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Women and Power Ching-Chung, Priscilla, Palace Women of the Northern Sung, Hinsch, Bret, Women in Early Imperial China, pp 1-13, 15-26. Twitchet, Denis, Cambridge History of China, v.1; Qin: pp 21-102; 130-9; Former Han: 173-187; 190; 213-222; (v3), Ch 5: Kao-tsung (reign 649-83) and the empress Wu: the inheritor and the usurper, pp. 242- 279; Ch 6: The reigns of the empress Wu, Chung-tsung and Jui-tsung (684-712), pp. 290-320; 1 Women and Power Introduction Palace Women and Power (dynasties of Han origin) Han Dynasty – Marriage Policy of the Han 汉 – Palace Women and Court Politics – The Usurpation of Wang Mang Jin 晋 Dynasty – The Power of Empress Jia Song Dynasty – Regents – The Power of the Regent – Preventing Women from Obtaining Power – Recruitment and Retirement Ming Dynasty – Recruitment of Palace Women Introduction The unification of China in 221 B.C.E. under the Qin Shi Huangdi 秦始皇帝 was the beginning of imperial China. Previous to centralization, when the states needed allies, they had to choose consorts from outside of their own state. The families of these women were powerful as they were the rulers of the allied states. Once China was centralized, the emperor was supreme and he chose his consorts from within China. Introduction (2) – The women no longer had the outside support and authority of their families as their fathers were not kings. Centralization meant that all power resided in the person of the emperor and those who gained his favor would share his power or even control him and assume his power. – The emperor, being supreme, was remote from his officials and ambitious officials had to use palace women as a way to influence and control the emperor. Introduction (3) Han dynasty (206 B.C.E.- 220 C.E.) was broken into two periods: – Eastern Han (206 B.C.E.-8 C.E.) – Western Han (9-220) The dynasty was interrupted by the usurpation of Wang Mang (45 B.C.E.-23), the nephew of the Grand Empress Dowager Wang Zhengjun (71B.C.E.-13; aged 84). Wang Mang was a co-regent with the Grand Empress Dowager for three different reigns. – The first was for her grandson; when the grandson died, another emperor came to the throne and Wang had to resign. – At the death of this emperor, Wang again became co-regent for another two short-lived emperors and at the death of the second one, he decided to usurp the throne. 5 Palace Women and Power There were several ways for women or their families to gain power and control court politics: – The empress who seized power because of her position: Help her husband to govern as he is in ill health and increasingly controls power until he is no longer able to rule. Rule as a regent in the name of her son/titular son, or for her grandson, if he is too young to rule and may, or may not, give up power after he comes of age. – Powerful male relatives used the women to exercise influence or control the emperor; these relatives may continue to marry their daughters into the palace and control the court for several reigns. They might also introduce a woman to him so that he would become so obsessed with her so that he was no longer interested in government. Han Dynasty: Marriage Policy The marriage policy was very flexible in early Han as the founder of the dynasty was a commoner; the wives did not come from powerful families. Example: – Lady Wang, the wife of Jingdi 景帝 (r.157-141 BCE) and the mother of Wudi 武帝 (r.140-87BCE), had been married before and had even given birth to a daughter. When a fortune-teller told Wang‟s mother that her daughters would be rich and famous, she took her daughter away from her husband and gave her to Jingdi when he was the heir-apparent 太子. There was tension between the Han emperors and their more class- conscious officials over the choice of empresses as many women were promoted because they had the favor of the emperor and not on the basis of their virtue or family background. 2011/9/26 7 Han Dynasty: Marriage Policy (2) The officials wrote memorials condemning women of low status being named empresses. – They said that only the daughters of princes and nobles possessing territory were worthy to wed a ruler. During the latter part of the Han (after the usurpation of Wang Mang (45BCE-23 CE), imperial wives came from families of powerful lineages as the emperors were not able to centralize their power and needed the support of these powerful familes. These consort families became powerful in court and in government and struggles between these great families and the eunuchs was one of the reasons for the fall of the Han. 2011/9/26 8 Han Dynasty Palace Women and Court Politics The Han dynasty was a period of time when women and their families exercised great power. During the Former or Eastern Han two Empress Dowagers attended court and controlled the government. In the Later or Western Han, nine emperors were under the control of Empress Dowagers and six Empress Dowagers attended