Empress Zhang (Hongzhi)
|Died||1541 (aged 69–70)|
|Spouse||Hongzhi Emperor (m.1487–1505)|
|Issue||Zhengde Emperor (1491–1521)
Prince Dao of Wei (1495–1496)
Princess Taikang (1494–1498)
Empress Xiaochengjing née Zhang was the daughter of Zhang Luan (張巒). She was born and in Xingji (nowadays Qing county, Hebei province). In 1487 she married then-Crown Prince Youcheng and was thus give the title of crown princess. She was created empress when her husband succeeded the throne later that year. She remains the only empress to an adult emperor who had no concubines in Chinese history. The emperor is said to have loved her sincerely and therefore did not want other wives or concubines. The couple's relationship was therefore described not only as that of an emperor and empress in a dynastic marriage, but that of the parties of a love relationship, and lived together as commoners did.
Empress Zhang was a foolish and demanding woman, capable of no more than petty faults, but those included a constant desire for expensive objects, credulity about the teachings of the most specious Buddhist and Taoïst clerics, and limitless favour for her family, especially her two unrestaindly venel brothers. This pair, Zhang Heling (張鶴齡) and Zhang Yanling (張延齡), with the support of their sister the Empress and her mother Lady Gin made careers of misusing their high position.
In 1505 the Hongzhi Emperor died and her son ascended the throne as the Zhengde Emperor. Being his mother she was created empress dowager. In 1510 she was bestowed upon the titles of Cishou (慈寿皇太后).
In 1521 the childless emperor Zhengde died and his cousin, Zhu Houcong, ascended the throne as the Jiaqing Emperor. It was thought that he would continue the line, of succession, in the role of the deceased emperor's adoptive younger brother and treat his aunt, Empress Zhang, and deceased uncle as father and mother. When Jiaqing's mother, Lady Chiang, arrived at Tongzhou a crisis developed. She heard that she was to be received as a princess rather than as an empress and that her son was pressured to refer her as his aunt. She threatened to return to Anlu with her son, who informed Empress Zhang he intended to abdicate. An edict was issued under Empress Zhang's seal giving her an imperial title.
Empress Zhang, however, continued to regard Lady Chiang as an unimportant princess, receiving her with the courtesies proper for an imperial princess, her title of empress dowager notwithstanding. Her behaviour infuriated the emperor no less than it did his mother; henceforth he used every means at his disposal to humiliate and intimidate Empress Zhang and her family.
In 1522 Jiaqing married Lady Chen who was chosen by Empress Zhang as his Empress. Jiaqing did not warm to his new bride and had little to do with her. In the spring of 1524 the Jiaqing emperor refused her a formal audience on the occasion of her birthday, whereas several weeks earlier he had arranged elaborate ceremonies in honor of his mothers birthday. The officials who protested were arrested, and the emperor let it be known that he would not tolerate further criticism of his private life. He clearly intended to honor his mother at his aunt's expense in this and court ceremonies.
The following year, April 15, 1525, a fire destroyed Empress Zhang's residential palace. She and her entourage had to move to a smaller palace while the old palace was being rebuild. At first the emperor approved a suggestion to rebuild the palace on a smaller scale, since materials were needed for his fathers temple, which was then under construction. But in late August he suggested that work on the palace be stopped, ostensibly to ease the burden on his subjects. Grand secretary Fei Hung noted that Empress Zhang was not at ease in her quarters, but the emperor was unmoved. In October, when the minister of works suggested that several of the emperor's building projects be halted, he agreed on one condition: that work on Empress Zhang's palace be halted as well.
Empress Zhang died in 1541 and was buried, with the least possible ceremony, with her husband.
- Zhu Houzhao, Zhengde Emperor
- Zhu Houwei, Prince Dao of Wei
- Zhu Xiurong, Princess Taikang
- The Cambridge history of China: volume 7, the Ming dynasty, 1368-1644 by Frederick W. Mote, Denis Twitchett
- Biographical dictionary of Chinese women, Tang through Ming 618-1644. edited by: Lily Xiao Honglee, Sue Willes
- Ming dynasty history of empresses and concubines (明史后妃传)
|Empress of China