Han dynasty

Empress Yang Ji

Empress Yan Ji (閻姬) (died 126), formally Empress Ansi (安思皇后, literally “the peaceful and deep-thinking empress”), was an empress during Han Dynasty. Her husband was Emperor An. She was known for her conspiratorial and nepotistic behavior, both as empress and (briefly) as empress dowager. However, her plan, along with her brothers, to hold on to power for a long time ultimately resulted in failure and the deaths of her clan members.

Her Story

When Lady Yan was young, she was described as intelligent and beautiful. In 114, she was selected as an imperial consort for Emperor An, who was 20, and she quickly became his favorite. On 1 June 115, he created her empress—even though she was also described as jealous, to the extent that that year, she poisoned Consort Li, who had given birth to a son of the emperor, Liu Bao (劉保).

During most of Emperor An’s reign, he was mostly overshadowed by his regent, Empress Dowager Deng Sui. But after Empress Dowager Deng died in April 121, he asserted his authority and put a number of his trusted individuals in power to displace the late empress dowager’s family, many of whom were forced to commit suicide. Among these entrusted individuals were Empress Yan’s brothers Yan Xian (閻顯), Yan Jing (閻景), Yan Yao (閻耀), and Yan Yan (閻晏), all were powerful, particularly Xian who was both reliable and powerful.

Empress Yan herself influenced her husband in his actions greatly, much to the detriment of the empire. It is said that from the beginning she was trying to gain power after her husband’s death and tried to eliminate the opposition, establish her own clan in key positions and collect a bunch of officials, generals, and eunuchs close to the emperor. In 124, she falsely accused nine-year-old Prince Bao, who had been made crown prince because he was Emperor An’s only son, of crimes, and Emperor An deposed Prince Bao and created him Prince of Jiyin.

Her Spouse

Emperor An of Han (Chinese: 漢安帝; pinyin: Hàn Ān Dì; Wade–Giles: Han An-ti; 94 – 30 April 125) was an emperor of the Chinese Han Dynasty and the sixth emperor of the Eastern Han, ruling from 106 to 125. He was a grandson of Emperor Zhang.

When her infant stepson Emperor Shang succeeded to the throne in February 106, Empress Dowager Deng kept the then-12-year-old Crown Prince Liu Hu in the capital Luoyang as insurance against the infant emperor’s death and the successor to the throne. Prince Hu ascended the throne and became emperor when Emperor Shang died in September 106. However, Empress Dowager Deng still remained as regent until her death in April 121. Thereafter, Emperor An removed many of her relatives from the government and many of them committed suicide, probably under duress.

Emperor An did little to revive the withering dynasty. He began to indulge himself in women and heavy drinking and paid little attention to affairs of state, instead leaving matters to corrupt eunuchs. In this way, he effectively became the first emperor in Han history to encourage corruption. He also trusted his wife Empress Yan Ji and her family deeply, despite their obvious corruption. At the same time, droughts ravaged the country while peasants rose up in arms. In April 125, Emperor An died while traveling to Nanyang. He was only 31.

About this Portrait

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

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