Monday, September 22, 2008

Empress Li Zu'e

Empress Li Zu'e was an empress of the dynasty Northern Qi, known at times semi-formally as Empress Zhaoxin . Her husband was .

Li Zu'e was the daughter of Li Xizong , and she was from Zhao Commandery . She was ethnically . The date that she married Gao Yang, the second son of Eastern Wei's paramount general Gao Huan, is not known, but it is known that at that time, he was the Duke of Taiyuan during the reign of his brother-in-law, Emperor Xiaojing of Eastern Wei -- and she carried the title of Duchess of Taiyuan. She bore him two sons, , and Gao Shaode . In 549, Gao Yang took over the regency of Eastern Wei after his older brother, Gao Cheng, was assassinated by the servant Lan Jing . In 550, he forced Emperor Xiaojing to yield the throne to him, ending Eastern Wei and establishing Northern Qi .

Emperor Wenxuan, before he became emperor, also had another key consort -- his concubine Lady Duan, the sister of his cousin and the powerful official Duan Shao . The officials Gao Longzhi and Gao Dezheng , wanting to ingratiate themselves with Duan Shao, suggested that a Han woman should not be allowed to be empress. Emperor Wenxuan rejected their suggestion and created Li Zu'e empress, and only created Lady Duan an imperial consort. Emperor Wenxuan also created Empress Li's son Gao Yin crown prince. Emperor Wenxuan was violent and capricious in his behavior, fueled by his alcoholism. Once, when visiting Empress Li's household, he fired an arrow at Empress Li's mother, stating, 'When I am drunk, I do not even recognize my own mother. Who do you think you are?" However, despite Emperor Wenxuan's violent behavior -- which included battering his concubines and sometimes even killing them -- he remained respectful of Empress Li herself. In 559, he also began to have her referred to as both ''Kehedun'' and empress.

Emperor Wenxuan died in 559, and Gao Yin succeeded to the throne as Emperor Fei. Empress Li became empress dowager. However, the political climate of the time was uncertain, as there were suspicions that Emperor Wenxuan's mother, , would encourage her sons the Prince of Changshan or the Prince of Changguang to seize the throne. The prime minister Yang Yin, believing that the young Emperor Fei was being endangered, discussed a plan with Empress Dowager Li to gradually strip Gao Yan and Gao Dan of power. Empress Li discussed the plan with her lady-in-waiting Li Changyi , who subsequently revealed the plan to Grand Empress Dowager Lou, who in turn relayed the news to Gao Yan and Gao Dan. The two princes responded by arresting and executing Yang and his associates Kezhuhun Daoyuan , Song Qindao , and Yan Zixian . Gao Yan and Gao Dan took over the reins of government, and Empress Dowager Li lost her remaining authority. Six months later, by Grand Empress Dowager Lou's decree, Emperor Fei was deposed, and Gao Yan became emperor . Empress Dowager Li lost her empress dowager title, and became known as Empress Zhaoxin, because she resided at Zhaoxin Palace. In 561, Emperor Xiaozhao killed her son Gao Yin the former emperor.

Emperor Xiaozhao died in 561, and Gao Dan became emperor . Some time after Emperor Wucheng's taking the throne, he began to force Empress Li to have a sexual relationship with him -- threatening her that he would kill her son Gao Shaode if she did not agree. Eventually, she became pregnant, and in shame, she began to refuse seeing Gao Shaode. Gao Shaode found out that she was pregnant and became indignant. In shame, when she bore a daughter in 562, she threw the infant away, causing the child's death. When Emperor Wucheng found out, he became angry, and he stated, "Because you killed my daughter, I will kill your son." He summoned Gao Shaode and, in her presence, beat him to death with the hilt of a sword. She cried bitterly, and Emperor Wucheng, in anger, stripped her and pounded her. She suffered severe injuries, but eventually recovered, and Emperor Wucheng expelled her from the palace to be a Buddhist nun.

In 577, Northern Qi was destroyed by its rival, Northern Zhou. Empress Li followed the Emperor Wucheng's son Gao Wei, the penultimate emperor, to the Northern Zhou capital Chang'an, where the members of Northern Qi's imperial Gao clan were slaughtered later that year. After Northern Zhou's own destruction in 581, Emperor Wen of Sui permitted her to leave Chang'an, and she returned to her home in Zhao Commandery. Nothing further is known about her, including the date of her death.

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