Empress Zhou (Ming dynasty)

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Empress Zhuangliemin
莊烈愍皇后
Empress consort of the Ming Dynasty
Tenure 1628–1644
Predecessor Empress Xiao Ai Zhe
Successor Empress Xiaoduanwen
(In the Southern Ming Dynasty: Empress Xiao Yi Xiang)
Born 10 May 1611
Died 24 April 1644
Kunning Palace
Spouse Chongzhen Emperor
Issue Zhu Cilang, Crown Prince Xianmin
Princess Kunyi
Zhu Cixuan, Prince Yin of Huai
Zhu Cijiong, Prince Ai of Ding
Posthumous name
Honored by Qing Dynasty: Empress Xiaojing Zhenlie Cihui Zhuangmin Chengtian Peisheng Duan 孝敬貞烈慈惠莊敏承天配聖端皇后 => Empress Zhuangliemin 莊烈愍皇后
Honored by Southern Ming Dynasty: Empress Xiaozhe Zhensui Yuangong Zhuangyi Fengtian Zhengsheng Lie 孝節貞肅淵恭莊毅奉天靖聖烈皇后
Father Zhou Kui, Earl of Jiading

Empress Zhou (10 May 1611 - 24 April 1644), posthumously named Empress Xiaojie, was a Chinese Empress consort of the Ming Dynasty, married to Chongzhen Emperor. She is commonly referred to as Empress Zhou.

Life[edit]

Empress Zhou originated from Suzhou. She came from a poor background, which was customary in the Ming dynasty, who selected imperial spouses from the poor, who unlike upper class women did not have powerful families who could help any potentially political ambitious empress.[1]

She was elevated to the position of empress after the succession of the Chongzhen Emperor to the throne. Empress Zhou is described as "stern and prudent"; never forgetting of her poor origin, she maintained a frugal policy in palace affairs, and was admired and praised for this.[2]

The Chongzhen Emperor reportedly had a good relationship to her and divided his affections and attention equally between empress Zhou and his favorite concubine, Honored Consort Tian (d. 1642), who was the mother of his 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th sons. Zhou was allegedly not jealous of Tian, but she did disapprove of her haughty behavior.[3] This eventually caused a conflict between the empress and the consort Tian, which also involved the emperor. At one occasion, when Consort Tian was to give her customary greeting to the empress before visiting the emperor, the empress snubbed her, reportedly to remind her not to be arrogant.[4] Offended by this, Consort Tian complained to the emperor. The Chongzhen Emperor became infuriated with the empress, and reportedly abused her in a fit of rage.[5] Empress Zhou reacted by refusing to eat. Her hunger strike caused the emperor to regret the incident, and the imperial couple reconciled.[6] In 1642, Consort Tian begged the emperor to show leniency toward her father, Tian Honguy, who was accused of lawlessness. This angered the emperor, who banished Consort Tian to a separate palace. On this occasion, empress Zhou intervened with the emperor and asked him to end the exile of Tian, which he did, after three months.[7]

In April 1644, the army of the rebel Li Zicheng were approaching the capital through Juyong Pass. On 23 April, the Chongzhen Emperor held his last audience with his ministers. Li Zicheng offered Chongzhen the opportunity to surrender, but the emperor refused. The following day, the rebel army attacked the capital. The Chongzhen Emperor ordered the crown prince and his two brothers to hide in the home of relatives, and summoned the rest of his family. Rather than let them be captured by the rebels, the emperor started killing the female members of his family, concubines and consorts. Using his sword, he killed Honored Consort Yuan and Princess Kunyi, and severed the arm of Princess Changping, before dressing himself as a eunuch and trying to escape himself.[8] Empress Zhou herself was ordered by the emperor to commit suicide, which she performed by hanging in Kunning Gong (Palace of Earthly Tranquility), Forbidden City.

Issue[edit]

  1. Zhu Cilang, Crown Prince Xianmin
  2. Princess Kunyi
  3. Zhu Cixuan, Prince Yin of Huai
  4. Zhu Cijiong, Prince Ai of Ding

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Keith McMahon: Celestial Women: Imperial Wives and Concubines in China from Song to Qing
  2. ^ Keith McMahon: Celestial Women: Imperial Wives and Concubines in China from Song to Qing
  3. ^ Keith McMahon: Celestial Women: Imperial Wives and Concubines in China from Song to Qing
  4. ^ Keith McMahon: Celestial Women: Imperial Wives and Concubines in China from Song to Qing
  5. ^ Keith McMahon: Celestial Women: Imperial Wives and Concubines in China from Song to Qing
  6. ^ Keith McMahon: Celestial Women: Imperial Wives and Concubines in China from Song to Qing
  7. ^ Keith McMahon: Celestial Women: Imperial Wives and Concubines in China from Song to Qing
  8. ^ Frederic E. Wakeman,Lea H. Wakeman: Telling Chinese History: A Selection of Essays

References[edit]

  • Lily Xiao Hong Lee, Sue Wiles: Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Women, Volume II: Tang Through Ming 618 - 1644
  • Keith McMahon: Celestial Women: Imperial Wives and Concubines in China from Song to Qing
Chinese royalty
Preceded by
Empress Xiaoaizhe
Empress of China
1628–1644
Succeeded by
Borjigit, Demoted Empress
(In the Southern Ming Dynasty: Empress Xiaoyixiang)