Wang Yuanji

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Wang Yuanji
Empress dowager of Jin dynasty
Born 217[1]
Died 268 (aged 51)[1]
Names
Traditional Chinese 王元姬
Simplified Chinese 王元姬
Pinyin Wáng Yuánjī
Wade–Giles Wang Yüan-chi
Posthumous name
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Wang.

Wang Yuanji (217–268) was the wife of Sima Zhao, a regent of the state of Cao Wei in the Three Kingdoms period. She became the empress dowager during the reign of her son Sima Yan, who ended the Wei regime and founded the Jin dynasty. She was posthumously honoured as "Empress Wenming" (lit. "civil and understanding empress") after her death.

Life[edit]

Wang Yuanji was from Tan county (郯縣), Donghai commandery (東海郡), which is in present-day Tancheng County, Linyi, Shandong. Her father Wang Su served as a military officer in Wei and held the title "Marquis of Lanling" (蘭陵侯).[2]

When Wang Yuanji was eight years old, she already had a good memory and could recite the Confucian classics fluently. Once, when she was nine, her mother fell sick so she remained by her mother's side all the time to take care of her. She possessed savoir faire and performed well when her parents allowed her to manage household chores. Her grandfather Wang Lang doted on her and felt that she was extraordinary. He said, "This girl will bring glory to our family. What a pity she isn't a boy!" When Wang Yuanji was 12, her grandfather died and she cried her heart out. Her father respected her even more after that incident and felt that she was indeed very special.[3]

Wang Yuanji married Sima Zhao after reaching adulthood (around the age of 15) and bore him four sons – Sima Yan, Sima Dingguo (司馬定國), Sima You and Sima Zhao (司馬兆) – and a daughter who was historically known as "Princess Jingzhao" (京兆公主). After her marriage, she maintained her good moral character and served her in-laws well. She cried her heart out again when her father died.[4]

When Sima Zhao became the regent of Wei, he recognised Zhong Hui's talent and promoted the latter to higher appointments. Wang Yuanji told her husband, "Zhong Hui is a man who will forsake moral principles for his personal gains. He's likely to cause trouble if he's overly indulged and favoured. He shouldn't be entrusted with important responsibilities." Wang Yuanji's prediction came true later as Zhong Hui started a rebellion in 263 after helping Wei conquer its rival state, Shu Han.[5]

Sima Zhao died in 265 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Sima Yan, as the regent of Wei. Later that year, Sima Yan forced the last Wei ruler, Cao Huan, to abdicate in his favour, thereby ending the Wei regime and establishing the Jin dynasty. After ascending the throne, Sima Yan instated his mother as the empress dowager and gave her Chonghua Palace (崇化宮) as her residence. Even after becoming the empress dowager, Wang Yuanji continued to live a humble and frugal life. There were no expensive furniture and decorations in her room; she kept her meals simple and wore old clothes again after washing them. She also personally did weaving work and managed the imperial harem well, resulting in harmony among the emperor's concubines.[6]

Wang Yuanji died in 268 at the age of 52 (by East Asian age reckoning). She was buried at Chongyangling (崇陽陵; somewhere in present-day Yanshi, Luoyang, Henan) with her husband. Sima Yan personally wrote a eulogy praising his mother's moral character and ordered a court historian to have it published.[7]

Modern references[edit]

Wang Yuanji is first introduced as a playable character in the seventh instalment of Koei's Dynasty Warriors video game series. She also appears as a playable character in Warriors Orochi 3.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b The Jin Shu stated that Wang Yuanji died in the fourth year of the Taishi era (265–274) in the reign of Emperor Wu at the age of 52 (by East Asian age reckoning). Quote from Jin Shu vol. 31: ([泰始]四年,后崩,時年五十二, ...) By calculation, her birth year should be around 217.
  2. ^ (文明王皇后諱元姬,東海郯人也。父肅,魏中領軍、蘭陵侯。) Jin Shu vol. 31.
  3. ^ (后年八歲,誦詩論,尤善喪服;苟有文義,目所一見,必貫於心。年九歲,遇母疾,扶侍不捨左右,衣不解帶者久之。每先意候指,動中所適,由是父母令攝家事,每盡其理。祖朗甚愛異之,曰:「興吾家者,必此女也,惜不為男矣!」年十二,朗薨,后哀戚哭泣,發于自然,其父益加敬異。) Jin Shu vol. 31.
  4. ^ (既笄,歸于文帝,生武帝及遼東悼王定國、齊獻王攸、城陽哀王兆、廣漢殤王廣德、京兆公主。后事舅姑盡婦道,謙沖接下,嬪御有序。及居父喪,身不勝衣,言與淚俱。) Jin Shu vol. 31.
  5. ^ (時鍾會以才能見任,后每言于帝曰:「會見利忘義,好為事端,寵過必亂,不可大任。」會後果反。) Jin Shu vol. 31.
  6. ^ (武帝受禪,尊為皇太后,宮曰崇化。初置宮卿,重選其職,以太常諸葛緒為衞尉,太僕劉原為太僕,宗正曹楷為少府。后雖處尊位,不忘素業,躬執紡績,器服無文,御浣濯之衣,食不參味。而敦睦九族,垂心萬物,言必典禮,浸潤不行。) Jin Shu vol. 31.
  7. ^ (四年,后崩,時年五十二,合葬崇陽陵。將遷祔,帝手疏后德行,命史官為哀策曰: ...) Jin Shu vol. 31.