|Empress consort of the Qing dynasty|
|Tenure||2 September 1750 – 19 August 1766|
|Born||11 March 1718|
|Died||19 August 1766 (aged 48)|
Yu Mausoleum, Eastern Qing tombs
|Clan||Nara (那拉氏; by birth)|
Aisin Gioro (愛新覺羅氏; by marriage)
Step Empress of the Nara clan (皇后 那拉氏; 11 March 1718 – 19 August 1766) was the wife and second empress consort of Hongli, the Qianlong Emperor. She was Empress consort of Qing from 1750 until her death in 1766.
Originally a concubine, she was elevated to empress rank after Empress Xiaoxianchun's death in 1748. In her role as empress consort, she accompanied the Qianlong Emperor on many trips, ancestral worship ceremonies, and hunts.
Historical records give little information about her life, and even her appearance. It’s suspected that was due to the Qianlong Emperor destroying all her records and portraits. Although never officially deposed, she lost her authority as chief of the imperial harem in 1765, believed to be because she cut her hair and this action was considered a grave faux pas according to Manchurian custom. The Qianlong Emperor ordered that her four written edicts that bestowed her various imperial titles, as well as the accompanying gifts, be confiscated. In addition, her maid workforce was reduced to two.
Debate over maiden name
In the Draft History of Qing, the future Step Empress is noted as being a member of the Ula-Nara clan. However, the Draft History of Qing is noted to be riddled with errors, due to a hasty publication that precluded an editing process.
Empress's father, Narbu, is noted in the book Genealogy of the Manchu Clans (Chinese: 八旗滿洲氏族通譜) as being a descendant of Wangginu (Chinese: 王機砮), a leader of the Hoifa clan, and the family's ancestors are listed under the section "People with the surname Nara in the Hoifa area" (Chinese: 輝發地方納喇氏) as having lived in the Hoifa area for generations. Therefore, some modern publications have stated the Step Empress is a member of the Hoifa-Nara tribe. But due to the fact that the Ula-Nara clan is the most ancient Nara clan, the Step Empress's ancestors might have changed their last name to Ula Nara to make their name more noble.
However, at least one author has noted that with members of the Nara clan, the name that comes before Nara merely denotes the geographical area in which the family resided in, and that all members of the clan share the same last name, regardless of their area of residence. In the Factual Record of Qing (Chinese: 清實錄), when the Step Empress, at the time the secondary consort of Qianlong, was elevated to Consort Xian, she was referred to as being of the Nara clan, rather than as a member of the Ula-Nara or Hoifa-Nara tribe.
The debate over the Empress's maiden name has manifested itself in two 2018 media portrayals of the Empress's life. In the Story of Yanxi Palace, the character based on the Step Empress was named Hoifa-Nara Shushen, while in Ruyi's Royal Love in the Palace, the character based on the Step Empress was named Ula-Nara Ruyi/Qingying.
The date of the Step Empress's birth is a matter of debate, with the book Four Genealogies of the Qing Royal House stating that she was born some time in the second lunar month of an unknown year, and at least one modern book stating that she was born on the 10th day of the 2nd month of the 57th year of Kangxi Emperor's reign.[a] She was born to Narbu, a Niru ejen, or assistant captain. The family is of the Bordered Blue Banner.
Before Hongli's enthronement in 1735, his father the Yongzheng Emperor, appointed Lady Nara as his secondary consort. Lady Nara was noted to have gained Hongli's favour during this time. After the death of Yongzheng, Hongli succeeded him as the Qianlong Emperor, and Lady Nara was granted the title "Consort Xian" (Chinese: 嫻妃) on 23 January 1738.[b] Her pleasant character also won the favour of Qianlong's mother, the Empress Dowager Chongqing, and on 9 December 1745, she was promoted to "Noble Consort Xian" (Chinese: 嫻貴妃).
Qianlong's first empress, Empress Xiaoxianchun, died on the 8th day of the 3rd month of the 13th year of Qianlong at the age of 37,[c] on board a boat in Dezhou under circumstances that were not well documented by historical sources.
