respectively controlled Eastern Wei and Western Wei following the split of the dynasty, [30] while Erzhu controlled the northern part of the empire. This division eventually led to the downfall of the dynasty. [28]

For the acts she committed during her regency, Empress Dowager Hu was discredited and became infamous in history for causing the downfall of the dynasty. [31] [32]


Yuan's status as an emperor (huangdi) remains controversial and is not recognised by many. Official historical records have never listed her as a legitimate sovereign because she was a puppet under Empress Dowager Hu and reigned for less than a day. She was also an impostor for the throne as a boy. Hence, Wu Zetian remains as the first and only recognised female huangdi in Chinese history. [33] Researcher Cheng Yang (成扬) believes that the fact that Yuan was the "first female in history to ascend the imperial throne" cannot be denied despite it being a plot by Empress Dowager Hu. According to Cheng, Wu Zetian was not the only female huangdi, but the only one to have reigned over the empire. [34] Luo Yuanzhen (罗元贞), another researcher on Wu, thinks that modern historians should not acknowledge Yuan's title as Huangdi as ancient Chinese historians did not. [33]


Emperor Xianwen of Northern Wei (454–476)
Emperor Xiaowen of Northern Wei (467–499)
Empress Si (d. 469)
Emperor Xuanwu of Northern Wei (483–515)
Gao Yang
Empress Wenzhao (469–497)
Lady Gai
Emperor Xiaoming of Northern Wei (510–528)
Hu Shen
Hu Guozhen (438–518)
Empress Ling (d. 528)
Lady Huangfu
Lady Yuan (b. 528)
Pan Wailian

Yuan briefly appeared in Chapter 47 Xiao Baoyin's rebellion and capture by Erzhu Rong (Chinese :萧宝夤称尊叛命 尔朱荣抗表兴师) of the Romance of the Northern and Southern Dynasties (Chinese :南北史演义) of Republic of China novelist Cai Dongfan's Popular Romance of Dynasties (Chinese : 历朝通俗演义 ); the story largely conforms with the historical account. [35]

See also

Explanatory notes

  1. This was the last era name of Emperor Xiaoming of Northern Wei. After his death, it remained in use during the short reigns of his daughter and Yuan Zhao. [1]
  2. The surname of the Wei ruling family was changed from Tuoba to Yuan by Emperor Xiaowen (r. 471–499). [2]

Related Research Articles

Northern Wei

The Northern Wei, also known as the Tuoba Wei (拓跋魏), Later Wei (後魏), was a dynasty founded by the Tuoba (Tabgach) clan of the Xianbei, which ruled northern China from 386 to 534 AD, during the period of the Northern and Southern Dynasties. Described as "part of an era of political turbulence and intense social and cultural change", the Northern Wei Dynasty is particularly noted for unifying northern China in 439: this was also a period of introduced foreign ideas, such as Buddhism, which became firmly established. The Northern Wei were referred to as "Plaited Barbarians" by writers of the Southern dynasties, who considered themselves the true upholders of Chinese culture.

Emperor Zhongzong of Tang

Emperor Zhongzong of Tang, personal name Li Xian, and at other times Li Zhe or Wu Xian, was the fourth Emperor of the Tang dynasty of China, ruling briefly in 684 and again from 705 to 710. During the first period, he did not rule, and the entire government was in the hands of his mother, Empress Wu Zetian and was effectively overthrown by her imperial power after opposing his mother. In the second reign period, most of the government was in the hands of his beloved wife Empress Wei.

Empress Dowager Hu, formally Empress Ling (靈皇后,), was an empress dowager of the nomadic dynasty Northern Wei (515-528). She was a concubine of Emperor Xuanwu, and she became regent and empress dowager after her son Emperor Xiaoming became emperor after Emperor Xuanwu's death in 515. She was considered to be intelligent but overly lenient, and during her regency, many agrarian rebellions occurred while corruption raged among imperial officials. In 528, she was believed to have poisoned her son Emperor Xiaoming after he tried to have her lover Zheng Yan (鄭儼) executed. This caused the general Erzhu Rong to attack and capture the capital Luoyang. Erzhu threw her into the Yellow River to drown.

Emperor Xiaoming of Northern Wei ( 魏孝明帝), personal name Yuan Xu (元詡), was an emperor of the Xianbei dynasty Northern Wei (386–535). He ascended the throne in the age of five (515), so governmental matters were dominated by his mother Empress Dowager Hu. In 528, Emperor Xiaoming tried to curb his mother's powers and kill her lover Zheng Yan (鄭儼) by conspiring with the general Erzhu Rong. As a result, the 18-year-old emperor was poisoned by his mother, who was soon overthrown by Erzhu. From that point on, Northern Wei royal lineage had no actual power. The next ruler, Emperor Xiaozhuang (507–531) was established by Erzhu. Since Erzhu's rival, general Gao Huan, enthroned another royal offspring, the country was soon split in two rival polities, Eastern and Western Wei, both of which did not hold long on the political map of the Southern and Northern Dynasties.

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Further reading

Regnal titles
Preceded by
Emperor Xiaoming of Northern Wei
Emperor of Northern Wei
Succeeded by
Yuan Zhao