court. Although women were the way to obtain and to maintain a family’s established position of prominence the families were extremely vulnerable. – The power and positions of the women and their families were dependent on the life span of the women. – Once the women died, the families may be exterminated. Example: The Liang family – 9 Han Dynasty Palace Women and Court Politics (2) – It rose when it helped Guangwudi, the first emperor of the Western Han, conquer the Northwest and it intermarried with Guangwudi’s family. – It fell when the head of the family was dismissed on charges of corruption, jailed and executed. – It recovered when a niece entered Zhangdi’s 章帝 (r.76-88) harem and had a son who would become Hedi 和帝 (r.89-105). – It provided empresses for Shundi 順帝 (r.125-144) and Huandi 桓 帝 (r.146-148) . – The Liang family dominated the government under Shundi and Huandi but after the empress died, the Liang family was not able to place another family member as empress. – The emperor resented the control of the Liang family and turned to the eunuchs for support and drove the Liang family from 10 power. Han Dynasty: Palace Women and Court Politics The Empress who would seize power Empress Lü 吕, wife of Liu Bang 劉邦, was the first in the Han 汉 dynasty to seize power after the death of her husband. Her son, Huidi 惠帝 (r.195-188B.C.E.) was young when he became emperor and she became regent. When he became an adult he was unable to cope with his domineering mother who actually ruled during his reign. After his death she placed two different infants on the throne but she was the de facto ruler. Sima Qian 司马迁 entitled his chapter covering the period as “Basic Annals of Empress Dowager Lü 太后本记” and credited her as being a good ruler. From then on, whenever a woman became too powerful the officials would remind her not to become another Empress Lü. Han Dynasty: Palace Women and Court Politics Women who were used by Male Relatives Empress Shangguan 上官 was the granddaughter of two of the three regents for the young, Zhaodi 昭帝 (r.87-74B.C.E.). Her paternal grandfather resented the maternal grandfather, Huo Guang 霍光 (d.68 B.C.E.), for having more power. Zhaodi sided with Huo Guang and her father’s family lost the power struggle and was killed. Her maternal grandfather, Huo Guang, dominated government. When Zhaodi died, another young man was chosen to succeed. Huo Guang convened a group of ranking officials and asked his granddaughter to dethrone him as he did not properly perform the mourning rites and had behaved in a disrespectful and irresponsible manner. The young empress (15 sui), his granddaughter, approved the memorial to depose him and enthroned another prince selected by Huo Guang – Xuandi 宣帝 (r.74-49B.C.E.). Han Dynasty: Palace Women and Court Politics : An Emperor is Obsessed Chengdi 成帝 (32-7BCE); was obsessed by Zhao Feiyan 赵飞燕, a slave-entertainer in the service of the imperial princess. – He took Zhao Feiyan and her sister into his harem and she became his favorite and was named empress after the previous empress was deposed. Since the emperor was not interested in governing his mother, Empress Dowager Wang Zhengqun and her elder brother, Wang Feng, acted as co-regents – after Wang Feng died, he was succeeded by ED Wang‟s cousins and brothers until Wang Mang 王莽 became regent. Neither of the Zhao sisters had any children but they made the emperor kill the baby boys born to him by other palace women so when the emperor died there was no heir and the Grand Empress Dowager Wang named Chengdi‟s nephew, Aidi 哀帝 (r.6-1BCE), as emperor but he also died after ruling for a short time. Han Dynasty The Usurpation of Wang Mang Wang Mang had served as a co-regent to Chengdi but had to resign when Aidi came to the throne. After the death of Aidi, Grand ED Wang chose a young boy, Pingdi 平帝 (r.1BCE-5CE) to succeed and Wang Mang again became regent and named his daughter as empress. But, Pingdi also did not reign long and an infant was chosen as the successor and Wang became the Acting Emperor but the young emperor also died. – After having repeatedly served as regent for several reigns, Wang Mang decided to proclaim himself emperor of a new dynasty, Xin 新 (r.9-23). Jin Dynasty The Power of Empress Jia The Jin dynasty (265-420) 晉朝 was founded by the Sima family which united China after the Three Kingdoms Period – the dynasty is divided into Western Jin (265-316) and Eastern Jin (316-420). The first Jin emperor, Sima Yan, divided his new empire into 19 provinces and appointed princes to manage these regions and power was decentralized. He named his son, Sima Zhong 衷 (r.265-420) as heir at age 7, but he boy was soon found to be developmentally disabled. Sima Zhong was married to Empress Jia 賈 (256-300) when he was 12; she was 2 years older than he was. Jin Dynasty The Power of Empress Jia (2) When the young man inherited the throne under the regents named by his father, his wife, Empress Jia, conspired with the