Han dynasty

Empress Dou

Empress Dou (Chinese: 竇皇后; died 135 BC), formally Empress Xiaowen (孝文皇后), was an empress of the Chinese Han dynasty who greatly influenced the reigns of her husband Emperor Wen and her son Emperor Jing with her adherence to Taoist philosophy; she was the main support for the Huang-Lao school, She, therefore, contributed greatly to the Rule of Wen and Jing, commonly considered one of the golden ages of Chinese history.

Her Story

Empress Dou (Wen) was the wife of Emperor Wen of Han in ancient China. She was well-known for being very influential during her husband’s reign, as well as during the reigns of her son, Emperor Jing, and her grandson, Emperor Wu. Empress Dou played a key role in helping Emperor Wen establish the Western Han dynasty. She’s known for her political acumen, her moral influence on the imperial court, and for promoting Taoist rituals and philosophies.

Born into a humble family, she was selected as a concubine for Emperor Wen (then known as Liu Heng) due to her reputation for virtue and modesty. After their marriage, Empress Dou influenced her husband’s policies to be more people-oriented, leading to a period of relative peace and prosperity known as the Rule of Wen and Jing.

After Emperor Wen’s death, Empress Dowager Dou continued to hold significant political power. Her influence extended into the reigns of her son and grandson, where she acted as a stabilizing figure within the court.

Her Spouse

Emperor Wen of Han 漢文帝 (203/202 – 6 July 157 BCE), born Liu Heng (恆), was the fifth emperor of the Western Han dynasty in China from 180 to his death in 157 BCE. The son of Emperor Gao and Consort Bo, his reign provided much-needed stability within the ruling Liu clan after the unstable and violent regency of Empress Lü, who went after numerous members of the clan. The prosperous reigns of Wen and his son Emperor Jing are highly regarded by historians, being referred to as the Rule of Wen and Jing.

When Emperor Gaozu suppressed the rebellion of Dai, he made Liu Heng Prince of Dai. Since Emperor Gaozu’s death, power had been in the hands of his wife, Empress Lü, who became the empress dowager. After Empress Lü’s death, the officials eliminated the powerful Lü clan, and deliberately chose the Prince of Dai as the emperor, since his mother, Consort Bo, had no powerful relatives, and her family was known for its humility and thoughtfulness. His reign brought political stability that laid the groundwork for prosperity under his grandson Emperor Wu. According to historians, Emperor Wen trusted and consulted with ministers on state affairs; under the influence of his Taoist wife, Empress Dou, the emperor also sought to avoid wasteful expenditures.

Historians noted that the tax rates were at a ratio of “1 out of 30” and “1 out of 60”, corresponding to 3.33% and 1.67%, respectively. (These rates are not for income taxes, but property taxes, as the only ancient Chinese attempt to levy an income tax would come in the time of Wang Mang.) Warehouses were so full of grain that some of it was left to decay.

About this Portrait

Chinese watercolor, on silk. The Chinese Empresses Collection
Painted by Xiang Li
75 x 36 inches

Empress Dou

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