Han dynasty

Empress Fu

Her Story

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Empress Fu (傅皇后) (died September or October 1 BC), formally Empress Xiao’ai (孝哀皇后), was an Empress during Han Dynasty. Her personal name is unknown. Her husband was Emperor Ai of Han, but they had no children, and their marriage was possibly not even consummated because he was homosexual.

Empress Fu was the daughter of her husband’s grandmother Consort Fu’s cousin Fu Yan (傅晏). She became his consort when he was still the Prince of Dingtao and later crown prince. After the death of his uncle Emperor Cheng in April 7 BC, he ascended the throne as Emperor Ai, and she was created his empress that same year on 16 June. Her father was created the Marquess of Kongxiang.

By the time Emperor Ai died in August 1 BC, Empress Fu’s main support, Consort Fu, had already been dead for many months, and she suddenly was all alone as her father and her other relatives were purged from the government by Wang Mang. Wang, who bore grudges against Fu and Ai, did not permit her to become empress dowager, and a brief time after Ai’s death, he had her demoted to commoner status and ordered her to guard her husband’s tomb—even though she was not personally involved in any of the political intrigues. She committed suicide that day.

Her Spouse

Emperor Ai of Han 漢哀帝 (25 BC – 15 August 1 BC), name Liu Xin (劉欣 Liú Xīn), was an emperor of the Chinese Han dynasty. He ascended the throne when he was 20, having been made heir by his childless uncle Emperor Cheng, and he reigned from 7 to 1 BC.

The people and the officials were initially excited about his ascension, as he was viewed by them (as well as Emperor Cheng) to be intelligent, articulate, and capable. However, under Emperor Ai, corruption became even more prevalent, and heavy taxes were levied on the people. Furthermore, Emperor Ai was highly controlled by his grandmother Consort Fu (consort of his grandfather and his predecessor’s father Emperor Yuan), who demanded the title of Grand Empress Dowager—even though she had never been an empress previously and therefore did not properly hold that title, and this led to the unprecedented and unrepeated situation of four women possessing empress dowager titles at the same time—Empress Wang Zhengjun (Emperor Cheng’s mother and Emperor Yuan’s wife), Empress Zhao Feiyan (Emperor Cheng’s wife), Consort Fu, and Consort Ding (Emperor Ai’s mother).

Consort Fu’s control of the political scene extended until her death on February 2 BC, including an episode where her jealousy of Consort Feng Yuan—another consort of Emperor Yuan’s (and therefore her romantic rival) and a grandmother of the future Emperor Ping—resulted in Consort Feng being falsely accused of witchcraft and subsequently being forced to die by suicide. During Emperor Ai’s reign, he also stripped the Wang clan (Empress Wang’s clan), which had been powerful during Emperor Cheng’s reign, of much of their power, and substitute members of the Fu and Ding clans in their stead (which, ironically, caused the people, who were not enamored with the Wangs initially, to long for their return to power as they associated the departure of the Wangs from power with Emperor Ai’s incompetence in administration).

In an unpopular act, Emperor Ai had his prime minister Wang Jia (王嘉, unrelated to the Wang clan mentioned above) put to death for criticizing him, an act that made him appear tyrannical. Emperor Ai’s shortcomings quickly led to the demoralization of the people towards the government and the acquisition of power by Wang Mang, in a backlash, after Ai died in 1 BC.

Emperor Ai was also famous for being the most effusive homosexual emperor of the Han dynasty. Traditional historians characterized the relationship between Emperor Ai and Dong Xian as one between homosexual lovers and referred to their relationship as “the passion of the cut sleeve” (斷袖之癖) after a story that one afternoon after falling asleep for a nap on the same bed, Emperor Ai cut off his sleeve rather than disturb the sleeping Dong Xian when he had to get out of bed. Dong was noted for his relative simplicity contrasted with the highly ornamented court, and was given progressively higher and higher posts as part of the relationship, eventually becoming the supreme commander of the armed forces by the time of Emperor Ai’s death. Dong was afterward forced to die by suicide.

About this Portrait

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

Han_Empress Fu

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