Jia Nanfeng

Last updated
Jia Nanfeng
power behind the throne of the Jin dynasty
Predecessor Sima Liang and Wei Guan
Successor Sima Lun
Empress of the Jin dynasty
Predecessor Empress Yang Zhi
Successor Empress Yang Xianrong
Xiangfen County, Shanxi
Died300 (aged 42–43)
Luoyang, Henan
Spouse Emperor Hui of Jin
IssuePrincess Hedong
Princess Shiping
Princess Hongnong
Princess Aixian
Clan Jia (賈)
Father Jia Chong
Mother Guo Huai

Jia Nanfeng (257–300), nicknamed Shi (峕), was a Chinese empress consort. She was the daughter of Jia Chong and first wife of Emperor Hui of the Jin dynasty and also the granddaughter of Jia Kui. She is commonly seen as a villainous figure in Chinese history, as the person who provoked the War of the Eight Princes, leading to the Wu Hu rebellions and the Jin Dynasty's loss of northern and central China. Between years 291 to 300, she ruled Jin empire in behind the scenes by dominating her developmentally disabled husband.


Early life and marriage

Jia Nanfeng was born in 257 to the Jin official Jia Chong and his second wife Guo Huai (郭槐). She was their oldest daughter, although Jia Chong had two daughters from his previous marriage to noble lady Li Wan. The couple had another daughter, Jia Wu (賈午), in 260. They also had two sons, both of whom died young.

In 271, Jia's father desperately wanted to avoid an assignment to lead an army against the Xianbei rebel Tufa Shujineng, so he decided to have either Jia or her younger sister marry the developmentally disabled crown prince, Sima Zhong. The emperor initially rejected the idea, as he preferred Wei Guan's daughter as a bride for the crown prince. Indeed, Emperor Wu argued:

There are five reasons why Duke Wei's daughter is appropriate, and there are five reasons why Duke Jia's daughter is inappropriate. The Wei family are known for producing male children, and Lady Wei is mild-tempered, beautiful, tall, and fair-skinned. The Jia family lacks male children, and Lady Jia is jealous, ugly, short, and dark-skinned.

However, Guo Huai was on friendly terms with Empress Yang Yan, whose associates all greatly praised Jia's daughters. Eventually, Emperor Wu agreed, but selected Jia Wu to marry Crown Prince Zhong. When Wu was to wear formal dress to be examined, however, she was too young and too short for the dress, so Jia Nanfeng was chosen. They married in 272, and she was created crown princess. She was 14, and he was 12. She became quickly known for her jealousy, but she established a relationship with the crown prince where he both loved and feared her. For the rest of her life, she would have him firmly in her control. When several of his concubines became pregnant, she killed them herself in fits of jealousy; Emperor Wu was going to depose her, and only intercession by his second wife Empress Yang Zhi (Empress Yang Yan's cousin, whom he married after her death) led to Crown Princess Jia's being spared. When, on one occasion, Wei hinted to Emperor Wu that Crown Prince Zhong was so unintelligent as to be an inappropriate heir, it was Crown Princess Jia who thought of the solution to Emperor Wu's subsequent inquiries of Crown Prince Zhong—having someone else write simple but correct answers to the inquiries, so that Emperor Wu was impressed.

Crown Princess Jia bore her husband four daughters—the Princesses Hedong, Hongnong, and Shiping, as well as one daughter who died early and was given the posthumous name Aixian. However, she would not bear him a son; his only son Sima Yu was borne by Consort Xie Jiu, who was initially a concubine of Emperor Wu but given to Crown Prince Zhong shortly before his marriage to Crown Princess Jia, so that she could teach him how to have sexual relations. As the years went on and Crown Princess Jia bore no sons, she became jealous of Consort Xie and Prince Yu, but took no decisive actions against them at this point, because Emperor Wu greatly favored Prince Yu.

When Emperor Wu died in 290, Crown Prince Zhong ascended the throne as Emperor Hui. Crown Princess Jia was created empress that year.

As empress

Role in coups against Yang Jun and Sima Liang

Empress Dowager Yang's father Yang Jun initially served as Emperor Hui's regent. Knowing Empress Jia to be treacherous, he set up a system where edicts signed by Emperor Hui had to be co-signed by Empress Dowager Yang as well, to prevent Empress Jia from interfering. For a while, her influence was limited to matters inside the palace—and after her stepson Prince Yu was created crown prince, she often blocked Consort Xie from having access to her son.

