Empress Wang Zhenfeng

Empress Wang Zhenfeng (王貞風) (436–479), formally Empress Gong (恭皇后, literally "the respectful empress"), was an empress of the Chinese dynasty Liu Song. Her husband was Emperor Ming (Liu Yu).

Background

Wang Zhenfeng was born in 436 into an aristocratic family. Her father Wang Senglang (王僧朗) was a mid-high level official for Emperor Wen. Her older brother Wang Yu (王彧) was so highly regarded by Emperor Wen for his talent that he named a son of his after Wang Yu, and then had Liu Yu, then the Prince of Huaiyang, marry Wang Zhenfeng in 448. After marriage, Wang Zhenfeng carried the title of Princess of Huaiyang, and after Liu Yu's title was changed to Prince of Xiangdong in 452, she became the Princess of Xiangdong. She bore him two daughters, Liu Bosi (劉伯姒) and Liu Boyuan (劉伯媛).

As empress

After Liu Yu's impulsive and violent nephew Emperor Qianfei was assassinated in 465, Liu Yu, considered kind and open-minded by the officials and court attendants, was declared emperor (as Emperor Ming). He created Princess Wang empress. However, contrary to his pre-ascension reputation, he soon turned cruel and immoral as well. Official historical accounts written during the subsequent southern qi dynasty said that he was also impotent, and that although he had 12 sons, those were the results of his having seized his brothers' pregnant concubines and kept the children if they bore males, or his having had his concubines have sexual relations with others. (However, the fact that Empress Wang had two daughters may argue against such allegations, because it appeared rather unlikely that Emperor Ming would do this over female children—indeed, the allegations stated that he would only do this if his brothers' concubines bore males—or that the morally upright Empress Wang would engage in sexual relations with others, thus suggesting that the allegations were made to delegitimize Emperor Ming's sons Emperor Houfei and Emperor Shun vis-à-vis Southern Qi. ) In one famous incident in 470, Emperor Ming held an imperial feast inside the palace, and ordered his ladies in waiting to strip for the guests. Empress Wang, embarrassed, covered her eyes with a fan. In anger, Emperor Ming said, "Your household is so naïve and unaware of the world. Today everyone is trying to have fun, so why are you covering your eyes?" She responded, "There are many ways to have fun. What kind of a scene is it for aunts and sisters to gather to watch naked ladies in waiting and laugh about it? The fun that our household has is different. " He became angrier and chased her away. When her brother (who had by now changed his name to Wang Jingwen (王景文) to observe naming taboo) heard this, he commented, "My sister was meek before she was married. I am surprised that now she can be so upright. "


In 472, Emperor Ming grew seriously ill, and he, believing that after his death, Empress Wang would become regent, and that her brother Wang Jingwen would become overly powerful, so he forced Wang Jingwen to commit suicide. He then died and was succeeded by his oldest son (by his concubine Consort Chen Miaodeng), Liu Yu (different character than Emperor Ming), as Emperor Houfei

As empress dowager

Emperor Houfei honored Empress Wang as empress dowager and his mother Consort Chen as consort dowager. Empress Dowager Wang was titularly regent, but the authority was actually in hands of Emperor Ming's associates Yang Yunchang (楊運長) and Ruan Dianfu (阮佃夫), and the officials Xiao Daocheng, Yuan Can, Chu Yuan, and Liu Bing. Initially, the relationship between him and Empress Dowager Wang appeared cordial, and in 474, when Emperor Houfei's uncle Liu Xiufan (劉休範) the Prince of Guiyang rebelled and appeared to be on the verge of victory, Empress Dowager Wang held Emperor Houfei and wept. After Liu Xiufan was defeated, initially Emperor Houfei feared rebuke from Empress Dowager Wang and Consort Dowager Chen and therefore was careful in his actions, but eventually grew more and more frivolous and violent in his actions. At Duan Wu festival in 477, Empress Dowager Wang gave him a gift of a feather fan. He felt that it was insufficiently luxurious, and ordered the imperial physicals to brew poison to ready to poison her. He only stopped after his attendants reminded him that if he poisoned Empress Dowager Wang, he would have to observe a mourning period of three years and would not be able to spend time on fun and games.


On Qi Xi (Chinese Valentine's Day) in 477, after Emperor Houfei had tried to but then not actually killed Xiao Daocheng, Xiao Daocheng had Emperor Houfei's attendant Yang Yufu (楊玉夫) assassinate Emperor Houfei, and then, issuing an edict in Empress Dowager Wang's name, ordered Emperor Houfei posthumously deposed and his younger brother Liu Zhun installed as Emperor Shun. The general Shen Youzhi then rose against Xiao, also claiming to be acting with Empress Dowager Wang's approval. (There is no real evidence that Empress Wang was involved either with Xiao's assassination plot or with Shen's rebellion. ) After Xiao's forces defeated Shen's (and also defeated a coup attempt by Yuan and Liu), in 479, he forced Empress Dowager Wang and Emperor Shun to yield imperial authority to him, ending Liu Song and establishing Southern Qi. He created the former Emperor Shun as the Prince of Ruyin and Empress Dowager Wang as princess dowager, but later that year had Emperor Shun and other members of the Liu clan slaughtered. The former Empress Dowager Wang died later that year and was buried with imperial honors, according to Liu Song customs, with her husband Emperor Ming.

Last update 08-05-2012

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