Empress Dowager Du

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Lady Du
Empress Dowager Zhaoxian of Song
B Song Dynasty Empress of Xuanzu.JPG
Palace portrait on a Hanging scroll, kept in National Palace Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
empress dowager of the Song Dynasty
Tenure 4 February 960 – 17 July 961
Emperor Zhao Kuangyin (Emperor Taizu), son
Spouse Zhao Hongyin
Issue
3 others died young
Full name
Surname: Dù ()
Given name: unknown
Posthumous name
961:[2] Empress Dowager Míngxiàn (太后)
964:[2] Empress Dowager Zhāoxiàn (太后)
House House of Zhao (by marriage)
Father Du Shuang (杜爽)
Mother Lady Fan (范氏)
Born 902 or January 903[3]
Dingzhou, Hebei, China
Died 17 July 961(961-07-17) (aged 58–59[2])
Kaifeng, Henan, China
Burial Gongyi, Henan, China

Empress Dowager Du (杜太后, given name unknown) (c. 902[3] – 17 July 961[4]) was an empress dowager of imperial China's Song Dynasty. She was the wife of general Zhao Hongyin and the mother of Emperor Taizu of Song, who founded the Song Dynasty.

After her death, another son Emperor Taizong succeeded Emperor Taizu, claiming legitimacy on grounds of their mother's will, alleged sealed in a golden shelf at her death. Many historians believe that this was actually a fabrication by Emperor Taizong.

Family[edit]

The eldest of 8 children from an official family, Lady Du married general Zhao Hongyin upon reaching adulthood and bore him 7 children:[2]

  • Zhao Kuangji (趙匡濟), 1st son, died young[5]
  • Zhao Kuangyin (趙匡胤), 2nd son, born in 927
  • Zhao Kuangyi (趙匡乂), later called Zhao Guangyi (趙光義) and eventually Zhao Jiong (趙炅), 3rd son, born in 939
  • Zhao Kuangmei (趙匡美),[6] later called Zhao Guangmei (趙光美) and eventually Zhao Tingmei (趙廷美), 4th son, born in 947[7]
  • Zhao Kuangzan (趙匡贊), 5th son, died young[8]
  • A daughter, originally married to Mi Fude (米福德), later married Gao Huaide after Mi's death[9]
  • Another daughter who died young[9]

Lady Du was a strict mother who taught the children to follow rules and traditions.[2] Her husband Zhao Hongyin died in 956.

Becoming the empress dowager[edit]

In 960, her eldest surviving son Zhao Kuangyin staged a coup d'état to end the Later Zhou, forcing the 7-year-old Emperor Gong of Later Zhou to abdicate power and declaring himself the emperor of the new Song Dynasty. Upon hearing the news, Lady Du was not surprised and merely stated: "My son has always been ambitious." She was honored as the empress dowager in a grand ceremony before all ministers but did not appear happy. When asked why, she replied: "I heard it is very difficult to be a ruler. Being above all commoners, if an emperor governs according to the ethics, then he deserves all their respect. However, if he mismanages the sovereign, he can no longer be a commoner even if he begs. This is why I am worried." Emperor Taizu bowed and promised to remember that.[2]

Promise of the Golden Shelf[edit]

Just a year later, Empress Dowager Du fell sick, and Emperor Taizu personally fed her medicine and attended her by her bed. When the illness worsened, minister Zhao Pu was summoned to record the will. Empress Dowager Du asked her son, "Do you know why you became an emperor?" In tears, Emperor Taizu could not answer. The mother asked again, and Emperor Taizu responded that it was all due to the blessings of her and the ancestors. "Wrong", the mother said, "It was because Emperor Shizong of (Later) Zhou made his young kid succeed him as the emperor. Had (Later) Zhou had an older emperor, how could you become one? When you pass away, remember to pass the throne to your younger brother. The country is wide, the population is large, an older emperor is the blessing of the dynasty." Emperor Taizu cried and nodded his head. Empress Dowager Du also told Zhao Pu: "You shall also remember and follow my words." This conversation was recorded by Zhao Pu with his signature at the end and sealed in a golden shelf to be kept by reliable palace attendants.[2]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Chikusa, p. 84.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Song Shi, ch. 242.
  3. ^ a b From her date and Chinese age at death we can deduct that she was born some time between 11 February 902 and 31 January 903.
  4. ^ Xu Zizhi Tongjian Changbian, ch. 2.
  5. ^ Song Shi, vol. 244 gives his name as Zhao Guangji (趙光濟). Most likely the original name (if there was one) would have had the same generation name "Kuang" (匡) as Zhao Kuangyin, but was changed once Zhao Kuangyin became emperor due to naming taboo.
  6. ^ Song Shi, vol. 244 gives his original name as Zhao Guangzan (趙光美). Most likely the original name would have had the same generation name "Kuang" (匡) as Zhao Kuangyin, but was changed once Zhao Kuangyin became emperor due to naming taboo.
  7. ^ Song Shi, vol. 244
  8. ^ Song Shi, vol. 244 gives his name as Zhao Guangzan (趙光贊). Most likely the original name (if there was one) would have had the same generation name "Kuang" (匡) as Zhao Kuangyin, but was changed once Zhao Kuangyin became emperor due to naming taboo.
  9. ^ a b Song Shi, vol. 248

Sources[edit]