eunuchs and others against the regents. – She had her husband issue an edict declaring that the regent had committed crimes and should be removed from his posts. – There were 8 powerful princes at this time and Empress Jia began getting rid of them. The empress and the Jia clan remained in power until 300 when she deposed and assassinated the heir to the throne. The prince who commanded the imperial guards, took this opportunity to kill Empress Jia and her faction. Song Dynasty Regents There were a total of 8 regents during the Song dynasty (960–1279). – Of the 166 years of the Northern Song (960–1127), regents ruled for 25.5 years. Regents had different styles based on their personalities and the times they lived in: – Regents who ruled as defacto sovereigns (ED Liu; Gao); – Regents who ruled keeping low profiles (ED Cao, Xiang); – Regents who ensured the succession (Meng); – Regents who ruled through influencing the emperor (ED Yang); – Regents who ruled at times of defeat (ED Xie). 17 Song Dynasty: Regents who Ruled as defacto Sovereigns: Empress Dowager Liu 刘 Empress Dowagers Liu 刘 (d.1033) was the most ambitious and aggressive of the Northern Song regents. – She had risen to power through control of her husband when he was ill and unofficially took over the administration of the empire. – She had no sons but took the son (Renzong: r.1022-1063) of a palace woman and claimed that he was her biological son – he did not know of this until after her death. As the “biological” mother she was regent for Renzong for 11 years (1022-1033) and refused to retire when he came of age. When she died she even left a will stipulating that another palace woman should succeed her as regent even though Renzong was already 23. 18 Song Dynasty: Regents who Ruled as defacto Sovereigns: Empress Dowager Gao 高 Grand Empress Dowager Gao 高 (1031-1093), principal consort of Yingzong (r.1063-1067), and the natural mother of Shenzong (r.1068- 1086), ruled as regent for her grandson, Zhezong (r.1086-1100). As regent, she ruled for eight years as the de facto ruler. Gao had disagreed with her son„s policies of reform – Wang Anshi 王 安石 (1021-1086) – and so she recalled the conservative, Sima Guang 司马光 (1019-1086), to head the government to reverse Wang Anshi‟s policies. She was extremely strict with her relatives refusing to grant them special treatment. She was considered a good ruler and was praised as “a sage among women”. 19 Song Dynasty: Regents who ensured the succession: Empress Dowager Meng 孟 Meng (1077-1135) was chosen by ED Gao as Zhezong‟s (r.1086-1100) empress but was deposed after Gao‟s death. When the Jin – Gold (1115-1234) attacked the capital, Meng was not living in the palace as she had been deposed and so was not taken captive. Meng had the unique distinction of serving as regent twice although both were of short duration. The Jin had placed a puppet, Zhang Bangchang (d.c.1130), on the throne and to gain legitimacy, Zhang named Meng as his regent. When Meng learned that Prince Kang, one of the sons of Huizong (r.1101-1126), a brother of Qinzong, the last emperor of the Northern Song, had arrived at Kaifeng, she sent her brother with a letter declaring him as the legitimate emperor, and retired from her regency. – Zhang was forced to retire and committed suicide. 20 Regents who ensured the succession: Empress Dowager Meng (2) In 1129, Gaozong was defeated in battle at Yangzhou and two discontented leaders of his bodyguard forced him to abdicate in favor of his three-year-old son and Meng again served as regent. – Gaozong‟s loyal followers were able to restore him as emperor and so Meng retired from her regency after only 25 days. – In the same year, Gaozong sent her into Jiangsi (when he was again threatened by the Jin) so that if he were captured or killed she would represent the legitimacy of the dynasty. – The Jin understood her powers as a senior widow and tried to capture her. Gaozong felt very indebted to her and treated her as if she was his own mother and rewarded her relatives generously naming about 80 of them to posts. 21 Song Dynasty: Regents during times of defeat: Empress Dowager Xie 谢 During times of defeat, the empress dowager would often remain behind to negotiate and sign the terms of surrender while the young emperor fled from the capital. An example of such a woman was Xie. – Xie was the empress for Lizong (r.1224-1264) and was regent for the adopted heir, Duzong. – Xie stopped the massacre of the Song population by negotiating surrender terms with the Mongols in which she only asked for the lives of the people of Hangzhou, the Song House, and that the Song ancestral temples not be destroyed. – She became ill when the royal captives were to be taken north and so stayed behind until she had recovered. 