Southern dynasty

Yuan Qigui 袁齐妫

Yuan Qigui, formally Empress Yuan, was an empress of the Chinese Liu Song dynasty. Born to official Yuan Dan and Lady Wang, her low-status mother kept her existence a secret until she was four or five. Yuan Qigui married Liu Yilong, then the Prince of Yidu, and they had two children: Liu Shao and Liu Ying’e. After the deposition and death of Emperor Shao in 424, Liu Yilong ascended the throne as Emperor Wen, creating Yuan Qigui empress in October of that year.

Empress Yuan initially enjoyed favor, but Emperor Wen’s affection shifted to Consort Pan. To test his feelings, Empress Yuan asked Consort Pan to request a significantly larger sum of money than she had been receiving. Emperor Wen approved the request, leading to Empress Yuan’s resentment. She grew distant from the emperor, refused to see her stepchildren, and fell ill in 440. When Emperor Wen visited her inquiring about her final wishes, she covered her face and passed away. Emperor Wen mourned her deeply and commissioned a beautiful ode in her honor, composed by the talented writer Yan Yanzhi.

Artist’s Note

“我是宋文帝刘义隆的皇后袁齐妫。生了一个儿子。我流着泪说,此儿相貌生得凶险,臣妾略知相术,知他将来必破家之国,不如趁早溺杀,以免后患。文帝一听大惊失色, 连连摇手道, 至亲骨肉,怎忍杀害。我母亲是出身低微的待妾,没有资格被皇家看中的。后来我长大了,长成十分端庄秀美的少女。才成为皇家选美的对象。刘义隆很爱我,恩礼甚笃,册为皇后后,文帝仍宠幸不变。文帝素好节俭,我也能注意节省。只是母亲家贫寒,每次像文帝索取钱帛以济母家,文帝虽然每次都答应但是不肯多给。后来文帝又选了一位绝色美人潘淑妃。不仅美,而且善于媚谄,大得文帝宠爱,对她百依百顺。我假装生病,终日卧床,不愿同文帝相见。没想弄假成真,临终前,我含着眼泪,注视着宋文帝。含恨長逝。终年36岁。”

Emperor Wen of Song 宋文帝

Emperor Wen of Liu Song, born Liu Yilong, was the third son of Emperor Wu (Liu Yu), the dynastic founder. He ascended to the throne in 424 after a group of officials deposed his elder brother, Emperor Shao, whom they deemed unfit to rule. During his 29-year reign, known as the “Yuanjia administration,” Emperor Wen continued his father’s policies, fostering prosperity and strength through diligent governance and the appointment of capable officials. However, his repeated failed attempts to attack the rival Northern Wei weakened his state. In 453, angered by his crown prince’s alleged use of witchcraft against him, Emperor Wen planned to depose him. The plan was leaked, leading to a coup by the crown prince, who assassinated Emperor Wen.

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