Lady Li

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Lady Li
Li fu ren.jpg
Spouse(s) Emperor Wu of Han
Children Liu Bo, Prince Ai of Changyi
Relatives Li Yannian (brother)
Li Guangli (brother)
Liu He (grandson)

Li Furen (Chinese: 李夫人) (died between 104-101 BC) was a concubine who married and produced offspring for Emperor Han Wudi, the seventh emperor of the Han Dynasty of China, who ruled from 141 — 87 BC.

Emperor Wu's foreign policies resulted in great territorial acquisitions for Han China, together with the organization of a strong, centralized imperial state bolstered by Confucian ideology; due to his achievements, Wudi was often considered one of the greatest or the greatest emperor of Han Dynasty China, and one of the greatest emperors in Chinese history. However, in the field of poetry, the great Wudi is more remembered for his great personal grief in his domestic life at the loss of his beloved "Lady Li" (Li Furen), as recorded in a well-known poem, written from the viewpoint of the persona of Wudi. This is a famous and frequently translated poem into English. One version goes:

The sound of her silk skirt has stopped.
On the marble pavement dust grows.
Her empty room is cold and still.
Fallen leaves are piled against the doors.
Longing for that lovely lady
How can I bring my aching heart to rest?[1]

Biography[edit]

Lady Li as depicted in the album Gathering Gems of Beauty (畫麗珠萃秀)

Li Furen's concubinage/marriage to the emperor, Han Wudi, came about by the circumstance that her brother Li Yannian was a musician for Princess Pingyang and composed the song Jiaren Qu (literally, The Beauty Song) as an ode to her beauty. After hearing this song, Emperor Wu wanted to meet the woman who could inspire such a song. Enamored of her, she became one of Emperor Wu's concubines and bore him a son named Bo (髆). The date of her death is unrecorded, but is calculated to be between 104 and 101 BC, as her brother Li Guangli was sent to attack Dayuan twice during this period, and it was recorded that Lady Li had passed away before Li Guangli returned from his second expedition. Emperor Wu's profound sadness was recorded in the Han Shu. Likewise, a famous poem has been recorded as being written by the grief-stricken Emperor.[2] However, although composed in the persona of Han Wudi, there is doubt as to the actual authorship of this and similar poems.[3]

Due to her popularity with the Emperor, her male relatives enjoyed favor with the Emperor, but in the civil unrest between the Li family and Empress Wei Zifu's family, several of her relatives were killed or executed. Li Guangli later surrendered to the Xiongnu circa 90-89 BC. With the suicide of Emperor Wu's crown prince Liu Ju in 91 BC, her son Liu Bo was among the candidates for the title of crown prince; the title ultimately went to young Liu Fuling, who succeeded Emperor Wu as Emperor Zhao of Han. (In any case, Liu Bo predeceased his father.) Her grandson, Liu Bo's son, Prince He of Changyi, was notoriously enthroned as emperor as Emperor Zhao's successor, but was removed from his position after 27 days by Huo Guang, impeached on 1127 charges of misconduct committed after being named emperor. Afterwards, Li's grandson was not included on the official historical list of Han emperors.

It was recorded that when Lady Li became gravely ill, Wudi came to visit her personally. However, she refused to allow Wudi to see her face, citing the loss of her beauty. Upon Wudi's urging, Li went further and refused to even speak. As such, Wudi left unhappily. The lady's sisters then admonished her for not allowing the emperor to see her face. Li's reply was "The reason why I refused to meet the emperor was for my brothers' sake. I earned the emperor's goodwill by virtue of my good looks. Those who serve others using their looks, will lose their popularity once their looks have faded. The reason why the Emperor remembers me fondly was because of my good looks in the past. If he sees that my looks have been ravaged, he will definitely treat me with disgust, let alone remember me fondly or treat my brothers well!"

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Translation, Arthur Waley, 1918, (in One Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems)
  2. ^ M. Loewe, 53.
  3. ^ Rexroth, 133

References[edit]