Empress Jia was not happy about having little input in governance, however. She therefore conspired with the eunuch Dong Meng (董猛) and the generals Meng Guan (孟觀) and Li Zhao (李肇) against the Yangs. She tried to include Emperor Hui's granduncle Sima Liang, the most respected of the imperial princes, into the conspiracy, but Sima Liang declined; instead, she persuaded Emperor Hui's brother, Sima Wei the Prince of Chu, to join her plan. In 291, after Sima Wei returned to Luoyang from his defense post (Jing Province (荊州, modern Hubei and Hunan)) with his troops, a coup went into progress.

Empress Jia, who had her husband easily under her control, had him issue an edict declaring that Yang Jun had committed crimes and should be removed from his posts. It also ordered Sima Wei and Sima Yao (司馬繇) the Duke of Dong'an to attack Yang's forces and defend against counterattacks. Quickly, it became clear that Yang was in trouble. Empress Dowager Yang, trapped in the palace herself, wrote an edict ordering assistance for Yang Jun and put it on arrows, shooting it out of the palace. Empress Jia then made the bold declaration that Empress Dowager Yang was committing treason. Yang Jun was quickly defeated, and his clan was massacred. Empress Dowager Yang was deposed and imprisoned (and would die in 292 in imprisonment). Sima Liang was recalled to serve as regent, along with Wei Guan. After that time, Empress Jia became more free involved in the management of the empire.

Sima Liang and Wei tried to get the government on track, but Empress Jia continued to interfere with management of the governmental everyday matters. They also became concerned about the violent temper of Sima Wei and therefore tried to strip him of his military command, but Sima Wei persuaded Empress Jia to let him keep his military command. Sima Wei's assistants Qi Sheng (岐盛) and Gongsun Hong (公孫宏) thereafter falsely told Empress Jia that Sima Liang and Wei planned to depose the emperor. Empress Jia, who had already resented Wei for having, during Emperor Wu's reign, suggested that he change his heir selection, also wanted more direct control over the government, and therefore resolved to undergo a second coup.

In the summer of 291, Empress Jia had Emperor Hui personally write an edict to Sima Wei, ordering him to have Sima Liang and Wei removed from their offices. His forces thereby surrounded Sima Liang and Wei's mansions, and while both men's subordinates recommended resistance, each declined and was captured. Against what the edict said, both were killed—Sima Liang with his heir Sima Ju (司馬矩) and Wei with nine of his sons and grandsons. Qi then suggested to Sima Wei to take the chance to kill Empress Jia's relatives and take over the government, but Sima Wei hesitated—and at the same time, Empress Jia came to the realization that killing Sima Liang and Wei, if it had been realized that she intended it, could bring a political firestorm and that also Sima Wei would not be easily controlled. She therefore publicly declared that Sima Wei had falsely issued the edict. Sima Wei's troops abandoned him, and he was captured and executed. Sima Liang and Wei were posthumously honored. However, after this point on, Empress Jia became the undisputed power behind the throne for several years, and from behind the scenes and right to control Emperor Hui, with the help of her colleagues, she made somewhat close to most of the government's decisions every day.

As paramount authority

Empress Jia was now almost in government control in close association with several advisors that she trusted—the capable official Zhang Hua, her cousins Pei Wei and Jia Mo (賈模), and her nephew Jia Mi (originally named Han Mi but posthumously adopted into the line of Jia Chong's son Jia Limin (賈黎民)). She also closely associated with her cousin-once-removed Guo Zhang (郭彰), her sister Jia Wu (賈午), and Emperor Wu's concubine Zhao Chan (趙粲). She lacked self-control, and was violent and capricious in her ways, but Zhang, Pei, and Jia Mo were honest men who generally kept the government in order. However, as she grew increasingly unbridled in her behavior (including committing adultery with many men and later murdering them to silence them), Zhang, Pei, and Jia Mo considered deposing her and replacing her with Crown Prince Yu's mother Consort Xie, but they hesitated and never took actual action. After Jia Mo died in 299, it became even harder to control her actions.

Downfall and death

The relationship between Empress Jia and Crown Prince Yu had always been an uneasy one. Empress Jia's mother Guo Huai (郭槐) had constantly advised Empress Jia to treat Crown Prince Yu well, as her own son, and she advocated marrying Jia Mi's sister to Crown Prince Yu. However, Empress Jia and Jia Wu opposed this, and instead married a daughter of the official Wang Yan (王衍) to Crown Prince Yu. (Wang had two daughters, but Empress Jia had Crown Prince Yu marry the less beautiful one and had Jia Mi marry the more beautiful one.) After Lady Guo's death, the relationship between Empress Jia and Crown Prince Yu quickly deteriorated, as Jia Wu and Consort Zhao provoked difficulties between them. At one point, Empress Jia falsely claimed herself to be pregnant and planned to falsely claim her nephew Han Weizu (韓慰祖, Jia Wu's son with her husband Han Shou (韓壽)) to be her own, but for reasons unknown did not actually carry out that plan. Further, Crown Prince Yu and Jia Mi never liked each other, and Jia Mi, as a result, also advised Empress Jia to depose Crown Prince Yu.

