Fan Ji: Advancing the Kingdom into a Powerful One
Fan Ji (ca. 600 BCE), was a consort of King Zhuang of Chu. There is a biography of her in Lienü Zhuan by Liu Xiang. Her story is also told with the surviving qin melody called Lienü Yin. There are many poems in her honor, and a memorial to her at her supposed grave in Hubei province.
Before the kingdom of Chu rose to power, the king liked hunting very much. He would hunt for days. Fan Ji was very concerned. Fan gave much advice, but the king ignored her. Then, Fan stopped eating meat as a resistance to the king's habit of hunting. The King Zhuang of Chu finally came around and began to dedicate himself to important affairs of the state.
Fan Ji helped the King Zhuang of Chu to consolidate his kingdom. Fan advised the king to work diligently. Fan advised the king to use wise and competent officials and remove the incompetent ones. Sun Shuao, a famous competent official was taken into office under her recommendation. With the dedication of the king and a group of competent officials, the kingdom of Chu soon became a powerful country in central China.
Empress Ma: A Model of Humbleness and Thriftiness
Empress Ma, formally Empress Mingde (literally "the understanding and virtuous empress") (40AD-79AD), was an empress during Han Dynasty. Her husband was Emperor Ming.
In 57 AD, Emperor Guangwu died, and Crown Prince Zhuang ascended the throne as Emperor Ming. Consort Ma became an imperial consort. In 60, Empress Ma became empress and her son Prince Da became crown prince.
Empress Ma was described as humble and solemn and she loved reading. She often wore the less expensive white silk without elaborate designs. The imperial consorts and princesses were all surprised by how thrifty she was and yet impressed by her. Emperor Ming often consulted her on important matters of state when he could not make a decision quickly. She would analyze the issues carefully and come up with good suggestions. It is said she never requested favors for her brothers and cousins. Because of this, Emperor Ming continued to respect her and love her.
In 75, Emperor Ming died, and Crown Prince Da ascended the throne as Emperor Zhang. Empress Ma became empress dowager. Emperor Zhang, who was close to Empress Dowager Ma's brothers wanted to promote them quickly, but Empress Dowager Ma did not urge it. They did all become important court officials, however. In 77, when Emperor Zhang wanted to further create his uncles high level officials, Empress Ma refused. She further ordered the local governments not to accept improper requests from the Ma family. If there were members of Ma or other closely-related families who live exuberantly, Empress Dowager Ma would remove their names from the rolls of the nobles and exile them.
Empress Dowager Ma also established a textile factory and a mulberry garden for silkworms, which became a fairly productive industry for the imperial household. In her spare time, she often discussed important matters of state with Emperor Zhang and taught his sons the Confucian classics — particularly the Analects of Confucius.
Empress Zhou: Trying to Revive a Moribund Dynasty
Empress Zhou (?-1644) was the last empress of the Ming Dynasty. Her husband was Emperor Chongzhen. Empress Zhou, strict and cautious, ruled the imperial harem with discipline, and kept good terms with other concubines. Empress Zhou also gave advices on national affairs for the emperor. However, the Ming dynasty was too corrupt to be revived.
Empress Zhou was made empress in 1628, when her husband ascended the throne as Emperor. Empress Zhou learned from past experience and ruled the imperial harem with order, so emperor Chongzhen could deal with the important affairs of the state and solved problems not dealt with in previous generations.
Emperor Chongzhen tried to rule by himself and did his best to salvage the dynasty. However, years of internal corruptions and an empty treasury made it almost impossible to appoint capable ministers to fill important government posts. Once Empress Zhou told the emperor that her family still had a place to stay in the south. She was trying to remind him of a possibility of moving the southern capital. But the emperor ignored her idea.
On March 18, 1644, the popular army led by rebel Li Zicheng finally broke through the Ming defenses and occupied Beijing, the capital of Ming Dynasty. The emperor cried to Empress Zhou. The empress said: "I have served you for 18 years, but you haven't taken my piece of advice. So here we are." Later during the downfall of the Ming Dynasty, she sent the two princes away from the imperial palace and hanged herself.
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