Merciless Imperial Matriarchs

 November 5, 2010

All beautiful in their own way, the women in the imperial court who wielded supreme power were equally merciless in their intent to hold on to it.

Merciless Imperial Matriarchs

Empress Lv Zhi

Empress Dowager Lv Zhi (241BC-180 BC), widow of Emperor Gaozu of the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), was notorious for the power-lust that drove her to eliminate all possible rivals. After Emperor Gao’s death in 195, she murdered Liu Ruyi, Prince of Zhao, the son of her late husband's concubine Qi, whom she also killed after cutting off her limbs, blinding and deafening her. This sadistic treatment of Concubine Qi horrified her son, the succeeding Emperor Hui.

Merciless Imperial Matriarchs

Yangcheng Zhaoxin

Yangcheng Zhaoxin was the wife of Liu Qu, grandson of Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) Emperor Jing, who died in 71 BC. Jealous and ruthless, Zhaoxin tortured and killed 14 of Liu Qu’s consorts, and ordered those remaining be confined to their quarters, other than for banquets. The only one to escape was Tao Wangqing who, accused of infidelity, committed suicide by jumping down a well.

Merciless Imperial Matriarchs

Li Ji

Li Ji was a concubine and later wife of Duke Xian of Jin, ruler of the State of Jin between 676 BC and 651 BC during the Spring and Autumn Period. Her attempt to place her son Prince Xiqi on the throne after the Duke of Xian's death sparked the Li Ji Rebellion. This, in turn, led to the suicide of Prince Shensheng and exiles of Prince Chonger and Prince Yiwu.

Merciless Imperial Matriarchs

Zhao Feiyan

Zhao Feiyan (32 BC–1 BC), originally named Zhao Yizhu, was the first consort of Emperor Cheng of Han (51 BC–7 BC), who later conferred on her the title Empress Xiaocheng. The Emperor was enamored with both Zhao Feiyan and her twin sister Hede, but neither could bear him a son. They consequently kept a sharp eye out for signs of pregnancy in other concubines, and were ruthless in their treatment of any that so threatened their high status. Their intrigues gave rise to the nursery rhyme "The swallow pecks at the emperor's offspring."

Merciless Imperial Matriarchs

Jia Nanfeng

Jia Nanfeng (257–300), popularly known as Shi, of the Jin Dynasty (265-420) was the daughter of Jia Chong and first wife of Emperor Hui. She had four daughters and no sons. Known for her ugliness and jealous nature, she personally murdered several of Emperor Hui's pregnant concubines.

Merciless Imperial Matriarchs

Dugu Qieluo

Sui Dynasty (581-618) Empress Dugu Qieluo (544–602), formally named Empress Wenxian, was the empress of Emperor Wen, who adored and respected her. The empress consequently wielded great power and influence during her husband's reign. She also bore him five sons, which precluded falling out of his favor. But this did not stop her from killing the maidservant whom she could see appealed to her husband. When Emperor Wen heard of this act he mounted his horse and rode the whole day in a state of shock.

Merciless Imperial Matriarchs

Wu Zetian

Wu Zetian (17 February 624–16 December 705), whose personal name was Wu Zhao, often referred to as Tian Hou during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and Empress Consort Wu in later times, was the only woman in the history of China to assume the title of Empress Regnant.

Wu Zetian entered the Tang palace at age 13 and became a concubine of Emperor Taizong.

By the early 650s, Consort Wu was concubine to Emperor Gaozong, and awarded the titled Zhaoyi -- highest of the nine concubines of the second rank. Consort Wu soon overtook Consort Xiao in Emperor Gaozong's favor.

In summer 655, Consort Wu accused Empress Wang and her mother Lady Liu of witchcraft. In response, Emperor Gaozong deposed both Empress Wang and Consort Xiao, putting them under arrest and making Consort Wu his empress. Later that year, when Emperor Gaozong showed signs of releasing them, Empress Wu gave orders to kill both Empress Wang and Consort Xiao.

Having progressively gained influence during Emperor Gaozong's reign Empress Wu did whatever she deemed necessary to accumulate power. Traditional historians say that she killed her own daughter in an attempt to frame Empress Wang, and also her own eldest son Li Hong in a power struggle. She later had another son, Li Xián, deposed and exiled.

After ascending the throne, Wu Zetian employed ruthless officials to consolidate her rule.

Merciless Imperial Matriarchs

Empress Li

Empress Li, originally named Li Fengniang, was the wife of Emperor Guangzong of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). Again an Empress who would brook not the slightest hint of competition from other women at court, historians relate grisly examples of her ruthless behavior. One tells of how Emperor Guangzong one day admired and touched a maidservant's white and shapely hands. Soon after Empress Li sent him a covered dish which contained the luckless maid's severed hands.

Merciless Imperial Matriarchs

Wan Zhen'er

Wan Zhen'er was a high-ranking imperial concubine between 1464 and 1487 of Emperor Chenghua of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Chenghua had long favored court consort Lady Wan, who was more than twice his age, originally as a mother figure. But this changed when he ascended the throne. Lady Wan became Chenghua's favorite consort in 1464 after giving birth to his son. Although the child died soon after, Lady Wan maintained control of the imperial harem. She and her eunuchs prevented the young emperor from bearing any heirs, either by inducing miscarriages in consorts who were obviously pregnant or poisoning those who had managed to give birth along with their infants.

Merciless Imperial Matriarchs

Madam Ke

Madam Ke was the nanny of Tianqi Emperor Zhu Youxiao (1605–1627) 15th Emperor of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Zhu Youxiao was reportedly keen on carpentry, and the powerful eunuch Wei Zhongxian took every opportunity the emperor’s time-consuming pastime offered to appoint his lieutenants to important court positions. Madam Ke maintained power by removing all other women from the emperor's harem and imprisoning and starving to death his concubines.

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