In 299, Empress Jia agreed and took action. When Crown Prince Yu was in the palace to make an official petition to have his ill son Sima Bin (司馬彬) created a prince, Empress Jia forced him to drink a large amount of wine and, once he was drunk, had him write out a statement in which he declared intention to murder the emperor and the empress and to take over as emperor. Empress Jia presented the writing to the officials and initially wanted Crown Prince Yu executed—but after some resistance, she only had him deposed and reduced to status of a commoner. Crown Prince Yu's mother Consort Xie was executed, as was his favorite concubine Consort Jiang Jun (蔣俊).

In 300, under the advice of a prince she favored -- Sima Lun the Prince of Zhao, Emperor Wu's granduncle—Empress Jia decided to eliminate Crown Prince Yu as a threat. She sent assassins and had Crown Prince Yu assassinated. Sima Lun, however, had other plans—he wanted to have Empress Jia murder the crown prince so that he could use the murder as an excuse to overthrow her, and he started a coup later that year, killing Jia Mi, Zhang, Pei, and other associates of Empress Jia. Empress Jia was deposed and later forced to commit suicide by drinking "jinxiaojiu" 金屑酒 "wine with gold fragments" (Needham and Ho 1970: 326)..

Related Research Articles

Emperor Zhang of Han Emperor of the Chinese Han Dynasty (AD 56 – 88) (ruled 75 – 88)

Emperor Zhang of Han, born Liu Da (劉炟), was an emperor of the Chinese Han dynasty from 75 to 88. He was the third emperor of the Eastern Han.

Emperor Wu of Jin Emperor of the Jin Dynasty

Emperor Wu of Jin, personal name Sima Yan, courtesy name Anshi (安世), was the grandson of Sima Yi, nephew of Sima Shi and son of Sima Zhao. He became the first emperor of the Jin dynasty after forcing Cao Huan, last emperor of the state of Cao Wei, to abdicate to him. He reigned from 266 to 290, and after conquering the state of Eastern Wu in 280, was the emperor of a reunified China. Emperor Wu was also known for his extravagance and sensuality, especially after the unification of China; legends boasted of his incredible potency among ten thousand concubines.

The War of the Eight Princes, Rebellion of the Eight Kings, or Rebellion of the Eight Princes was a series of civil wars among kings/princes of the Chinese Jin dynasty from 291 to 306 AD. The key point of contention in these conflicts was the regency over the developmentally disabled Emperor Hui of Jin. The name of the conflict is derived from the biographies of the eight princes collected in Chapter 59 of the Book of Jin (Jinshu).

Emperor Hui of Jin, personal name Sima Zhong (司馬衷), courtesy name Zhengdu (正度), was the second emperor of the Jin Dynasty (266–420). Emperor Hui was a developmentally disabled ruler, and throughout his reign, there was constant internecine fighting between regents, imperial princes, and his wife Empress Jia Nanfeng for the right to control him, causing great suffering for the people and greatly undermining the stability of the Jin regime, eventually leading to Wu Hu rebellions that led to Jin's loss of northern and central China and the establishment of the competing Sixteen Kingdoms. He was briefly deposed by his granduncle Sima Lun, who usurped the throne himself, in 301, but later that year was restored to the throne and continued to be the emperor until 307, when he was poisoned, likely by the regent Sima Yue.

Sima Lun, courtesy name Ziyi (子彛), was titled the Prince of Zhao and the usurper of the Jin Dynasty from February 3 to May 30, 301. He is usually not counted in the list of Jin emperors due to his brief reign, and was often mentioned by historians as an example of a wicked usurper. He was the third of the eight princes commonly associated with the War of the Eight Princes.

Sima Zhao King of Jin (晉王)

Sima Zhao, courtesy name Zishang, was a Chinese military general, politician, and regent of the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period of China.

Emperor Ruizong of Tang

Emperor Ruizong of Tang, personal name Li Dan, also known at times during his life as Li Xulun, Li Lun, Wu Lun, and Wu Dan, was the fifth and ninth emperor of Tang Dynasty. He was the eighth son of Emperor Gaozong and the fourth son of Emperor Gaozong's second wife Empress Wu. He was wholly a figurehead during his first reign when he was controlled by his mother, and he was the titular and puppet ruler of the Tang Empire from 684 to 690. During his second reign after his mother's death, significant power was exercised by his sister Princess Taiping.

