Empress Cao (Han dynasty)

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Cao Jie
Empress of the Eastern Han dynasty
Born 197
Died 260 (aged 62–63)
Traditional Chinese 曹節
Simplified Chinese 曹节
Pinyin Cáo Jié
Wade–Giles Ts'ao Chieh
Other names
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Cao.

Cao Jie (197-260), formally known as Empress Xianmu, was an empress of the Eastern Han dynasty. She was the second wife of Emperor Xian, the last Han emperor, and became known as the Duchess of Shanyang after her husband's abdication. She was a half-sister of Cao Pi, who ended the Han dynasty by forcing Emperor Xian to abdicate the throne in his favour and established the state of Cao Wei.

Family background and marriage to Emperor Xian[edit]

Cao Jie was a daughter of the warlord Cao Cao, who by 196 had Emperor Xian under his control and issuing edicts in Emperor Xian's name to his own benefit in his campaign to reunite the empire, which had been held by regional warlords. In 213, Cao, who by that point had been created the Duke of Wei (later King of Wei), offered three daughters to be Emperor Xian's consorts—Jie and her older sister, Cao Xian (Chinese: 曹憲), and younger sister, Cao Hua (Chinese: 曹華). Initially, their titles were Furen (夫人), and in 214 their titles were upgraded to Guiren (貴人).

In 214, Emperor Xian's first wife Empress Fu Shou was discovered to have advocated a conspiracy against Cao Cao in 200, and although 14 years had elapsed, Cao was still so angry at her that he forcibly had her deposed and executed. In 215, Cao Jie was named Empress to replace her.

As empress and duchess[edit]

Not much is known about Empress Cao's life as empress, but it was clear that by that point her husband was thoroughly powerless, as her father held all power. In 220, her father died, and her brother Cao Pi succeeded him as the Prince of Wei. Later that year, he forced Emperor Xian to abdicate in favor of him, ending the Han Dynasty. It is said by traditional historians that when Cao Pi sent messengers to demand Empress Cao surrender her empress seal, she refused several times, but finally relented. As her husband was created the Duke of Shanyang, she was given the title the Duchess of Shanyang. Her husband died in 234, and she died 26 years later and was buried with him with honors due an empress, using Han ceremonies.

See also[edit]


Chinese royalty
Preceded by
Empress Fu Shou
Empress of Eastern Han Dynasty
Dynasty destroyed
Empress of China (Northern/Central)
Succeeded by
Empress Guo Nüwang of Cao Wei
Empress of China (Southwestern)
Succeeded by
Empress Wu of Shu Han
Empress of China (Southeastern)
Succeeded by
Empress Pan of Eastern Wu