A Qing dynasty illustration of Lady Gan
Pei County, Jiangsu
Gong'an County, Hubei
Lady Gan (died c. 210) was concubine of Liu Bei, the founding emperor of the state of Shu Han in the Three Kingdoms period of China and Liu Shan's mother. She was later posthumously honoured as Empress Zhaolie.
Lady Gan was born to a family of commoners from Pei (沛), which is in present-day Pei County, Jiangsu) though a diviner predicted a bright future in store for her. When Liu Bei visited Yu Province, he stayed in Xiaopei (小沛; present-day Pei County, Jiangsu), where he met Lady Gan and took her as his concubine. By the time she turned eighteen, Lady Gan had already matured into a seductive beauty.
It was said that Liu Bei once commissioned a 3-foot jade sculpture carved in his consort's likeness and kept it inside her quarters where he would admire its sleek figure every night. When the other concubines directed their jealousy at Lady Gan and the sculpture, she convinced her husband to have it removed.
Since Liu Bei lost several wives during this time, Lady Gan was in charge of family affair. On several occasions, she was captured by Liu Bei’s enemies but always managed to emerge from the experience unharmed, and she succeeded in keeping his household together through such crises. She followed Liu Bei to Jing Province later, where she gave birth to Liu Shan. During the Battle of Changban, Liu Bei was forced to abandon her and Liu Shan, but she and her son were both saved by Zhao Yun. She was buried in Nan Commandery (南郡; around present-day Jingzhou, Hubei), her death probably was what prompted the offer of marriage between Liu Bei and Lady Sun, since Liu Bei no longer had someone to manage his household or raise his son.
A common misinterpretation is that she was Liu Bei's first wife, through he liked her and trust her enough to put her in charge of his household. Liu Bei never married her probably because he wanted a formal wife who would bring him some political advantage.
Lady Gan was said to have grown into quite a beauty with her skin being very white hence she was called "Snow Beauty".
In Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Lady Gan first appears in Chapter 15 of the novel alongside Liu Bei's other consort Lady Mi. The two of them had been treated well by Lu Bu who sought to maintain his alliance with their husband. They were also used as a bartering chip to ensure Guan Yu's loyalty to Cao Cao. Lady Gan urged her brother-in-law to escape upon hearing news of Liu Bei's whereabouts. She also provided him with advise during the journey, even helping pacify Zhang Fei who mistook his brother's ties to Cao Cao as treachery.
After reuniting with her husband, Lady Gan, bore him a son, Liu Shan. On the night of the birth a white crane alighted on the yamen, sang some forty notes, and flew into the west. During parturition an unknown fragrance filled the room. Once Lady Gan had dreamed that she swallowed the stars of the Northern Dipper and conceived as a result—hence the child's milkname, Ah Dou, or Precious Dipper. She was among those Zhao Yun saved when the conflict at Changban occurred. Her death in Chapter 54 inspired Zhou Yu to entrap Liu Bei in Wu by arranging a marriage between him and Lady Sun.
In 221, after Liu Bei established the state of Shu Han and became its first emperor, he posthumously honoured Lady Gan as "Lady Huangsi" (皇思夫人), which literally means "the Lady whom the Emperor misses". Lady Gan's remains were excavated from Nan Commandery for reburial in Shu territory (covering present-day Sichuan and Chongqing), but Liu Bei died before this was completed.
Later, after Liu Shan succeeded his father, Liu Bei, as the emperor of Shu, the chancellor Zhuge Liang wrote a memorial to Liu Shan, suggesting that Lady Gan be honoured and buried together with Liu Bei. Liu Shan obliged and posthumously honoured his mother as "Empress Zhaolie" (昭烈皇后) to match his father's posthumous title, "Emperor Zhaolie".
- de Crespigny (2007), p. 238.
- (先主甘皇后，沛人也。) Sanguozhi vol. 34.
- (先主臨豫州，住小沛，納以為妾。先主數喪嫡室，常攝內事。隨先主於荊州，產後主。值曹公軍至，追及先主於當陽長阪，於時困偪，棄後及後主，賴趙雲保護，得免於難。後卒，葬於南郡。) Sanguozhi vol. 34.
- Romance of the Three Kingdoms
- (章武二年，追諡皇思夫人，遷葬於蜀，未至而先主殂隕。) Sanguozhi vol. 34.
- (丞相亮上言：「皇思夫人履行脩仁，淑慎其身。大行皇帝昔在上將，嬪妃作合，載育聖躬，大命不融。大行皇帝存時，篤義垂恩，念皇思夫人神柩在遠飄颻，特遣使者奉迎。會大行皇帝崩，今皇思夫人神柩以到，又梓宮在道，園陵將成，安厝有期。臣輒與太常臣賴恭等議：禮記曰：『立愛自親始，教民孝也；立敬自長始，教民順也。』不忘其親，所由生也。春秋之義，母以子貴。昔高皇帝追尊太上昭靈夫人為昭靈皇后，孝和皇帝改葬其母梁貴人，尊號曰恭懷皇后，孝愍皇帝亦改葬其母王夫人，尊號曰靈懷皇后。今皇思夫人宜有尊號，以慰寒泉之思，輒與恭等案諡法，宜曰昭烈皇后。詩曰：『谷則異室，死則同穴。』禮云：上古無合葬，中古後因時方有。故昭烈皇后宜與大行皇帝合葬，臣請太尉告宗廟，布露天下，具禮儀別奏。」制曰可。) Sanguozhi vol. 34.