The emperor's mother, posthumously known as Empress Xiaoshengxian, selected Lady Nara to administrate the affairs of the six palaces. The emperor duly objected, because he was still grieving the loss of his first beloved empress, and was thus reluctant to take her as his second wife. But he was also hard-pressed to disobey his mother's wishes. As a compromise, he promoted Lady Nara to the position of "Imperial Noble Consort" (Chinese: 皇貴妃) via an edict issued on the 5th day of the 4th month of the 13th year of his reign,[d] and gave her administrative powers over the harem as an acting Empress.
Two years later, an edict to appoint the Imperial Noble Consort as the new empress was issued on the 12th day of the 7th month of the 15th year of Qianlong.[e] The decision was made following a mourning period for Empress Xiaoxianchun. From then on, Empress Nara accompanied Qianlong on many trips, ancestral worship ceremonies, and hunts. From the 17th year of Qianlong to the 20th year,[f] the Step Empress gave birth to three children: 12th prince, Yongji (永璂), an unnamed 5th daughter and the 13th prince, Yongjing (永璟), respectively.
According to the Draft History of Qing, in 1765, during the 30th year of Qianlong's reign, the Step Empress accompanied the emperor on a tour to Southern China. As the group arrived at Hangzhou, the Step Empress cut her hair, and was ordered by the emperor to return to the capital. The Emperor ordered Fulong'an (福隆安), the husband of his fourth daughter, to escort the Step Empress to Beijing via waterways.
Contemporary Qing customs held that a Manchurian (typically not held true for other ethnic groups) cannot shave the hair on the top of his or her head until a hundred days after a funeral, and that hair on a queue is cut as a sign of deep mourning. The Step Empress' action was considered a grave faux pas, as it was taken as a gesture to curse the Emperor and the Empress Dowager.
Chinese author Li Shu, in her 2019 book on Qing imperial cuisine, made a claim on the exact moment the incident happened, using Qing dynasty records of the portions of food an Emperor gave to his concubines and arguing that a granting of food portion represents an act of honor and love by the Emperor to his concubine. She postulated that the incident happened at some point following breakfast on the 18th day of the leap 2nd month of the 30th year of Qianlong,[g] when the Step Empress received a portion of assorted meat, and before dinner that same day, when the Step Empress was not mentioned as having received any portion of food from the Emperor. In addition, starting from that dinner and thereafter, the Step Empress's name was covered up with yellow paper on records of food portion grants.
After the incident and following the Step Empress' return to the capital, she was still given the same amount of daily food and charcoal rations as would be accorded to an Empress, and she was given five eunuchs and two cooks. On the 14th day of the 5th month of the 30th year of Qianlong,[h] following the Emperor's return to Beijing, the Emperor ordered that the Step Empress' four written edicts that bestowed her various imperial titles, as well as the accompanying gifts, be confiscated. In addition, the Step Empress' maid workforce was reduced to two, the same amount of maids that a Second Attendant (答應; the lowest concubine) is allowed to have. In addition, the Qianlong Emperor conferred the title of Imperial Noble Consort on Noble Consort Ling, half a month after his return to the capital. Under Qing dynasty’s ranking of consorts, an Imperial Noble Consort is only a step below the Empress, meaning that while Noble Consort Ling was not explicitly granted administrative powers over the harem, it definitely meant that the Step Empress has fallen out with the Emperor.
The Step Empress died on the 7th month of the 31st year of Qianlong.[i] However, the exact date of her death is a matter of debate. The Draft History of Qing, which has accuracy and reliability concerns, stated that she died on the Jiawu,[j] while modern works have listed her death as having happened on the 14th day of the 7th month.[k]
At the time of the Step Empress's death, the Qianlong Emperor was on an annual hunting excursion at the Mulan Hunting Grounds (木蘭圍場, in the present-day Weichang Manchu and Mongol Autonomous County). He did not end his excursion immediately and head back to the Forbidden City. Instead, he ordered his 12th son, Yongji (the Step Empress's biological son) to return to the palace to handle the funerary affairs.
