|Empress of the Yuan dynasty
|Reign||1340–1369/70 (29–30 years)|
|Died||1369/70 (aged 54–55)|
|Issue||Biligtü Khan Ayushiridara|
Empress Gi (or Empress Ki; Hangul: 기황후; 1315–1369/70), known as Empress Qi (or Ch'i; 奇皇后) in Chinese and Öljei Khutuk (Өлзий хутуг) in Mongolian, was one of the primary empresses of Toghon Temür of the Yuan dynasty and the mother of Biligtü Khan Ayushiridara. She was from a Goryeo, present-day Korea, aristocratic family.
Öljei Khutuk, the Mongolian name by which she came to be known, was born to Gi Jao (기자오; 奇子敖) in Haengju (행주; 幸州, modern Goyang) in Goryeo. She had an elder brother named Gi Cheol (Hangul: 기철; Hanja: 奇轍, Mongolian: Bayn Bukha). She became a concubine of Toghon Temür and was the mother of Ayushiridara. Lady Gi (also known as Lady Ki) was born into a lower-ranked aristocratic family of bureaucrats. Until the late 19th century, Goryeo society was divided into fourteen castes with the royalty at the top and slaves at the bottom. Massive numbers of Goryeo boy eunuchs, Goryeo girl concubines, falcons, ginseng, grain, cloth, silver, and gold were sent as tribute to the Mongol Yuan dynasty. Goryeo incurred negative consequences as a result of the eunuch Bak Bulhwa's actions. The tribute payment brought much harm to Goryeo. It was considered prestigious to marry Goryeo women. In 1333, the teenage Lady Gi was sent as "human tribute" to Yuan as the Goryeo kings had to provide a certain number of beautiful teenage girls to serve as concubines of the Mongol Emperors once every three years. Lady Gi did not wish to leave her family in Goryeo, and was taken to Yuan very much against her will as she had no desire to be "human tribute". The concubines of the Emperor were his slaves and in effect the Emperor's harem. After she arrived in Yuan, Gi chose to make the best of her situation by being the best concubine she could be. Extremely beautiful and skilled at dancing, conversation, singing, poetry, and calligraphy, she quickly become the favorite concubine of Toghon Temür. The Emperor fell in love with Lady Gi and it was soon noted that Toghon Temür was spending far more time in her company than he was with the first empress Danashri.
After the primary empress Danashri was executed on 22 July 1335 in a purge because of the rebellion of her brother Tankis (Tangqishi), When Toghon Temür tried to promote Lady Gi to secondary wife, which was contrary to the standard practice of only taking secondary wives from the Mongol clans, it created such opposition at court to this unheard of promotion for a Goryeo woman that he was forced to back down. Toghon Temür tried to install Öljei Khutuk as the empress. However Bayan of the Merkid, who held real power, opposed it. In 1339, when Lady Gi gave birth to a son, whom Toghon Temür decided would be his successor, he was finally able to have Lady Gi named as his secondary wife in 1340. As the favorite wife of the emperor, Lady Gi was a very powerful woman in Yuan. When Bayan was purged, Öljei Khutuk became the secondary empress in 1340 (the primary empress was Bayan Khutugh of the Khongirad).
Toghon Temür increasingly lost interest in governing as his reign went on. During this time power was increasingly exercised by a politically and economically talented Lady Gi. This led to one of the most peaceful and prosperous periods for Yuan and in China's history as a whole.  Lady Gi's older brother Gi Cheol was appointed the commander of the Mongol Eastern Field Headquarters—making him in effect the real ruler of Gorye—owning to her influence. and she closely monitored Goryeo affairs. Her son Ayushiridara was designated Crown Prince in 1353. Using her eunuch Bak Bulhwa (Hangul: 박불화; Hanja: 朴不花) as her agent, she began a campaign to force the emperor to pass the imperial throne to her son Ayushiridara. However, her intentions became known to the emperor and he grew apart from her.
Depending on Öljei Khutuk's position in the imperial capital, her elder brother Gi Cheol came to threaten the position of the king of Goryeo, which was a client state of the Mongols. King Gongmin of Goryeo exterminated the Gi family in a coup in 1356. Öljei Khutuk responded by selecting Tash Temür as the new king of Goryeo and dispatched troops to Goryeo. The Mongol troops were defeated by the army of Goryeo while attempting to cross the Yalu River.
Within the Mongol capital an internal strife was fought between supporters and opponents of the Crown Prince. An opposition leader, Bolud Temür, finally occupied the capital in 1364. Ayushiridara fled to Köke Temür who supported him, but Öljei Khutuk was imprisoned by Bolud Temür. Bolud Temür was overthrown by Köke Temür the next year. Once again, she tried to install her son as Khagan, this time with the support of Köke Temür, but in vain. After Bayan Khutugh died, Öljei Khutuk was elevated to the primary empress.
The collapse of the Mongol rule of China in 1368 forced her to flee to Yingchang. In 1370, Toghon Temür died and Ayushiridara ascended to the throne. Empress Gi became Empress Dowager, but soon after that went missing.
In popular culture
- Portrayed by Kim Hye-ri in 2005 television series Shin Don and Ha Ji-Won in 2013-2014 TV series Empress Ki
- Kyung Moon Hwang A History of Korea, London: Palgrave, 2010 page 56
- Katharine Hyung-Sun Moon (January 1997). Sex Among Allies: Military Prostitution in U.S.-Korea Relations. Columbia University Press. pp. 40–. ISBN 978-0-231-10642-9.
- Boudewijn Walraven; Remco E. Breuker (2007). Korea in the Middle: Korean Studies and Area Studies : Essays in Honour of Boudewijn Walraven. Amsterdam University Press. pp. 57–. ISBN 978-90-5789-153-3.
- Gwyn Campbell; Suzanne Miers; Joseph C. Miller (8 September 2009). Children in Slavery through the Ages. Ohio University Press. pp. 136–. ISBN 978-0-8214-4339-2.
- Jinwung Kim (2012). A History of Korea: From "Land of the Morning Calm" to States in Conflict. Indiana University Press. pp. 172–. ISBN 0-253-00024-6.
- Ki-baek Yi (1984). A New History of Korea. Harvard University Press. pp. 157–. ISBN 978-0-674-61576-2.
- Simon Winchester (27 October 2009). Korea. HarperCollins. pp. 225–. ISBN 978-0-06-075044-2.
- Peter H. Lee (13 August 2013). Sourcebook of Korean Civilization: Volume One: From Early Times to the 16th Century. Columbia University Press. pp. 681–. ISBN 978-0-231-51529-0.
- Lorge, Peter. China Review International 17, no. 3 (2010): 377-79. https://www.jstor.org/stable/23733178.
- Kyung Moon Hwang A History of Korea, London: Palgrave, 2010 page 59.
- Kyung Moon Hwang A History of Korea, London: Palgrave, 2010 page 57
- Association for Asian Studies. Ming Biographical History Project Committee; Luther Carrington Goodrich (15 October 1976). Dictionary of Ming biography, 1368-1644. Columbia University Press. p. 1291.
- Чулууны Далай; Нямбуугийн Ишжамц; Найдангийн Дангаасүрэн (1992). Монголын түүх. Улаанбаатар: Эрдэм.
|Consort of Toghon Temür
|Khatun of the Mongols
|Empress of China
Empress Ma (Hongwu)