Han dynasty

Empress Shunlie

Liang Na (Chinese: 梁妠; 116 – 6 April 150), formally Empress Shunlie (順烈皇后, literally “the kind and achieving empress”), was an empress during the Han Dynasty. Her husband was Emperor Shun of Han. She later served as regent for his son Emperor Chong, and the two subsequent emperors from collateral lines, Emperor Zhi and Emperor Huan. As empress dowager and regent, she appeared to be diligent and honest, but she overly trusted her violent and corrupt elder brother Liang Ji, whose autocratic nature would eventually draw a coup d’etat from Emperor Huan after Empress Dowager Liang’s death, leading to the destruction of the Liang clan.

Her Story

The future empress was born in 116. Her father was Liang Shang (梁商)—an honest official who was also the Marquess of Chengshi, being a grandson of a brother of Consort Liang, the mother of Emperor He. Liang Na was described as diligent in handcraft and sewing, as well as history and the Confucian classics, as a child.

In 128, when she was 12, both she and her paternal aunt were selected to be Emperor Shun’s imperial consorts. (Emperor Shun was 13.) She was a favored consort, but she often declined offers to have sexual relations with the emperor, reasoning that an emperor needs to be equitable and give opportunities to other consorts. Emperor Shun became greatly impressed with her. In 131, when he was considering creating an empress, he initially considered asking the gods for guidance and drawing lots from between four of his favorites, but after officials discouraged him from drawing lots, he considered Consort Liang most virtuous, so created her empress on 2 March 132.

As empress, Empress Liang continued to show humility, and did not interfere significantly in her husband’s administration. Emperor Shun, however, became very trustful of her relatives, and her father Liang Shang was quickly promoted repeatedly, eventually becoming Grand Marshal (大將軍). Liang Shang was a mild-mannered and honest man, although lacking in abilities. He did, however, trust other capable and honest officials, and during his term of office, the political scene was a lot cleaner than before. Eventually, Empress Liang’s brothers Liang Ji and Liang Buyi (梁不疑) also became key officials.

On 22 September 141, Liang Shang died, and Emperor Shun, in an ill-advised move, gave his position to Liang Ji. Liang Ji would, as the years go by, stamp out all dissent and position himself as the most powerful individual in the imperial administration.

Throughout her husband’s reign, Empress Liang continued to be a favorite of Emperor Shun’s, but she never bore a son for him. Emperor Shun was only known to have had one son—Liu Bing (劉炳), born to Consort Yu in 143. On 3 June 144, as Emperor Shun was growing ill, he created the toddler crown prince. He died four months later, and Crown Prince Bing succeeded to the throne as Emperor Chong. Empress Liang, now empress dowager, served as regent.

Her Spouse

Emperor Shun of Han (simplified Chinese: 汉顺帝; traditional Chinese: 漢順帝; pinyin: Hàn Shùn Dì; Wade–Giles: Han Shun-ti; 115 – 20 September 144) was an emperor of the Chinese Han Dynasty and the eighth emperor of the Eastern Han. He reigned from December 125 to September 144.

Emperor Shun (Prince Bao) was the only son of Emperor An of Han. After Emperor An died in April 125, Empress Dowager Yan, childless but yearning to hold on to power, displaced Prince Bao (whose title of crown prince she had wrongly caused Emperor An to strip in 124) from the throne in favor of Liu Yi, the Marquess of Beixiang. After Liu Yi died after reigning for less than seven months, eunuchs loyal to Prince Bao, led by Sun Cheng, carried out a successful coup d’etat against the Empress Dowager, and Prince Bao was declared emperor at age 10.

The people had great expectations for Emperor Shun, whose reign followed his incompetent and violent father. However, while Emperor Shun’s personality was mild, he was just as incompetent as his father and corruption continued without abatement among eunuchs and officials. He also overly entrusted government to his wife Empress Liang Na’s father Liang Shang (梁商) – a mild-mannered man with integrity but little ability – and then Liang Shang’s son Liang Ji – a corrupt and autocratic man. In general, Emperor Shun’s reign was an improvement over his father’s, but this minor improvement was unable to stem the Eastern Han Dynasty’s continued decline.

Emperor Shun died at the age of 29 after reigning for 19 years. He was succeeded by his son Emperor Chong.

About this Portrait

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

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