Chinese Empresses

About the Collection

Xiang Li began working on this massive collection of Chinese Empresses in 2012, featuring the most recognized female leaders and politicians from Chinese history, dated as far as the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD), ~2,000 years ago.

The entire collection is painted on silk by hand with watercolor.

The watercolor chosen by Li is often handmade from precious stones or professional-grade watercolor from Holbein. Most of these paintings are large very silk panels, averaging 35 W x 59 H and 35 W x 75 H inches.

Empresses of the Dynasties

There are over 120+ empresses in Chinese history. We organized them by dynasty (The term “dynasty” means a succession of rulers from the same family clan.)

Han Dynasty: 206 BCE-220 CE

Modified and consolidated the foundation of the imperial order. Confucianism was established as orthodoxy and open civil service examinations were introduced. Han power reached Korea and Vietnam. Records of the Historian, which became the model for subsequent official histories, was completed.

“Period of Disunity” or Six Dynasties Period: 220-589 CE

The empire was fragmented. The North was dominated by invaders from the borderland and the steppes. The South was ruled by successive “Chinese” dynasties. Buddhism spread.

Tang Dynasty: 618-906

A time of cosmopolitanism and cultural flowering occurred. This period was the height of Buddhist influence in China until its repression around 845. Active territorial expansion until defeated by the Arabs at Talas in 751.

Song (Sung) Dynasty: 960-1279

Northern Song (960-1127) and Southern Song (1127-1279). An era of significant economic and social changes: the monetization of the economy; growth in commerce and maritime trade; urban expansion and technological innovations. The examination system for bureaucratic recruitment of neo-Confucianism was to provide the intellectual underpinning for the political and social order of the late imperial period.

Yuan Dynasty: 1279-1368

Founded by the Mongols as part of their conquest of much of the world. Moved capital, called “Dadu” (present-day Beijing), to the north. Dramas, such as the famous Story of the Western Wing, flourished.

Ming Dynasty: 1368-1644

The first Ming emperor, Hongwu, laid the basis of an authoritarian political culture. Despite early expansion, it was an inward-looking state with an emphasis on its agrarian base. Gradual burgeoning of the commercial sector; important changes in the economy and social relations in the latter part of the dynasty; also a vibrant literary scene as represented by publication of the novel Journey to the West.

Qing (Ch’ing) Dynasty: 1644-1912

A Manchu dynasty. Continued the economic developments of the late Ming, leading to prosperity but also complacency and a dramatic increase in population. The acclaimed novel Dream of the Red Chamber was written in this period. Strains on the polity were intensified by the rapid incorporation of substantial new territories. Its authoritarian structure was subsequently unable to meet the military and cultural challenge of an expansive West.


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