Hoifa-Nara, the Step Empress

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Hoifa Nara, the Step Empress
Step Empress Ulanara.PNG
Empress consort of Qing
Tenure2 September 1750 – 19 August 1766
PredecessorEmpress Xiaoxianchun
SuccessorEmpress Xiaoshurui
Born(1718-03-11)11 March 1718
(康熙五十七年 二月 十日)
Died19 August 1766(1766-08-19) (aged 48)
(乾隆三十一年 七月 十四日)
Forbidden City
BurialYu Mausoleum, Eastern Qing tombs
Qianlong Emperor (m. 1734–1766)
Unnamed daughter
HouseHoifa Nara (by birth)
Aisin Gioro (by marriage)
FatherNa'erbu (那爾布)
MotherLady Langgiya

Hoifa Nara, the Step Empress (11 March 1718 – 19 August 1766), of the Manchu Plain Yellow Banner Hoifa Nara clan, was a consort of the Qianlong Emperor.



Lady Hoifa Nara's personal name was not recorded in history. Her family originally belonged to the Bordered Blue Banner. Her father, Na'erbu (那爾布), was a zuoling (佐領; a military rank). Her ancestor was Wangginu (王機褚/旺吉努), the first beile (a noble title) of the Hoifa area.


In 1734, Lady Hoifa Nara became a secondary consort of Hongli (Prince Bao), the fourth son of the Yongzheng Emperor. When the Yongzheng Emperor died in 1735, Prince Bao succeeded his father and was enthroned as the Qianlong Emperor. After his coronation, the Qianlong Emperor granted Lady Hoifa Nara the rank of Consort under the title "Consort Xian" (嫻妃). He promoted her to Noble Consort Xian (嫻貴妃) in 1745.

In 1748, the Qianlong Emperor's first empress consort, Lady Fuca, died. The emperor's mother, Empress Dowager Chongqing nominated Lady Hoifa Nara to replace Lady Fuca as her son's new empress consort. The Qianlong Emperor delayed Lady Hoifa Nara's promotion to Empress until the mourning period for Lady Fuca was over, because he believed that it would be an insult to Lady Fuca if he designated another consort as Empress during the mourning period. Lady Hoifa Nara was first promoted to "Imperial Noble Consort Xian" (嫻皇貴妃) and put in charge of the emperor's harem, making her an acting Empress.

In 1750, Lady Hoifa Nara accompanied the Qianlong Emperor on his tours to places such as the tombs of his predecessors (the Eastern Qing tombs and Western Qing tombs), Mount Wutai, and various cities in southern China. About half a month after the tours, the emperor officially instated Lady Hoifa Nara as the new Empress.


Lady Hoifa Nara accompanied the Qianlong Emperor on his fifth tour to southern China in 1765.

Things went smoothly initially; the emperor even celebrated Lady Hoifa Nara's birthday during the trip. On 28 February, the emperor instructed his servants to deliver food to the empress. In the evening, however, only three consorts were seen dining with the emperor. Lady Hoifa Nara was never seen in public after that day.

It was revealed later that on 28 February, the Qianlong Emperor had Lady Hoifa Nara sent back to Beijing via waterways, and ended his tour to southern China. After returning to Beijing, he ordered the four monuments he granted to Lady Hoifa Nara during her four promotion ceremonies to be recalled. He also gradually reduced the number of servants Lady Hoifa Nara had, until the empress was only left with two maids by July. This was the number of servants low-ranking consorts had. Lady Hoifa Nara died a year later at the age of 48.

It remains a mystery as to why Lady Hoifa Nara fell out of the Qianlong Emperor's favour in such an abrupt and rapid manner. A major theory that dates from the time of the incident states that Lady Hoifa Nara lost favour with the emperor because she cut her hair.[1] Due to Manchu custom, it is taboo for Lady Hoifa Nara to cut her hair when either the Qianlong Emperor or Empress Dowager Chongqing is alive and well.[1] In that sense, Lady Hoifa Nara had committed a grave faux pas by cutting her hair because doing so was interpreted as cursing the Emperor and the Empress Dowager.

However, since Lady Hoifa Nara was a Manchu herself and had lived in the Forbidden City for years, it is assumed that she would be familiar with such customs. Hence, historians are baffled by the question of why she cut her hair. Some[who?] speculate that Lady Hoifa Nara cut her hair in protest against the Qianlong Emperor's tour to southern China because she believed that he had traveled there in search of women to be his new concubines.

