Empress Shulü Ping

Empress Shulü Ping (述律平) (879-953), nickname Yueliduo (月里朵), formally Empress Yingtian (simplified Chinese: 应天皇后; traditional Chinese: 應天皇后)) or Empress of Earth (地皇后) during the reign of her husband Emperor Taizu of Liao (Yelü Abaoji), posthumous name initially Empress Zhenlie (貞烈皇后, "the virtuous and achieving empress") then Empress Chunqin (淳欽皇后, "the pure and honored empress") was an empress of the Khitan Liao Dynasty. After Emperor Taizu's death in 926, she served as empress dowager to her own death in 953. She was directly involved in two imperial successions and is credited with changing expectations of widows in Khitan society.

Succession of Taizong

When her husband, who was posthumously known as Emperor Taizu, died in 926, she was directly involved in the succession of her son, Deguang, to the throne. Abaoji/Taizu had designated Prince Bei, his eldest son, as successor in 916 in an effort to introduce the Chinese notion of primogeniture to the succession process. This was a dramatic change from Khitan norms.

However, Prince Bei was not seen by either Yingtian or the Khitan nobility as being worthy of succession. She urged that the second son, Deguang was more worthy of succession and her husband then named him as heir. Her primary concern regarding Prince Bei seems to have been his addiction to Chinese learning.

Deguang exhibited the ideal qualities of a steppe leader, and while Prince Bei also displayed martial prowess demanded of the steppe, he himself admitted that his qualifications were inferior to those of his younger brother.

When he warred with the later jin dynasty, Yingtian pointed out this only cost them a lot, without gaining lands in return they could keep. Neither side wanted to be ruled by the other, she argued, so peaceful coexistence should be the objective .

Succession of Shizong

When her son, Taizong, died in 947 while on campaign in China, Yingtian once again demanded to be involved in the succession. Taizong's obvious favorite was his nephew known as Ruan (also known as Wuyu), the son of Prince Bei, who had been killed in China in 936.

However, Yingtian supported her third son, Prince Lihu, to ascend to the Liao throne. She dispatched an army to intercept Ruan on his return to the capital. However, unlike the case with Deguang, Prince Lihu failed to get the support of the Khitan nobility, due largely to his own violent behavior. Furthermore, as Ruan was on campaign with his uncle on his death, he was able to readily secure the support of important army commanders.

When Ruan, known as Emperor Shizong ascended to the throne, he had both his grandmother and uncle exiled from the capital.

Important Contributions

While Yingtian dominated the court in the first succession, she also made other contributions to Khitan culture. Most importantly regards the expectations of widows. In traditional Khitan society, women were expected to sacrifice themselves. Obviously, Yingtian did not do that, providing an example for other women, at least within the elite strata, of Khitan society.

Differences from Chinese counterparts

Chinese empress dowagers of the era were expected to wield their influence behind the scenes. However, Khitan women held a far higher status than their Chinese counterparts in the tenth century. Yingtian openly wielded her influence in the court of her husband as well as that of her son as empress dowager.

Last update 16-06-2012

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