Empress Ma (Empress Xiaocigao)
Empress Xiaocigao, commonly known as Empress Ma (Chinese: 孝慈高皇后; 馬皇后), was a significant figure during the Ming dynasty, holding the esteemed position of empress consort. Married to the Hongwu Emperor, she was not only his spouse but also his trusted political adviser, wielding substantial influence during his tenure. Born Ma Xiuying in Suzhou (宿州) into a life of poverty, her early years were marked by challenges. Her mother died when she was young, and she had to flee with her father to Dingyuan in Anhui Province after he committed a crime. Fate led her father to befriend Guo Zixing, the founder of the Red Turban army. Upon her father’s death, Guo adopted her and subsequently arranged her marriage in 1352 to one of his officers, Zhu Yuanzhang, who would later ascend to the throne as the Hongwu Emperor.
Empress Ma was more than a traditional consort; she was deeply involved in both the political and military spheres of her husband’s reign. As Zhu Yuanzhang embarked on various military campaigns, she was by his side, offering both care and strategic support. When he led his forces across the Yangtze River, she was left in charge of Hezhou. Demonstrating remarkable leadership, she consoled the families of soldiers and encouraged the remaining troops to stand their ground and protect the city.
One of her most commendable acts of valor occurred during the Battle of Lake Poyang in 1363. As the troops faced a formidable challenge from the forces of Chen Youliang, a sense of panic and fear gripped the ranks. Recognizing the gravity of the situation, Empress Ma took decisive action. She distributed precious goods among the soldiers, a gesture that bolstered their spirits and motivated them to continue the fight. Her contributions to the Ming dynasty and her unwavering support for her husband solidify her legacy as a pivotal figure in Chinese history.
Spouse: Emperor Hongwu of Ming
The Hongwu Emperor, Zhu Yuanzhang, founded the Ming dynasty, reigning from 1368 to 1398. Rising from leading the Red Turban forces during a time of famine, plagues, and peasant revolts, he overthrew the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty, claiming the Mandate of Heaven. His era marked political reforms, including the abolition of the chancellor position, reduction of eunuch influence, and harsh anti-corruption measures. Tolerant of minorities and religions, he ordered the construction of mosques and praised Islam. The Hongwu Emperor’s reign featured cruel purges, draconian punishments, and massacres against dissent. He prioritized agricultural development, reduced taxes, protected peasants’ property, and sought to rebuild a war-torn country with strict social controls, establishing a regimented society of self-sufficient farming communities.