Emperor Wen of Song Emperor of the Liu Song Dynasty

Emperor Wen of (Liu) Song, personal name Liu Yilong (劉義隆), courtesy name Che'er (車兒), was an emperor of the Chinese dynasty Liu Song. He was the third son of the dynastic founder Emperor Wu. After his father's death in 422, Liu Yilong's eldest brother Liu Yifu took the throne as Emperor Shao. In 424, a group of officials, believing Emperor Shao to be unfit to be emperor, deposed Emperor Shao and placed Liu Yilong on the throne as Emperor Wen.

Empress Yang Zhi (楊芷) (259–292), courtesy name Jilan (季蘭), nickname Nanyin (男胤), formally Empress Wudao was an empress of Jin Dynasty (266–420). She was Emperor Wu's second wife and cousin to his first wife, Empress Yang Yan.

Jia Chong (217–282), courtesy name Gonglü, was a Chinese politician who lived during the late Three Kingdoms period and early Jin dynasty of China. He started his career as an advisor to Sima Shi and Sima Zhao, the regents of the state of Cao Wei in the Three Kingdoms era, and subsequently served as an official in the court of Sima Zhao's son, Sima Yan, after the establishment of the Jin dynasty.

Zhang Hua (232–300), courtesy name Maoxian, was Chinese poet and politician of the Jin dynasty. He previously served in the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period. He authored Bowuzhi, a compendium of stories about the supernatural.

Yang Jun (楊駿), courtesy name Wenzhang (文長), was a Jin Dynasty (266–420) official during the reign of Emperor Wu and regent for Emperor Hui.

Sima Liang (司馬亮), courtesy name Ziyi (子翼), formally Prince Wencheng of Ru'nan (汝南文成王), was briefly a regent during the reign of Emperor Hui during Jin Dynasty (266–420). He was the first of the eight princes commonly associated with the War of the Eight Princes.

Wei Guan (220–291), courtesy name Boyu, was a Chinese military general and politician of the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period of China. He served under the Jin dynasty after the end of the Three Kingdoms period.

Sima Wei (司馬瑋) (271–291), courtesy name Yandu (彥度), formally Prince Yin of Chu (楚隱王), was an imperial prince during Jin Dynasty (266–420) and was the second of the eight princes commonly associated with the War of the Eight Princes.

Sima Yu (司馬遹) (278–300), courtesy name Xizu (熙祖), formally Crown Prince Minhuai (愍懷太子) was a Chinese crown prince during the Jin Dynasty (266–420).

Emperor Shao of (Liu) Song ( 宋少帝), also known by his post-removal title Prince of Yingyang (營陽王), personal name Liu Yifu (劉義符), nickname Chebing (車兵), was an emperor of the Chinese dynasty Liu Song. He was the oldest son of the founding emperor, Emperor Wu, and became emperor after his father's death in 422. The officials whom his father left in charge of the government became convinced that he was unfit to govern, and so deposed and killed him in 424, making his more-capable younger brother Liu Yilong emperor.

Emperor Xianwen of Northern Wei ( 魏獻文帝) (454–476), personal name Tuoba Hong, Xianbei name Didouyin (第豆胤), was an emperor of the Xianbei dynasty Northern Wei. He was the first emperor in Chinese history who, after retiring at age 17 in favor of his 4-year old son Emperor Xiaowen to become Taishang Huang in 471, continued to hold on to power until his death in 476—when the official history states vaguely that he may have been killed by his stepmother Empress Dowager Feng.

Gao Zhao (高肇), courtesy name Shouwen (首文), was a high-level official of the Chinese/Xianbei dynasty Northern Wei. He was a maternal uncle of Emperor Xuanwu, and he became increasingly powerful during Emperor Xuanwu's reign, drawing anger from other high-level officials not only for his powerplay and corruption, but also because he was a mere commoner before Emperor Xuanwu's reign and not from the aristocracy and might have been Korean in origin. After Emperor Xuanwu died in 515, the other officials set a trap for Gao Zhao and had him killed.

Empress Wei was an empress of the Chinese Tang Dynasty. She was the second wife of Emperor Zhongzong, who reigned twice, and during his second reign, she tried to emulate the example of her mother-in-law Wu Zetian and seize power. She was in charge of government affairs during her husband's reign. Emperor Zhongzong's death in 710—a death traditionally believed to be a poisoning she carried out together with her daughter Li Guo'er the Princess Anle—gave her the power to become the empress dowager and regent, but in short order was overthrown and killed in a coup led by Emperor Zhongzong's nephew Li Longji and Emperor Zhongzong's sister Princess Taiping.


    Chinese royalty
    Preceded by
    Empress Yang Zhi
    Empress consort of Jin Dynasty (266–420)
    Succeeded by
    Empress Yang Xianrong