|Empress dowager of the Jin dynasty|
|Died||268 (aged 51)|
|Posthumous name||Empress Wenming (Chinese: 文明皇后; pinyin: Wénmíng Huánghòu; Wade–Giles: Wen-ming Huang-hou)|
Wang Yuanji (217–268) was the wife of Sima Zhao, a regent of the state of Cao Wei in the Three Kingdoms period. She became the empress dowager during the reign of her son Sima Yan, who ended the Wei regime and founded the Jin dynasty. She was posthumously honoured as "Empress Wenming" (literally "civil and understanding empress") after her death.
Wang Yuanji was from Tan County (郯縣), Donghai Commandery (東海郡), in present-day Tancheng County, Shandong. Her father, Wang Su, served as a military officer in Wei and held the noble title "Marquis of Lanling" (蘭陵侯).
When Wang Yuanji was eight years old, she already had a good memory and could recite the Confucian classics fluently. Once, when she was nine, her mother fell sick so she remained by her mother's side all the time to take care of her. She possessed savoir faire and performed well when her parents allowed her to manage household chores. Her grandfather Wang Lang doted on her and felt that she was extraordinary. He said, "This girl will bring glory to our family. It's a pity that she isn't a boy!" When Wang Yuanji was 12, her grandfather died and she cried her heart out. Her father respected her even more after that incident and felt that she was indeed very special.
Wang Yuanji married Sima Zhao after reaching adulthood (around the age of 15) and bore him four sons – Sima Yan, Sima Dingguo (司馬定國), Sima You and Sima Zhao (司馬兆) – and a daughter who was historically known as Princess Jingzhao (京兆公主; literally "Princess of the Capital"). After her marriage, she maintained her good moral character and served her in-laws well. She cried her heart out again when her father died.
When Sima Zhao became the regent of Wei, he recognised Zhong Hui's talent and promoted the latter to higher appointments. Wang Yuanji told her husband, "Zhong Hui is a man who will forsake moral principles for his personal gains. He's likely to cause trouble if he's overly indulged and favoured. He shouldn't be entrusted with important responsibilities." Wang Yuanji's prediction came true later as Zhong Hui started a rebellion in 263 after helping Wei conquer its rival state, Shu Han.
Sima Zhao died in 265 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Sima Yan, as the regent of Wei. Later that year, Sima Yan forced the last Wei ruler, Cao Huan, to abdicate in his favour, thereby ending the Wei regime and establishing the Jin dynasty. After ascending the throne, Sima Yan instated his mother as the empress dowager and gave her Chonghua Palace (崇化宮) as her residence. Even after becoming the empress dowager, Wang Yuanji continued to live a humble and frugal life. There were no expensive furniture and decorations in her room; she kept her meals simple, wore old clothes again after washing them, and did her own weaving. She managed the imperial harem well and maintained harmony among Sima Yan's consorts.
Wang Yuanji died in 268 at the age of 52 (by East Asian age reckoning). She was buried at Chongyangling (崇陽陵; somewhere in present-day Yanshi, Luoyang, Henan) with her husband. Sima Yan personally wrote a eulogy praising his mother's moral character and ordered a court historian to have it published.
In popular culture
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