22 The Power of the Regent There were three historical conditions under which the mother or the grandmother of the emperor could govern as regent: – When the emperor was too young to govern –17 sui seemed to have been the acceptable norm. – When the emperor was too ill to attend to affairs; – When the emperor was unexpectedly removed. A senior widow was preferred as regent as: – She had no legitimate right to become emperor and her role was seen as temporary. – It was dangerous to select regents from among the emperor’s brothers or uncles who could usurp the throne. Strong regents were defacto rulers. Weak ones were figureheads, delegating authority to her relatives or to civil officials, who made decisions in her name. The Power of the Regent (2) Female rulers fall into three types: – Ruling directly as regents refusing to retire even when the emperors came of age – Filling in while the emperor was sick or when the emperor was young and acting on the advice of the top officials. – Taking charge temporarily while a new emperor is named. The power of these women appeared to contradict the Confucian role prescribed for women. Therefore, many palace women who exercised power are often stereotyped as the Dragon Lady such as Cixi in he Qing. – Reaction to this stereotype is mixed: many respected the dragon lady’s decisiveness, ingenuity, and effectiveness. – Others distrust her, finding her ruthless, cunning and cruel. Despite negative feelings towards female rule, it was a necessity and many women were praised as being great rulers. Preventing Women and their families from Obtaining Power Power by the imperial women and their families meant less power for the officials. – They repeatedly warned the emperor about preventing the power of these groups. – They reminded regents about the dangers of becoming another Empress Dowager Lü. The emperors were also aware of these dangers and tried to find ways to prevent it. – Song emperors forbade the husbands of the princesses from having real positions although they had titles and the money that went along with the titles. – Ming emperors only brought in consorts from commoner families with no power. 25 Song Dynasty: Recruitment and Retirement: Methods of Entry into the Palace Where did these palace women come from? – A study of the women of the Northern Song show the following: Marriage as principal consort. Marriage as secondary consort (acquired as principal consort is barren). Entry through summons (may have been acquired as captive through conquest, recommended for beauty, etc.). Entry through nationwide recruitment to staff palace. Other methods – unknown. 26 Song Dynasty: Recruitment Methods of Entry into the Palace Ratio Percentage Ranks Achieved Marriage as principal consort 14/92 15.22 All empresses Marriage as secondary consort 2/92 2.17 All empresses Entry through summons 12/92 13.04 4 empresses; 7 imperial consorts 1 minor wife Possible recruitment 57/92 61.96 5 empresses; 19 imperial consorts; 33 minor wives Unknown means 7/92 7.61 3 empresses; 2 imperial consorts; 2 minor wives 27 Song Dynasty: Recruitment and Retirement Advancement Family background 15 empresses; 3 imperial consorts; 2 minor wives Imperial favour 7 empresses; 1 imperial consort; 1 minor wife Entering the nunnery 3 imperial consorts; 1 minor wife Birth or children 5 empresses; 3 imperial consorts; 3 minor wives Combination of imperial 7 imperial consorts favour & birth of children Combination of birth of children & longevity 6 imperial consorts Longevity 3 imperial consorts; 3 minor wives Meritorious service 3 imperial consorts; 2 minor wives Patronage 1 empress; 2 imperial consorts Unknown 19 minor wives 28 Song Dynasty: Recruitment and Retirement Retirement Women were released from the palace through: – Consorts, when deposed, were sent to auxiliary palaces or to the nunnery. – General releases of palace women and married off with dowries Intervals for releases varied from 1-30 years (Song Renzong released women in 1039 and then did not do so again until 1059). During Song Huizong‟s reign they were released annually; the numbers released ranged from 24-600. – During the Qing, women were released at age 25. – Since they have served in the palaces they were to be honored above their husbands. – But many men married them for the dowries. – Some resold them into prostitution. 29 Ming Dynasty Recruitment of Palace Women During the Ming (1368-1644) founding period, political marriages to cement alliances, were an important part of the strategy of the founder, Zhu Yuanzhang, for establishing himself as emperor of China. In the final edition of his Ancestral Instructions, he announced a change of policy and stated that the daughters of men of high rank must never be chosen as consorts for the imperial princes. Imperial wives should be “girls of good families” 良家女-- commoners, whose fathers held no official or noble positions. – Daughters of the rich and powerful should be excluded from the selection. – The criteria used was that the girls be healthy young virgins between the ages of about 10 and 20 sui. This policy was based on two reasons: – Ming founders and their wives