Han dynasty

Empress Xiao Hui

“Depicted as cunning and ambitious”

Zhang Yan (traditional Chinese: 張嫣; simplified Chinese: 张嫣; pinyin: Zhāng Yān; died 163 BC), known formally as Empress Xiaohui (孝惠皇后) was an empress during the Han Dynasty. She was the daughter of Princess Yuan of Lu (the only daughter of Emperor Gao (Liu Bang) and his wife Empress Lü) and her husband Zhang Ao (張敖, son of Zhang Er), the Prince of Zhao and later Marquess of Xuanping.

Her Story

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Empress Xiao Hui, personal name Zhang Yan, was an empress of the Eastern Han dynasty in ancient China. She was the wife of Emperor Ling and the mother of Emperor Shao. Her family had considerable influence during her husband’s reign. Empress Xiao Hui played a significant role in political affairs and was known for her intelligence and manipulative nature.

Empress Xiao Hui’s rise to power began when she became a concubine of Emperor Ling. She gained favor with him and eventually became his empress. She used her position to exert influence over the imperial court and played a role in the appointment and dismissal of officials.

During her husband’s reign, the Eastern Han dynasty faced various challenges, including social unrest and rebellions. Empress Xiao Hui was known for her involvement in political intrigues and power struggles within the court. She often manipulated factions and used her influence to protect her family’s interests.

After Emperor Ling’s death, Empress Xiao Hui’s son, Liu Bian, ascended the throne as Emperor Shao. However, real power was held by Empress Xiao Hui and her family. She was involved in conflicts with other influential figures, particularly with the powerful eunuch faction led by Jian Shuo.

Empress Xiao Hui’s rule came to an end when a coalition of warlords, led by He Jin, launched a coup against the eunuchs. Empress Xiao Hui and her family were executed, marking the downfall of her political influence.

Empress Xiao Hui’s life and actions have been portrayed in various historical texts and fictional works, including the popular Chinese historical novel “Romance of the Three Kingdoms.” Her character is often depicted as cunning and ambitious, highlighting her significant role in the political landscape of the Eastern Han dynasty.

Her Spouse

Emperor Hui of Han (Chinese: 漢惠帝 Hàn Huìdì; Liu Ying 劉盈; 210 BC – 26 September 188 BC) was the second emperor of the Chinese Han dynasty. He was the second son of Emperor Gaozu (Liu Bang, of the Liu family), the first Han emperor, and the only son of Empress Lü from the powerful Lü clan (House of Lü). Han Huidi is generally remembered as a somewhat weak character dominated and terrorized by his mother, Lady Lü (Lü Hou, who became Empress Dowager after she encouraged her husband to command personally the war against Ying Bu, which he died eventually from an arrow wound sustained during the war).

Huidi was personally kind and generous, but unable to escape the impact of Lü Hou’s viciousness. However, he did end the laws of Burning of books and burying of scholars. He tried to protect Ruyi, Prince Yin of Zhao, his younger half-brother, from being murdered by Empress Dowager Lü, but failed. After that, he indulged himself in drinking and sex, and died at a relatively young age. Emperor Hui’s wife was Empress Zhang Yan (the main character on this page), a niece of his by his elder sister Princess Yuan of Lu; their marriage was the result of insistence by Empress Dowager Lü and was a childless one. Empress Dowager Lü installed two of his alleged sons whom she adopted into her clan, Liu Gong and Liu Hong (known collectively as Emperors Shao of Han), the sons of the Emperor’s concubine(s) after he died without a designated heir: however they and the rest of the Lu clan were exterminated and Liu Heng was established as emperor, as heir of the Liu clan, thus firmly establishing the succession of the Liu family as the dynastic family of Han.

About this Portrait

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

Empress Xiao Hui

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