By the Qianlong Emperor's order, the Step Empress's funeral was treated as that of an Imperial Noble Consort, but in reality, the ceremony was a much more scaled down affair, with the cancellation of imperial cabinet meetings for five days not carried out, and the cancellation of requirements for princesses, nobles, and high-ranking court officials to attend the mourning sessions. In addition, the casket used for the Step Empress was of a much lower quality. For her burial, the Step Empress was laid to rest in the Yu Mausoleum of the Eastern Qing tombs, next to Imperial Noble Consort Chunhui, instead of being entombed next to the Emperor's future resting place.
- During the reign of the Kangxi Emperor (r. 1661–1722):
- Lady Nara (from 11 March 1718)
- During the reign of the Yongzheng Emperor (r. 1722–1735):
- Secondary consort (側福晉; from 2 December 1734)
- During the reign of the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1735–1796):
- Consort Xian (嫻妃; from 23 January 1738), fourth rank consort
- Noble Consort Xian (嫻貴妃; from 9 December 1745), third rank consort
- Imperial Noble Consort (皇貴妃; from 20 May 1749), second rank consort
- Empress (皇后; from 2 September 1750)
- As Empress:
- Yongji (永璂; 25th day of the 4th month of the 17th year of Qianlong; 7 June 1752–17 March 1776)[m] the Qianlong Emperor's 12th son.
- Fifth daughter (23rd day of the 6th month of the 18th year of Qianlong; 23 July 1753–1 June 1755)
- Yongjing (永璟; born 21st day of the 12th month of the 20th year of Qianlong;[n] 22 January 1756–7 September 1757), the Qianlong Emperor's 13th son.
In popular culture
- Portrayed as Consort Lan by Tsui Si-fei in The Rise and Fall of Qing Dynasty (1988).
- Portrayed as the Empress by Dai Chunrong in My Fair Princess (1998).
- Portrayed by Li Yun in Qianlong Dynasty (2003).
- Portrayed by Jiang Lili in My Fair Princess III (2003).
- Portrayed by Xu Xiaodan in The Eloquent Ji Xiaolan (2004).
- Portrayed by Sheren Tang in New My Fair Princess (2011).
- Portrayed as Ula-Nara Qingying by Zhang Yan in Empresses in the Palace (2011).
- Portrayed as Empress Ula-Nara by Fan Bingbing in The Lady in the Portrait (2017).
- Portrayed as Hoifa-Nara Shushen by Charmaine Sheh in Story of Yanxi Palace (2018).
- Portrayed as Ula-Nara Qingying/Ula-Nara Ruyi by Zhou Xun in Ruyi's Royal Love in the Palace (2018).
Notes on Chinese years
Many historical materials on the Step Empress utilize the ancient Chinese lunisolar calendar, coupled with the Chinese era name system. The following Gregorian calendar dates were derived, using a date converter developed by the Academia Sinica in Taiwan.
- 11 March 1718
- 23 January 1738
- 5 April 1748
- 20 May 1749
- 13 August 1750
- A time period spanning from 15 February 1752 to 30 January 1756.
- 7 April 1765
- 1 July 1765
- A time period spanning from 6 August to 3–4 September 1766.
- 31 August 1766
- 19 August 1766
- A time period spanning from 7 July to 5 August 1766.
- A time period spanning from 19 February 1776 to 7 February 1777.
- 8 February 1757
- Disputed. See the Early life section of this article.
- Disputed. See the Death section of this article.
- Xu 2013, p. 256
- Zhang & Wu 1928: "皇后，烏喇那拉氏，佐領那爾布女。(The Empress, of the Ulanara, daughter of niru ejen Narbu)."
- Chuang, Chi-fa. "清史館與清史稿: 清史館未刊紀志表傳的纂修及其史料價值" [Qing History Office and the Draft History of Qing: The editing of Qing History Office's unpublished records and annals and its historical value] (PDF). National Palace Museum (in Traditional Chinese).
《清史稿》彙集了大批的史料，將清朝歷史的輪廓，公開向世人亮相。《清史稿》出版後，流傳甚廣，久為中外學術界廣泛研究利用。《清史稿》謬誤百出，是不爭的事實，長久以來，多將《清史稿》的疏漏舛訛等缺點歸咎於《清史稿》的倉卒成書，未遑審訂。(The Draft History of Qing gathered a lot of historical information, and revealed to the public a contour of Qing Dynasty history. After the Draft History of Qing was published, it was widely disseminated, and has long been researched and used by academia, domestic and abroad. It is undisputed fact that the Draft History of Qing is riddled with errors. For a long time, the errors are blamed on the Draft History of Qing being rushed to publication, with no time for editing.)
