Empress Wang (王皇后, personal name unknown) (8 BC – AD 23), formally Empress Xiaoping (孝平皇后), formally during her father Wang Mang's Xin Dynasty Duchess Dowager of Ding'an (定安太后) then Princess Huanghuang (黃皇室主) was an empress during Han Dynasty -- the very last of the Western Han Dynasty -- who was the daughter of the eventual usurper Wang Mang. Her husband was Emperor Ping. She is largely viewed by historians as a tragic figure, the victim of circumstances, who, in her young life, tried to maintain her loyalty to her husband of only a few years, but whose faithfulness meant that she eventually had to allow herself to die at the end of her father's reign.
Empress Wang was born in 8 BC, to Wang Mang -- who had then resigned the powerful commander of armed forces position, which he held under his cousin Emperor Cheng and briefly under Emperor Cheng's successor and nephew Emperor Ai, to whom he was not related -- and his wife Lady Wang, the daughter of Wang Xian (王咸) the Marquess of Yichun. In her childhood, her father would several times fall in danger of the political climate of the times, due to hatred by Emperor Ai's grandmother Grand Empress Dowager Fu. However, in 1 BC, after Emperor Ai's death, Wang Mang's aunt Grand Empress Dowager Wang would seize power back from Emperor Ai's male favorite (and probable lover) Dong Xian and recall Wang Mang to serve as regent to her stepgrandson, the young Emperor Ping.
Once Wang Mang became regent, he built a personality cult around himself, and was able to become very popular among the people. In 2, Wang Mang decided to have his daughter married to Emperor Ping to further affirm his position. Initially, he started a selection process of eligible noble young ladies (after declaring, in accordance with ancient customs, that Emperor Ping will have one wife and 11 concubines). However, then, in an act of false modesty intended to create the opposite result, he petitioned Grand Empress Dowager Wang that his daughter not be considered -- and then started a petition driven by the people to have his daughter be selected as empress. The petitioners stormed the outside of the palace, and Grand Empress Dowager Wang, overwhelmed by the display of affection for Wang Mang, ordered that Wang Mang's daughter be made empress. In 4, Emperor Ping officially married her and created her empress.
Circa 5, Emperor Ping, having grown older, appeared to have grown out of a heart condition that he suffered earlier, and it became fairly plain that he resented Wang Mang for slaughtering his uncles in 3 and not allowing his mother to visit him in the capital Chang'an. Wang Mang therefore resolved to murder the emperor. In winter 5, Wang Mang submitted pepper wine (considered in those days to be capable of chasing away evil spirits) to the 13-year-old emperor, but had the wine spiked with poison. As the emperor was suffering the effects of the poison, Wang Mang wrote a secret petition to the gods, in which he offered to substitute his life for Emperor Ping's, and then have the petition locked away. (Historians generally believed that Wang Mang had two motives in doing this -- one was, in case Emperor Ping recovered from the poisoning, to use this to try to absolve himself of involvement in the poisoning, and the second was to leave for posterity evidence of his faithfulness.) After a few days of suffering, Emperor Ping died. Empress Wang became a widow at the age of 12. After Emperor Ping's death, Wang Mang assumed the unprecedented title of acting emperor (假皇帝).
In 6, Wang Mang selected Emperor Ping's cousin-once-removed (a great-great-grandson of Emperor Xuan), the two-year-old Liu Ying as the next emperor (to be known, perhaps incorrectly at least in English, as Emperor Ruzi). However, due to his young age, and also because Wang Mang wanted to try out his acting emperor title longer to see if the people would support him if he seized the throne for himself, Emperor Ruzi never took the throne, but was given the title crown prince. (Wang Mang's promise to the people at the time was that he would return the throne to Emperor Ruzi as soon as he was sufficiently grown.) Empress Wang was given the title empress dowager.
In 8, Wang Mang officially seized the throne and established the Xin Dynasty. In 9, the toddler Emperor Ruzi was created the Duke of Ding'an (定安公), and Empress Dowager Wang was given the title of Duchess Dowager of Ding'an.
Traditional historical accounts described Empress Wang as an unhappy widow during her father's reign, still bearing seeds of loyalty in her mind to the overthrown Han Dynasty. She often claimed to be ill and refused to attend imperial gatherings. Wang Mang, believing that he could solve her unhappiness by having her remarry, changed her title from Duchess Dowager of Ding'an to Princess Huanghuang in 10, to terminate her formal linkage with the Han Dynasty. He also intended to marry her to the son of one of his important officials, Sun Jian (孫建). He instructed Sun Jian's son to dress himself well and accompany physicians to go visit Princess Huanghuang. She was greatly offended and would not receive any guests afterwards.
Also in 10, another potential suiter for Princess Huanghuang would get himself in trouble for the way that he tried to marry her. Zhen Xun (甄尋), the mayor of Chang'an and the son of Wang Mang's trusted ally and friend Zhen Feng (甄豐), had designs on both greater power and Princess Huanghuang. Because Wang Mang highly relied on spreading false prophecies to the people to persuade them that he was the proper new emperor, Zhen Feng took the chance to create some false prophecies of his own. His first attempt was a prophecy that indicated that the empire should be divided into two parts, each with a viceroy -- with the western empire having his father Zhen Feng as viceroy, and the eastern empire having another important official Ping Yan (平晏) as viceroy. Wang Mang, although displeased, decided to go along with this prophecy, and in fact commissioned Zhen Feng and Ping as viceroys. Having seen results, Zhen Xun created a second false prophecy -- that Princess Huanghuang should be married to him. Wang Mang decided to take this chance to suppress all prophecies that did not come from him, and ordered that Zhen Xun be arrested. Zhen Feng committed suicide, while Zhen Xun fled. In 11, he was finally arrested and exiled to Sanwei (三危, in modern Jiuquan, Gansu).
There would be no further historical records about Princess Huanghuang until 23, when she would suffer her death. At that time, her father's Xin Dynasty was in shambles, with various agrarian and other rebellions against him, and with one of the strongest rebel forces, under Liu Xuan, a distant descendant of the Han Dynasty imperial house, having entered the capital Chang'an, the people of Chang'an rose against Wang Mang as well. They set fire to the main imperial palace, Weiyang Palace, and the fire quickly spread to the part of the palace where Princess Huanghuang lived. She sighed and said, "How can I again face my Han relations?" She then threw herself into the fire and died.
|Empress of Western Han
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|Empress of China
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Empress Wang of the Xin Dynasty