Empress Lü Zhi
“The First Woman in Power”
Empress (Dowager) Lü Zhi (241–180 BC) was the empress consort of Gaozu, the founding emperor of the Han dynasty. She was the first woman to assume the title Empress of China and paramount power. She was so cruel that her son, Emperor Hui, fell sick for a year, and thereafter no longer became involved in state affairs. He said of his mother “This is something done not by a human. As the empress dowager’s son, I’ll never be able to rule the empire.
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Lü Zhi, also known as Empress Lü or Empress Gao of Han, was the empress consort of Gaozu, the founding emperor of the Han dynasty in China.
She was the first woman to hold the title of Empress in China and wielded significant power. Lü and Gaozu had two children together, Liu Ying and Princess Yuan of Lu.
Lü played a crucial role in her husband’s rise to power and the establishment of the Han dynasty. She was known for her involvement in crafting laws and customs during Gaozu’s reign. Even when her husband was absent from the capital, Lü executed two influential generals, Han Xin, and Peng Yue, as a lesson to the aristocracy and other military leaders.
After Gaozu’s death, Lü became the empress dowager and regent during the reigns of her son, Emperor Hui, and his successors, Emperor Qianshao of Han and Liu Hong (Emperor Houshao). She held significant influence and control over the court, effectively governing on behalf of her son. Lü’s rule was marked by cruelty and ruthlessness, including the execution of her rival, Concubine Qi, and her son, Liu Ruyi.
Upon Emperor Hui’s premature death, Lü proclaimed his two young sons, Emperor Qianshao and Emperor Houshao, as emperors. She consolidated even more power during this period and dominated the political scene for 15 years until her own death in 180 BC. Lü is often recognized as the first woman to have ruled over a united China, surpassing the political influence of her predecessors.
Emperor Gaozu of Han (256 – 1 June 195 BC), born Liu Bang (Chinese: 劉邦; pinyin: Liú Bāng) with courtesy name Ji (季), was the founder and first emperor of the Han dynasty, reigning in 202–195 BC. His temple name was “Taizu” while his posthumous name was Emperor Gao, or Gaodi; “Gaozu of Han”, derived from the Records of the Grand Historian, is the common way of referring to this sovereign even though he was not accorded the temple name “Gaozu”, which literally means “High Founder”.
About this Portrait
Chinese watercolor, on silk. The Chinese Empresses Collection
Painted by Xiang Li
75 x 36 inches