Han dynasty

Empress Guanglie

Yin Lihua (Chinese: 陰麗華; 5–64 AD), formally Empress Guanglie (光烈皇后), was an empress during the Eastern Han Dynasty. She was the second empress of her husband Emperor Guangwu (Liu Xiu), even though she married him as his wife before his first empress, Guo Shengtong, did. She was famed for her beauty and meekness. Her posthumous name started a trend for the rest of the Eastern Han, where empresses’ posthumous names were formed not just from their husbands’ posthumous names, as was customary during the preceding Western Han, but used part of their husbands’ posthumous names along with an additional descriptive character.

Guanglie’s Story

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Empress Guanglie (Yin Lihua) was born and grew up in Nanyang Commandery (roughly modern Nanyang, Henan) — the same commandery that her eventual husband came from. While they were young, he was enamored with her beauty. According to Hou Han Shu, when Liu Xiu was visiting the capital Chang’an, he became impressed with the mayor of the capital (zhijinyu, 執金吾) and, already impressed by Yin’s beauty, he made the remarks: “If I were to be an official, I want to be zhijinyu; if I were to marry, I want to marry Yin Lihua”.

In 23, while Liu Xiu was an official in the newly reestablished Han government of Gengshi Emperor, he was married to Yin Lihua. Later, when he was dispatched by Gengshi Emperor to the region north of the Yellow River, she returned home.

In 26, Emperor Guangwu was prepared to create an empress, and he favored his first love, Consort Yin. However, Consort Yin had not yet had a son by that point, and she declined the empress position and endorsed Consort Guo. Emperor Guangwu therefore made Guo empress and her son Prince Jiang crown prince.

In 28, Consort Yin gave birth to her first-born son, Liu Yang[2] (劉陽, not to be confused with Empress Guo’s uncle).

In 33, Lady Deng and Yin Xin were killed by robbers. Emperor Guangwu greatly mourned them, and he made Yin Jiu a marquess and tried to make Yin Xing a marquess as well, but the humble Yin Xing declined and further instructed Consort Yin to be always humble and not seeking to honor her relatives. She took the advice to heart.

As imperial consort, even though Consort Yin was not empress, she continued to be favored by Emperor Guangwu as his first love. She (like Empress Guo) bore him five sons.

Emperor Guangwu died in 57, and was succeeded by Crown Prince Zhuang (as Emperor Ming). Empress Yin received the title of empress dowager.

Guo Shengtong‘s Story

Guo Shengtong (郭聖通) was an empress during the Eastern Han dynasty. She was the first empress of Emperor Guangwu (Liu Xiu), the founder of Eastern Han. She eventually lost her husband’s favor and was deposed in 41. However, both she and her family continued to be respected and honored even after she was deposed.

Their Spouse

Emperor Guangwu of Han (Chinese: 漢光武帝; 15 January 5 BC – 29 March AD 57), born Liu Xiu (劉秀), courtesy name Wenshu (文叔), was a Chinese monarch. He served as an emperor of the Han dynasty by restoring the dynasty in AD 25, thus founding the Eastern Han (Later Han) dynasty. He ruled over parts of China at first, and through suppression and conquest of regional warlords, the whole of China proper was consolidated by the time of his death in AD 57. During his reign, Taoism was made the official religion of China, and the Chinese folk religion began to decline.

Liu Xiu was one of the many descendants of the Han imperial family. Following the usurpation of the Han throne by Wang Mang and the ensuing civil war during the disintegration of Wang’s short-lived Xin dynasty, he emerged as one of several descendants of the fallen dynasty claiming the imperial throne. After assembling forces and proclaiming himself emperor in the face of competitors, he was able to defeat his rivals, destroy the peasant army of the Chimei, known for their disorganization and marauding, and finally reunify China in AD 36.

About this Portrait

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

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