- 八旗滿洲氏族通譜卷二十四 輝發地方納喇氏 [Genealogy of the Manchu Clans Vol. 24: People with the surname Nala in the Hoifa area] (in Traditional Chinese). Retrieved 24 May 2019.
- Lee, Zoey (15 October 2018). "【有雷】周迅、范冰冰、佘詩曼都演過乾隆繼皇后！從《如懿》《延禧》解開烏拉（輝發）那拉氏的歷史爭議之謎" [(Spoiler) Zhou Xun, Fan Bingbing, and Charmaine Sheh all played Qianlong's Step Empress! Solving the mystery of the Ula (Hoifa) Nara historical debate from Ruyi's Royal Love in the Palace and Story of Yanxi Palace]. Harper’s Bazaar (in Traditional Chinese).
由於《清史稿》和《清皇室四譜》都是民國之後才編定的，而且編定過程有很多問題，所以就可信度而言，《八旗滿洲氏族通譜》的資料比較可靠，可以推定繼皇后應當是輝發那拉氏。(As the "Draft History of Qing" and the "Four Genealogies of the Qing Royal House" are written during and after the Republican era, and the editorial process was riddled with problems, so, from a reliability standpoint, information from the Genealogy of the Manchu Clans are more reliable, and it can be said that the Empress is of the Hoifa-Nara tribe.)
- Chung 2018: 那拉氏是滿清八大姓之一，支系繁多，烏拉那拉、輝發那拉、葉赫那拉、哈達那拉都屬那拉氏的分支。而所謂分支，即地域之分，也就是說，「那拉」才是真正姓氏，而前面的「烏拉」、「輝發」等則是地域上的區分。因此，這位乾隆繼后，無論是來自「烏拉」地區還是「輝發」地區，都不影響她被稱作「那拉氏」。(The Clan Nara is one of Qing Dynasty's 8 major clans, and has a complicated system of branches. Ulanara, Hoifa-nara, Yehenara, Hada-nara are all branches of the Clan Nara. As for what "branches" mean, it's a geographical distinguisher, meaning "Nara" is the real surname, and that the prefix, such as "Ula" and "Hoifa", are merely a geographical identifier. That means, for this Qianlong Emperor consort, it doesn't matter whether she hails from the Ula or Hoifa area, she is still of the Clan Nara.)
- "乾隆二年十二月上4日" [4th Day of the upper 12th Month of the 2nd Year of Qianlong]. 高宗純皇帝實錄 (Factual History of Gaozhong, Emperor Chun) (in Traditional Chinese). 58: 939-942.
...冊封庶妃那拉氏為嫻妃... (...Confer the title Consort Xian to [the] Secondary Consort of the Nara clan...)
- "佘詩曼周迅同演繼皇后 為何斷髮失常成千古謎團" [Charmaine Sheh and Zhou Xun both portrayed the Step Empress. Why she cut her hair is a historical mystery]. Bastille Post (in Traditional Chinese). 29 August 2018.
《如懿傳》主要講述女主角（由周迅飾）烏拉那拉·如懿與乾隆之間的恩怨情仇。而如懿的歷史原型，就是乾隆第二任皇后純帝繼皇后輝發那拉氏，亦即是在《延禧》中，由佘詩曼輝發那拉·淑慎。("Ruyi's Royal Love in the Palace" mainly portrays the female lead (portrayed by Zhou Xun) Ulanara Ruyi and her dealings with the Qianlong Emperor. Ruyi is based on Qianlong's 2nd Empress, Lady Hoifa-Nara, which is the character Hoifa-Nara Shushen, portrayed by Charmaine Sheh in "Story of Yanxi Palace".)
