Chang'an, Tang Dynasty
|Spouse||Emperor Gaozong of T三人=ang|
|Issue||Li Sujie, Prince of Xu
Consort Xiao, imperial consort rank Shufei (蕭淑妃, personal name unknown) (died 655?), was a concubine of Emperor Gaozong of Tang (Li Zhi). She was initially favored by him and bore him a son and two daughters -- Li Sujie and the Princesses Yiyang and Gao'an—but later, after her romantic rival Empress Wang introduced another concubine, Consort Wu (later known as Wu Zetian), to Emperor Gaozong, Emperor Gaozong became enamored with Consort Wu. Empress Wang and Consort Xiao instead joined forces to try to counter Consort Wu, but in 655, Emperor Gaozong deposed both of them on accusations of witchcraft and replaced Empress Wang with Consort Wu. Soon, they were cruelly executed on the new Empress Wu's orders.
Little is known about Consort Xiao's background. What is known is that she was already a concubine of Li Zhi when he was crown prince under his father Emperor Taizong, as her son Li Sujie was born in 645, before his ascension in 649. While she was a concubine to the crown prince, she carried the title of Liangdi (良娣). In addition to Li Sujie, she bore two daughters, who were probably older than Li Sujie. It was also said that she was favored by him, more so than his wife Crown Princess Wang.
As imperial consort
In 649, after Emperor Taizong died, Li Zhi took the throne (as Emperor Gaozong). He created Crown Princess Wang empress, and he created Consort Xiao the rank of Shufei, the second highest rank for imperial concubines. She continued to be favored, which drew jealousy from Empress Wang, and Empress Wang's jealousy soon caused both of them to face a different romantic rival.
When Emperor Gaozong was crown prince, he had been attracted by the beauty of one of Emperor Taizong's concubines, Consort Wu. After Emperor Taizong's death, all of his concubines who did not bear sons were housed at Ganye Temple (感業寺) to be Buddhist nuns. In either 650 or 651, when Emperor Gaozong was visiting Ganye Temple to offer incense to Buddha, when he saw Consort Wu. Both of them wept. When Empress Wang heard this, she, wanting to divert Emperor Gaozong's favor from Consort Xiao, secretly instructed Consort Wu to grow her hair back, while suggesting to Emperor Gaozong that he take her as a concubine. Consort Wu was intelligent and full of machinations, and therefore, when she first returned to the palace, she acted humbly and flattered Empress Wang, who trusted her greatly and recommended her to Emperor Gaozong. Soon, Emperor Gaozong became enamored with Consort Wu. Both Empress Wang and Consort Xiao lost favor, and soon, they realized the seriousness of the situation and joined forces to try to alienate Consort Wu from Emperor Gaozong, but were unsuccessful.
In 654, Consort Wu framed Empress Wang for the death of her daughter, and in 655 further accused Empress Wang and her mother Lady Liu of using witchcraft. Emperor Gaozong deposed both Empress Wang and Consort Xiao, reducing them to commoner rank and imprisoning them inside the palace.
Death and aftermath
Six days after Empress Wang's removal, Consort Wu was created empress. Empress Wang and Consort Xiao were put under arrest inside the palace, at a building that had its doors and windows tightly sealed, with only a hole on the wall to deliver food. One day, Emperor Gaozong thought of them and decided to visit them, and when he saw the conditions they were in, he was saddened, calling out, "Empress, Shufei, where are you?" Empress Wang wept and responded, "We have been found guilty and reduced to be maidservants. How can we still be referred to by honored titles?" She also begged, "If Your Imperial Majesty considered our past relationships and will allow us to again see the light of day, please rename this place 'Huixin Courtyard' [(回心院, meaning "the courtyard of a returned heart")]." Emperor Gaozong was initially receptive, responding, "I will do so right away." However, when Empress Wu heard this, she was enraged, and she sent people to cane Empress Wang and Consort Xiao 100 times each and cut off their hands and feet. She then had them put into large wine jars, saying, "Let these two witches be drunk to their bones!" When Empress Wang was informed the orders, she bowed and stated, "May His Imperial Majesty live forever, and may Zhaoyi [(昭儀, Empress Wu's title as a concubine, implicitly refusing to acknowledge her as empress)] be favored forever. Dying is within my responsibility." However, Consort Xiao cursed Empress Wu, "Wu is a treacherous monster! May it be that I be reincarnated as a cat and she be reincarnated as a mouse, so that I can, for ever and ever, grab her throat." Empress Wang and Consort Xiao suffered for several days inside the wine jars before dying, and Empress Wu had their bodies taken out of the jars and beheaded. (When Empress Wu heard of Consort Xiao's curse, she forbad the palace personnel from keeping cats as pets, but thereafter often dreamed of Empress Wang and Consort Xiao, with scattered hair and bleeding limbs, seeking to kill her. She thereafter initially moved to Penglai Palace (蓬萊宮), but continued to dream of them, and therefore eventually spent most of her time in the eastern capital Luoyang and not in the capital Chang'an, where these events occurred.) Soon after Empress Wang's and Consort Xiao's deaths, at Empress Wu's urging, Emperor Gaozong also had Empress Wang's and her clan's surname changed from Wang (王, a typical surname meaning "king" or "monarch") to Mang (蟒, meaning "boa constrictor") and Consort Xiao's and her clan's surname changed from Xiao (萧, another typical surname meaning "sad" or "calm") to Xiao (梟, meaning "owl"). Only after Empress Wu's own death in 705 were their clans' proper surnames restored.
Both of Consort Xiao's daughters, who by now carried the titles of Princess Yiyang and Princess Gao'an, were put under house arrest inside the palace, and were not allowed to marry. Not until Empress Wu's oldest son, the crown prince Li Hong interceded, probably in 671, were they allowed to marry—and even then, Empress Wu simply found two imperial guards, Quan Yi (權毅) (for Princess Yiyang) and Wang Xu (王勗) (for Princess Gao'an) to marry them immediately. Meanwhile, Li Sujie was allowed to be an imperial prince but continuously drew Empress Wu's hatred, causing him to be demoted and put under close watch a number of times, and he was eventually killed on the orders of Empress Wu (who by then was empress dowager and regent) in 690.
Notes and references
- The timing of Empress Wang's and Consort Xiao's deaths was not clearly indicated in the Old Book of Tang and the New Book of Tang. The Zizhi Tongjian placed their deaths in 655. See Zizhi Tongjian, vol. 200.
- That the two princesses were older than Li Sujie could be inferred from the fact that later, when their younger brother by Empress Wu, Li Hong, requested Emperor Gaozong to let them marry, they were described to be already at least 39 years old, and this request was probably made in 671. See Old Book of Tang, vol. 86  and New Book of Tang, vol. 81 . However, Zizhi Tongjian stated that the princesses were "over 29" at the time, which would still make them older than Li Sujie. See Zizhi Tongjian, vol. 202.
- The modern historian Bo Yang, based on the fact that Empress Wu's oldest son Li Hong was born in 652, fixed the date of this incident as 650, but 651 is also a possibility. See Bo Yang Edition of Zizhi Tongjian, vol. 47.
- This account is per the New Book of Tang, which the Zizhi Tongjian accepted, but the Old Book of Tang indicated that they were strangled. Compare New Book of Tang, vol. 76  and Zizhi Tongjian, vol. 200 with Old Book of Tang, vol. 51 .