Death and funeral[edit]

The Qianlong Emperor was on a hunting excursion at the Mulan Hunting Grounds (木蘭圍場) near Beijing when he received news of Lady Hoifa Nara's death. He did not end his excursion immediately and head back to the Forbidden City. Instead, he ordered his 12th son, Yongji, who was born to Lady Hoifa Nara, to return to the palace.

By the Qianlong Emperor's order, Lady Hoifa Nara's funeral was ostensibly scaled down to that of an Imperial Noble Consort (one rank below the Empress), but in reality, the ceremony was much worse than it seemed. At an Imperial Noble Consort's funeral, princesses, nobles, and high-ranking court officials were required to attend the mourning processions, but this aspect was absent for the empress's funeral.

For consorts and concubines of her class, Lady Hoifa Nara was expected to have her own mausoleum or a gravestone at the very least. However instead, she was laid to rest in the Yuling Mausoleum of the Eastern Qing tombs next to Imperial Noble Consort Chunhui in a way similar to how servants were buried beside their masters. Her death was also not recorded in official histories.

Once, a historian begged the Qianlong Emperor to organise a funeral befitting that of an empress for Lady Hoifa Nara, but the emperor exiled him to northwestern China near the Ili River. Years later, a scholar pleaded with the Qianlong Emperor to reconsider the entire affair, but the emperor responded with anger and had the scholar executed.


  • During the reign of the Kangxi Emperor (r. 1661–1722):
    • Lady Hoifa Nara (from 11 March 1718)
  • During the reign of the Yongzheng Emperor (r. 1722–1735):
    • Secondary consort (側福晉; from 2 December 1734[2])
  • During the reign of the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1735–1796):
    • Consort Xian (嫻妃; from 23 January 1738[3]), fourth rank consort
    • Noble Consort Xian (嫻貴妃; from 9 December 1745[4]), third rank consort
    • Imperial Noble Consort (皇貴妃; from 20 May 1749[5]), second rank consort
    • Empress (皇后; from 2 September 1750[6])


  • As Empress:
    • Yongji (永璂; 7 June 1752 – 17 March 1776), the Qianlong Emperor's 12th son
    • Unnamed daughter (23 July 1753 – 1 June 1755), the Qianlong Emperor's fifth daughter
    • Yongjing (永璟; 22 January 1756 – 7 September 1757), the Qianlong Emperor's 13th son

In fiction and popular culture[edit]

In the Draft History of Qing, the Step Empress is described as member of the Ula Nara clan.[1]

See also[edit]


Mistakenly called Ula Nara despite her father Na'erbu being part of the Hoifa Nara clan. The Draft History of Qing was never finished due to lack of funding and the authors acknowledged that there may have been factual errors.

  1. ^ a b c Liu, Hatty (29 September 2018). "Hair Razing". The World of Chinese. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  2. ^ 雍正十二年 十一月 八日
  3. ^ 乾隆二年 十二月 四日
  4. ^ 乾隆十年 十一月 十七日
  5. ^ 乾隆十四年 四月 五日
  6. ^ 乾隆十五年 八月 二日


  • 清宮檔案 [Imperial Archives of the Qing Palace] (in Chinese).
  • 清皇室四譜 [Imperial Genealogy of the Qing Imperial Clan] (in Chinese).
  • Ho, Chuimei; Bronson, Bennet (2004). Splendors of China's Forbidden City: The Glorious Reign of Emperor Qianlong (Illustrated ed.). Merrell. ISBN 1858942039.
  • Rawski, Evelyn S. (1998). The Last Emperors: A Social History of Qing Imperial Institutions (Reprint ed.). University of California Press. ISBN 052092679X.
  • Wan, Yi; Shuqing, Wang; Yanzhen, Lu; Scott, Rosemary E. (1988). Daily Life in the Forbidden City: The Qing Dynasty, 1644-1912 (Illustrated ed.). Viking. ISBN 0670811645.
  • Zhao, Erxun (1928). Draft History of Qing (Qing Shi Gao) (in Chinese).
Chinese royalty
Preceded by
Empress Xiaoxianchun
Empress of China
Succeeded by
Empress Xiaoyichun
(Empress Xiaoshurui was the actual living successor)