- Chung 2018:據《清皇室四譜》，那拉氏出生年份不詳，只知生於二月，鑲藍旗佐領那爾布之女... (According to the Four Genealogies of the Qing Royal House, Nala's year of birth is not known. It is only known that she was born on the second month. She was the daughter of niru ejen Narbu, of the Bordered Blue Banner.)
- Lee, Lau & Stefanowska 2015, p. 356. sfn error: no target: CITEREFLeeLauStefanowska2015 (help)
- "乾隆十年十一月下17日" [17th Day of the lower 11th Month of the 10th Year of Qianlong]. 高宗純皇帝實錄 (Factual History of Gaozhong, Emperor Chun) (in Traditional Chinese). 58: 939-2.
...冊封嫻妃那拉氏為貴妃... (...Confer the title of Noble Consort to Consort Xian of the Nara clan...)
- Zhang & Wu 1928: "十三年，從上東巡，還蹕，三月乙未，后崩於德州舟次，年三十七。(...[On the] 13th year, she followed the Emperor for an eastern tour, During their return on the yuemo of the 3rd month, the Queen died onboard a yacht in Dezhou, aged 37."
- "明清第一任皇后之悲（下）" [The Tragedy of Ming, Qing's first Empresses (2nd Half)]. People's Daily (in Traditional Chinese). Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. 10 October 2012.
- Chang 2020, p. 381. sfn error: no target: CITEREFChang2020 (help)
- "乾隆十四年四月上9日" [9th Day of the upper 4th Month of the 14th Year of Qianlong]. 高宗純皇帝實錄 (Factual History of Gaozhong, Emperor Chun) (in Traditional Chinese). 338: 661–2.
...於乾隆十四年四月初五日｡冊命那拉氏為皇貴妃攝六宮事｡ (...On the 5th Day of the 4th Month of the 14th year of Qianlong, Appoint Lady Nara as Imperial Noble Consort, with administrative powers over the palaces...)
- "乾隆十五年七月上12日" [12th Day of the upper 7th Month of the 15th Year of Qianlong]. 高宗純皇帝實錄 (Factual History of Gaozhong, Emperor Chun) (in Traditional Chinese). 368: 1067-1.
...冊命皇貴妃攝六宮事 那拉氏為皇后｡ (...Appoint the Imperial Noble Consort, with administrative powers over the six palaces, Lady Nara as the Empress.)
- Xu 2013, p. 257
- Xu 2013, p. 258
- Zhang & Wu 1928: "三十年，從上南巡，至杭州，忤上旨，后剪髮，上益不懌，令后先還京師。(On the 30th year, [the Step Empress] followed the Emperor for a southern tour. She defied an imperial order in Hangzhou, and cut her hair, causing growing displeasure with the Emperor, who ordered the Step Empress to return to the capital.
- Xu 2013, p. 260
- Chen 2018
- "乾隆四十三年九月上9日" [9th Day of the upper 9th Month of the 43rd Year of Qianlong]. 高宗純皇帝實錄 (Factual History of Gaozhong, Emperor Chun) (in Traditional Chinese). 1616: 259-2.
...乃至自行翦髮｡則國俗所最忌者｡ (...Leading to [her] cutting her own hair, which is a big faux pas under our national customs.)
- "【皇上吃什麼】繼皇后如懿失寵的關鍵時刻 藏在乾隆南巡餐單內！" [(What The Emperor Ate) The key moments that led to Step Empress Ruyi's loss of imperial favour is hidden in the menu of Qianlong's southern tour!]. HK01 (in Traditional Chinese). 8 February 2019.
- "《皇上吃什麼》：從乾隆南巡菜單，一窺如懿失寵的秘密" [(What The Emperor Ate) Taking a look at the secrets behind Ruyi's loss of favour inside the menus from Qianlong's southern tour]. The News Lens (in Traditional Chinese). 20 January 2019.
- Xu 2013, pp. 260–261
- Xu 2013, p. 261
- Zhang & Wu 1928: "三十一年七月甲午，崩。上方幸木蘭，命喪儀視皇貴妃。(Died on the Jiawu of the 7th month of the 31st year [of Qianlong]. His Majesty was at Mulan at the time, and ordered to treat the funeral as that of an Imperial Noble Consort.)