were all commoners but there was an increasing growth of powerful families. – Fear of the power of women and their families. Ming Dynasty Recruitment of Palace Women (2) The senior woman in the imperial family, either the empress dowager or the empress, would issue an imperial order to the Ministry of Rites, instructing the officials to begin the recruitment when the heir- apparent and other princes came of age and were ready to be married. The Ministry of Rites then issued a public decree which specified the number of women to be selected and the regions which were to supply them. Other recruitments were conducted in secret as officials were often opposed to them – especially if it was to be done during a period of mourning. Ming Dynasty Recruitment of Palace Women (3) An account of the recruitment: – The first phase was overseen by the eunuchs. – In the first month of the year, more than 5,000 girls, between 13 and 16 sui, were brought to the palace gates by their parents, who were given gifts of money as compensation. – The girls were divided into groups of 100 for the first inspection and those who were too tall, too short, too fat and unhealthy were dismissed – 1,000. – The remaining girls were again divided into groups of 100 and the eunuchs looked at their ears, eyes, mouths, noses, hair, skin, waists, necks, arms and backs. If any of these were not acceptable, they were dismissed. – The eunuchs then listened to the girls’ voices as they said their names and ages and if the voice was too strong, too weak, or too hesitant, they were dismissed – 2,000. – On the third day, the eunuchs measured the girls’ hands and feet and made them walk a short distance and if their wrists were too short, feet too large or behavior too reckless or hasty, they were dismissed – 1,000. Ming Dynasty Recruitment of Palace Women (4) During the second phase, the remaining girls were inspected by palace women. They were taken to a private room where matrons inspected them physically, smelled their armpits and felt their flesh. Only 300 passed this final inspection and all of these became members of the imperial household. These girls were kept in the palace for one month, during which time the imperial women of the older generation became familiar with their personalities and their conversational abilities and judged their strength or weakness and their wisdom or lack of it. 50 girls, all to be consorts or concubines, passed this stage of the selection. These girls were then inspected by the senior imperial woman during the third phase. Ming Dynasty Recruitment of Palace Women (5) These women were tested in writing, mathematics, poetry, painting and other arts and the three most outstanding ones would be selected. These three were again physically inspected and presented to the emperor who made the final decision. – The chosen one would be around 15 sui with a face like that of the goddess Guanyin. – Her complexion would be like the rosy morning mist reflected in the snow, like hibiscus flowers emerging from water. – Her hair like a spring cloud and her eyes like autumn waves. – Her mouth like a red cherry and her nose like a perfectly shaped vase. Her teeth delicate and pure. – She would have a strong chin, a broad forehead and a long neck. – When she walked, it would be like water flowing from a hidden spring. – She was to be totally without blemish and without any sign of disease. Ming Dynasty Recruitment of Palace Women (6) There were other criteria for selection of women for special duties: – Wet-nurses needed to have a rich supply of milk and be free from disease. – Sedan chair carriers need to have natural, unbound feet and were usually recruited from Fujian Province, where there were many women whose feet were not bound. The sedan chair carriers were also chosen from families that could not afford to bind their daughters‟ feet. Most of the chair carriers were probably Hakka as they did not bind the feet of their women. There was resistance to the recruitment and so most women were recruited from near the two capitals and military garrisons where there was greater control. Han and non-Han Imperial Women Readings: “Imperial marriage in the Native Chinese and non-Han State, Han to Ming” OR “The Harem in Northern Wei Politics, 398-493 AD: A Study of Tuoba attitudes towards the institution of empress dowager and regency governments in the Chinese dynastic system during early Northern Wei” in Holmgren, Jennifer, Marriage, Kinship and Power in Northern China. The Northern Wei (398-493): OR “Family, Marriage and Political Power in Sixth Century China: A study of the Gao Family of the Northern Qi, c.520-550”, in Holmgren, Jennifer, Marriage, Kinship and Power in Northern China. pp VI, 1-50. OR “ Politics of the Inner Court under the Hou-chu (Last Lord of the Northern Qi, ca. 565-73” in Dien, Albert E., ed., State and society in early medieval China, pp 269-330.
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