Han dynasty

Empress Shangguan

“The Youngest Empress”

Grand Empress Dowager Shangguan was the youngest empress in Chinese history. She was only 6 years old when she was married to Emperor Zhao of Han, and she became an empress dowager at the age of 15. She ruled China for over twenty years, and she was a powerful and influential figure.

Her Story

a story of strength and resilience.

Explore this speaking portrait created using D-ID to let young Empress Shangguan tell you about her story.

Click the play ▶ button, or anywhere on the painting below to start listening.

Introduction

Grand Empress Dowager Shangguan was the youngest empress in Chinese history. She was only 6 years old when she was married to Emperor Zhao of Han, and she became an empress dowager at the age of 15. She ruled China for over twenty years, and she was a powerful and influential figure.

Early years

Shangguan was born into a wealthy and powerful family. Her father was Shangguan An, a high-ranking official, and her mother was the daughter of Huo Guang, one of the most powerful men in the Han Empire. When Shangguan was six years old, she was married to Emperor Zhao, who was also only six years old. The marriage was arranged by Huo Guang, who hoped to use Shangguan’s family to strengthen his own position.

Becoming empress

Shangguan was a beautiful and intelligent young woman, and she quickly won the affection of Emperor Zhao. They were a happy couple, and they had a son together. However, their happiness was short-lived. In 80 BC, Emperor Zhao died suddenly, and Shangguan was left a widow at the age of fifteen.

Becoming empress dowager

After Emperor Zhao’s death, Shangguan became empress dowager. She was a strong and capable ruler, and she quickly consolidated her power. She appointed her own relatives to key positions in the government, and she began to rule China in her own right.

Shangguan was a wise and just ruler. She was known for her compassion and her concern for the people. She made many reforms to improve the lives of the common people, and she was a popular ruler.

Shangguan ruled China for over twenty years. She was a powerful and influential figure, and she left a lasting legacy.

The Tragedy

Shangguan’s reign was not without its tragedies. In 80 BC, her family was nearly wiped out in a political purge. Her father, Shangguan An, was executed, and her mother and brother were imprisoned. Shangguan herself was spared only because she was the empress dowager.

The purge was orchestrated by Huo Guang, who was jealous of Shangguan’s power. Huo Guang had been the most powerful man in the Han Empire during Emperor Zhao’s reign, but after Emperor Zhao’s death, Shangguan had begun to challenge his authority. Huo Guang saw the purge as a way to eliminate his rivals and consolidate his own power.

Rose from the ashes

The purge was a devastating blow to Shangguan. She lost her entire family, and she was left alone and vulnerable. However, she refused to give in. She continued to rule China with strength and determination, and she eventually managed to restore her family’s honor.

Shangguan’s story is a tragedy, but it is also a story of strength and resilience. She was a young woman who was forced to endure unimaginable suffering, but she never gave up. She rose from the ashes to become one of the most powerful women in Chinese history.

Her Spouse

Emperor Zhao of Han 漢昭帝 (Liu Fuling, 劉弗陵; 94 BC – 5 June 74 BC) was the emperor of the Western Han dynasty from 87 to 74 BC.

Emperor Zhao was the youngest son of Emperor Wu of Han. By the time he was born, Emperor Wu was already 62. Prince Fuling ascended the throne after the death of Emperor Wu in 87 BC. He was only eight years old (by East Asian reckoning). Huo Guang served as regent.

Emperor Wu’s long reign left the Han Dynasty greatly expanded; however constant warfare had depleted the empire’s coffers. Emperor Zhao, under the tutelage of Huo, took the initiative and lowered taxes as well as reduced government spending. As a result, citizens prospered and the Han Dynasty enjoyed an era of peace. Emperor Zhao died after reigning for 13 years, at the age of 20. He was succeeded by Liu He, Prince of Changyi.

About this Portrait

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

Explore Merch

A handpicked collection of merch created from this portrait

More from Xiang Li Art