- Xu 2013, pp. 261–262
- "列傳八 諸王七" [Biography No. 8, Various Princes No. 7]. Draft History of Qing (in Traditional Chinese). 221. Retrieved 30 May 2019.
- Chu, Yik Min (25 July 2018). "【延禧攻略】嫻妃大戰《還珠格格》小燕子 兩劇角色「駁得埋」？" [(Story of Yanxi Palace) Consort Xian battles Xiao Yanzi in My Fair Empress: The two characters "can be connected"?]. HK01 (in Traditional Chinese).
...一定要數在劇中扮演佘詩曼母親的戴春榮，單看名字大家可能不認識，但相信大家都沒有忘記在《還珠格格》前兩部中，專登同小燕子（趙薇飾）和紫薇（林心如飾）作對的可惡皇后，其實她就是嫻妃... (...We must count Dai Chunrong, who plays Charmaine Sheh's mother. People may not know her from her name, but people probably remember the wretched Empress that had a rivalry with Xiao Yanzi (portrayed by Vicki Zhao) and Ziwei (portrayed by Ruby Lin) in the first two installments of My Fair Empress. That character is actually Consort Xian.)
- "演甄嬛儿媳不讨喜 她曾是中国史上最小影后！" [She was not well-liked as Zhen Huan's daughter-in-law, but she was the youngest winner of a movie award in Chinese history]. China Times (in Simplified Chinese). 9 May 2016. Retrieved 8 June 2019.
将于2017年亮相的电视剧新作《后宫·如懿传》，由周迅主演，讲述的是甄嬛的儿媳妇－如懿的宫斗歷程，有关注《甄嬛传》和《如懿传》的观眾也一定知道，在《甄嬛传》中，主角如懿早就出现过，她在里头叫做青樱...(In Ruyi's Royal Love in the Palace, set to be released in 2017, Zhou Xun plays Zhen Huan's daughter-in-law, and portrays a story of strifes in the palace. Those who pay attention to "Empresses in the Palace" and "Ruyi's Royal Love in the Palace" will know that in "Empresses in the Palace", Ruyi's role already appeared. She was named Qingying in the series...)
- Lee, Maggie (24 May 2017). "Cannes Film Review: 'The Lady in the Portrait'". Variety.
Fan, at perhaps her most imperious and brittle, plays the beautiful Ulanara, second empress to Qianlong.
- Jiang, Ada (3 September 2018). "4 biggest back-stabbing female villains in Chinese imperial palace TV dramas". South China Morning Post.
Yet the rise of Wei is far from easy; Consort Xian, Hoifa-Nara Shushen, who becomes the new empress after the death of Empress Fucha, is her biggest enemy in the series. Xian, played by Hong Kong actress Charmaine Sheh...
- Zhang, Caitian; Wu, Changshou (1928). "列傳一" [Biography 1]. 清史稿 (The Draft History of Qing) (in Traditional Chinese). 214. Retrieved 25 May 2019.
- Chung, Yik (28 August 2018). "乾隆繼后那拉氏" [Qianlong's Step Empress of the Clan Nara]. Ta Kung Pao (in Traditional Chinese).
- Xu, Guangyuan (2013). You, Qihui (ed.). 大清后妃寫真 [An Accurate Description of Great Qing's Empresses and Concubines] (in Traditional Chinese). Taipei, Taiwan: Yuan-Liou Publishing Co Ltd. ISBN 978-957-32-7139-0.
- Chen, Jiexian (May 2018). Jiang, Jiawei (ed.). 以史為鑑―漫談明清史事 [Taking History as a Guide: A detailed discussion of Ming and Qing Historical Events] (in Traditional Chinese) (初版第一刷 (Early Edition, First Printing) ed.). Taipei: San Min Book. ISBN 978-957-14-6398-8.
- Lily Xiao Hong Lee; Clara Lau; A.D. Stefanowska (17 July 2015). Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Women: v. 1: The Qing Period, 1644-1911. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-317-47588-0.
- Michael G Chang (23 March 2020). A Court on Horseback: Imperial Touring & the Construction of Qing Rule, 1680–1785. BRILL. ISBN 978-1-68417-456-0.