Empress Wang Zhi

Empress Wang Zhi (王娡) (died 126 BC), formally Empress Xiaojing (孝景皇后), was an empress during the han dynasty. She was the second wife of Emperor Jing and the mother of Emperor Wu.

Family background and first marriage

Wang Zhi's father was named Wang Zhong (王仲). Her mother Zang Er (臧兒) was a granddaughter of Zang Tu, the one-time Prince of Yan under Emperor Gao. Her parents had, in addition to her, a son Wang Xin (王信) and another daughter Wang Xixu (王息姁). They lived in Huaili (槐里, in modern Xianyang, Shaanxi ). After her father died, her mother remarried a man named Tian (田), and she had two more sons, Tian Fen (田蚡) and Tian Sheng (田勝).

When Wang Zhi was young, she was married to a Jin Wangsun (金王孫), and they had a daughter named Jin Su (金俗). After that, however, her mother was told by a fortuneteller that both of her daughters would become extremely honored. Zang got the idea to offer her daughters to then-Crown Prince Qi (later Emperor Jing) and forcibly divorced Zhi from her husband to do so.

As consort to the crown prince and then emperor

Both Zhi and her sister Xixu became favored by Crown Prince Qi, and she, then known as Consort Wang, bore him a son, Liu Che, shortly after he became emperor, in 156 BC. When she was pregnant, she claimed that she dreamed a sun falling into her womb. In 153 BC, Prince Che was created the Prince of Jiaodong.

As Emperor Jing's empress Empress Bo had no sons, his oldest son Liu Rong (劉榮), born of his other favorite concubine Consort Li (栗姬), was created crown prince in 153 BC. Consort Li was arrogant and jealous, and she hoped to become empress after Empress Bo was deposed in 151 BC. However, her lack of tact would give Consort Wang a break. When Consort Li, out of a grudge to Emperor Jing's sister Princess Liu Piao (劉嫖), refused to let her son marry Princess Piao's daughter Chen Jiao (陳嬌), Consort Wang took the opportunity and had Chen Jiao betrothed to Prince Che. Princess Piao then began incessantly criticize Consort Li for her jealousy—pointing out that, if Consort Li became empress dowager, many concubines might suffer the fates of Consort Qi, Emperor Gao's favorite concubine who was tortured and killed by Emperor Gao's wife Empress Dowager Lü after Emperor Gao's death. Emperor Jing eventually agreed, and he deposed Prince Rong from his position in 150 BC. Consort Li died in anger. That year, Consort Wang was created empress, and Prince Che the crown prince.

As empress

Remembering the lesson of Empress Bo's and Consort Li's fate, despite her honored position as empress, Empress Wang did not try to assert as much influence on her husband as her mother-in-law, Empress Dowager Dou, had asserted over her father-in-law, Emperor Wen. She bore her husband three daughters, Princess Pingyang (平陽公主), Princess Nangong (南宮公主), and Princess Longlü (隆慮公主). She and her ally Princess Liu Piao probably had a hand in Consort Li's son and former crown prince, Liu Rong, being forced to commit suicide in 148 BC on charges that he intruded into the grounds of Emperor Wen's temple while building walls to his palace.

Empress Wang had good relations with her mother-in-law, and both she and her brother Wang Xin were key in calming Emperor Jing from his anger against his brother Liu Wu (劉武), the Prince of Liang and the favored young son of Empress Dowager Dou, when Liu Wu assassinated a number of court officials in 148 BC. It was because of this that Empress Dowager Dou wanted to create Wang Xin a marquess, a move initially blocked by his prime minister Zhou Yafu (周亞夫), although Emperor Jing eventually carried out the creation anyway. She was probably pleased when Zhou committed suicide in 143 BC after being falsely accused of treason and arrested. When Emperor Jing died in 141 BC, Crown Prince Che succeeded to the throne as Emperor Wu, and Empress Wang became empress dowager.

As empress dowager

After Empress Wang became empress dowager, her son carried out several immediate acts to honor her family members. Her mother was created the Lady of Pingyuan, and her half-brothers were created marquesses. Her daughter Jin Su, from her previous marriage, was tracked down and personally visited by Emperor Wu, and he created her the Lady of Xiucheng.

Empress Dowager Wang exerted significant influence on her son, as can be seen from how, with her approval, her half-brother Tian Fen became the commander of the armed forces and exerted power even beyond the military affairs. Initially, her influence was balanced and outweighed by that of her mother-in-law, Grand Empress Dowager Dou. After Grand Empress Dowager Dou's death in 135 BC, however, she would become the paramount figure at court, and it was in 135 BC that Tian Fen was made prime minister, although her son gradually asserted his position as he grew in age. For example, in 133 BC, in the aftermaths of the failed attempt to capture the Xiongnu chanyu at the Battle of Mayi, Emperor Wu wanted to execute the key strategist, Wang Hui (王恢, unrelated to her), who bribed Tian, who in turn persuaded her to speak on Wang Hui's behalf. Emperor Wu refused to accept her intercession, and forced Wang Hui to commit suicide. However, it was at her behest that Emperor Wu executed his grand uncle Dou Ying (竇嬰) (Empress Dou's cousin) in 132 BC for having insulted Tian.

Empress Dowager Wang died in 126 BC, and was buried with her second husband Emperor Jing.

Last update 08-05-2012

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