Xiao Yanyan

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Xiao Yanyan
Empress Dowager Chengtian of Liao
Empress Dowager Xiao 1892.jpg
from one 1892 print of the novel Legends of Generals of the Yang Family (《楊家將傳》)[note 1]
Regent of Liao dynasty
Tenure13 October 982 - 23 December 1009
EmperorEmperor Shengzong, son
Died(1009-12-23)December 23, 1009
SpouseYelü Xian (Emperor Jingzong)
  • Yelü Longxu (Emperor Shengzong), son
  • Yelü Longqing (耶律隆慶), son
  • Yelü Longyou (耶律隆祐), son
  • Yelü Guanyinnü (耶律觀音女), daughter
  • Yelü Changshounü (耶律長壽女), daughter
  • Yelü Yanshounü (耶律延壽女), daughter
Family name: Xiāo ()
Khitan name: Yanyan (燕)
Chinese name: Xiāo Chuò ()
Regnal name
Empress Dowager Ruìdé Shénlüè Yìngyùn QĬhuà Chéngtiān (皇太后)
Posthumous name
Empress Shèngshén Xuānxiàn (皇后)
Empress Ruìzhì (皇后)
FatherXiao Siwen (蕭思溫)
MotherYelü Lübugu (耶律呂不古)

Xiao Yanyan (Chinese: 蕭燕燕; 953–1009), also known as Empress Dowager Chengtian (承天皇太后) was a Khitan empress and military leader of imperial China's Liao dynasty. She was regent on behalf of her son from 982.


Xiao Yanyan was the 3rd child of Xiao Siwen (蕭思溫), Liao's chancellor. Also referred to by the name Xiao Chuo, Xiao's original Khitan family name was Bali (拔裏氏).[1] She was the youngest of the Xiao sisters, along with Xiao Hunian and Lady Xiao.

Xiao later married Emperor Jingzong of Liao and would go on to bear the crown Prince Yelü Longxu. Being granted the title of Empress, Xiao was influential during her husband's reign.

She would go on to become regent for her son in 982 when he ascended the Liao throne as Emperor Shengzong at 12 years old after the untimely death of Emperor Jingzong of Liao who died while returning from a hunting trip. In 986, the Liao Empire was invaded by the Song Dynasty to the south under the leadership of Emperor Taizong of Song, but was defeated by Liao forces under Xiao's command which had retreating Song troops thrown into the Xia river. A further invasion by the Song would ensue in 989 only to be defeated once again by Liao forces resulting in the death of Yang Ye.

As Empress Dowager Chengtian, Xiao commanded her own army of 10,000 cavalry and would personally lead the Liao army in battle against the Song in 1005, despite being well over 50 by that point. Known for her great skills in civil administration, Empress Dowager Chengtian would retained great influence until her death.[2]

She was also instrumental in arranging a marriage between her son and her court lady, Xiao Noujin.[citation needed] However, she had a poor relationship with her two older sisters, and she eventually poisoned or murdered both of them.[citation needed]

Modern references[edit]

Film and television[edit]

  • Portrayed by Mu Qing in the 1995 Chinese movie Great Liao's Empress Dowager.
  • Portrayed by Shim Hye-jin in the 2009 Korean TV series Empress Cheonchu.
  • Portrayed by Mei Lier in the 2019 Chinese movie Battle Between Song and Liao Dynasties (大破天门阵).[3]
  • Portrayed by Tiffany Tang in the 2020 Chinese TV series The Legend of Xiao Chuo.



  1. ^ Essentially the same novel, with slight modifications by publishers and editors, as the second half of the Records of the Two Songs, South and North (《兩宋南北志傳》) written by Xiong Damu (熊大木) in the late 16th century.



  1. ^ 遼史.卷七十一.后妃傳:"後族唯乙室、拔裏氏,而世任其國事。太祖慕漢高皇帝,故耶律兼稱劉氏;以乙室、拔裏比蕭相國,遂為蕭氏。...景宗睿智皇后蕭氏,諱綽,小字燕燕,北府宰相思溫女。"
  2. ^ " Women in power 750-1000" from Guide2womenleaders.com, last accessed January 13, 2007
  3. ^ chinesemov. "Battle Between Song and Liao Dynasties (2019)".