Empress Zhang (/dʒæŋ/; Chinese: 張皇后, personal name unknown; died May 16, 762) was an empress of the Chinese Tang dynasty. She was the second wife of Emperor Suzong and gained great power and influence during his reign, in alliance with the eunuch Li Fuguo; both together successfully launched many vicious plots against their opponents and influenced the power of the emperor. but eventually, she and Li Fuguo turned against each other late in Emperor Suzong’s reign, as the emperor grew gravely ill and they both wanted to take sole control of the power on the throne and choose their favorite candidate to succeed to the throne. Zhang tried to have Li Fuguo put to death, but instead was captured and killed by Li Fuguo and was posthumously demoted to commoner rank by Emperor Daizong.
The future Empress Zhang’s family was originally from Deng Prefecture (鄧州, roughly modern Nanyang, Henan). Her grandmother Lady Dou was a younger sister of Consort Dou, a concubine of Emperor Ruizong, whose son Li Longji later became emperor (as Emperor Xuanzong). Consort Dou was put to death by Emperor Ruizong’s mother Wu Zetian in 693, while Li Longji was just eight. Lady Dou spent much time raising Li Longji, and later, after Emperor Ruizong returned to the throne in 710, he created Lady Dou the Lady of Deng and honored her greatly. Her sons Zhang Quhuo (張去惑), Zhang Quyí (張去疑), Zhang Qushe (張去奢), Zhang Quyì (張去逸, note different tone than his brother), and Zhang Quying (張去盈) all became key officials, and Zhang Quyì would become the father of the future Empress Zhang.
As princely consort
During Emperor Xuanzong’s Tianbao era (742-756), the future Empress Zhang was selected to be a concubine for Emperor Xuanzong’s son and crown Prince Li Heng, and she carried the title of Liangdi, the highest rank for the Crown Prince’s concubines. It was said that after he was forced to divorce his wife Crown Princess Wei in 746, she became his favorite consort. She was said to be intelligent and well-spoken, and she knew how to please him.
As imperial consort
Soon after Li Heng arrived in Lingwu, the officials and generals there urged him to take the throne, and he did (as Emperor Suzong). He considered creating Consort Zhang empress, but at the advice of his key advisor Li Mi, decided that it was inappropriate to do so before he had a chance to seek the approval of Emperor Xuanzong (whom he honored as Taishang Huang (retired emperor)). Meanwhile, however, around this time Emperor Xuanzong sent her a saddle with seven kinds of jewels studded on it as a gift. Li Mi opined that in difficult times, it would be inappropriate for her to use such a luxurious item, and therefore suggested instead that the jewels be removed and rewarded to those soldiers with accomplishments. Emperor Suzong agreed—and Li Tan publicly praised the decision, causing Consort Zhang to thereafter bear much resentment toward Li Mi and Li Tan. Meanwhile, she entered into an alliance with Emperor Suzong’s trusted eunuch Li Fuguo, and together the two became powerful inside the palace, purportedly carrying out many misdeeds. Li Tan considered trying to kill them, and despite Li Mi’s advice to the contrary, Li Tan did not stop his planning. In 757, Consort Zhang and Li Fuguo struck first, accusing Li Tan of plotting to kill his older brother Li Chu the Prince of Guangping, and Emperor Suzong, believing their accusation, forced Li Tan to commit suicide. This caused Li Chu and Li Mi to be fearful of her as well, although at Li Mi’s urging, Li Chu did not try to kill them. Later that year, after a joint Tang-Huige force recaptured Chang’an under Li Chu’s command, she was resentful of Li Chu’s accomplishment and therefore spread rumors about Li Chu. Li Mi took this opportunity to resign to become a hermit, but before doing so, urged Emperor Suzong strongly not to listen to false accusations against Li Chu.
After Empress Zhang became empress, she tried to have her son Li Shao, who was said to be only a few years old, made crown prince. As empress, Zhang’s ambition rose higher and she aspired to be like Empress Wu and Empress Wei, who dominated the reigns of their husbands, listened to politics through a curtain at court, and manipulated the government to their liking. But she was unable to convince Emperor Suzong to allow her to listen to politics beside him in the court with a curtain, so she did not have full and direct control over the government. However, she was able to interfere in the government in every way and exert her power with Li Fuguo’s help. Emperor Suzong, who favored Li Chu as crown prince, could not decide immediately, but after consulting with the official Li Kui, he created Li Chu crown prince later in 758 and changed Li Chu’s name to Li Yu. She nevertheless thereafter tried to have Li Yu replaced with Li Shao, but after Li Shao died in 760, because Li Tong was even younger, Li Yu’s position was secure.
On May 14, Empress Zhang issued an order in Emperor Suzong’s name, summoning Li Yu. Cheng found out and informed Li Fuguo, who intercepted Li Yu at the palace gate and then escorted him to the camp of the imperial guards under Li Fuguo’s command. The guards under LI Fuguo’s command then entered the palace and arrested Empress Zhang and Li Xi; the other eunuchs and ladies in waiting fled, leaving Emperor Suzong without care. On May 16 Emperor Suzong died, and Li Fuguo thereafter executed Empress Zhang and Li Xi, as well as Li Xian the Prince of Yan, and then declared Li Yu emperor (as Emperor Daizong). Many of her associates were executed, while Zhang Qing, Zhang Qian, and her uncle Dou Lüxin (竇履信) were exiled. She was posthumously demoted to commoner rank.
Spouse: Emperor Suzong of Tang
Emperor Suzong of Tang (yihai day, 711 – 16 May 762; r. 756 – 762), personal name Li Heng, né Li Sisheng (李嗣升), known as Li Jun (李浚) from 725 to 736, known as Li Yu (李璵) from 736 to 738, known briefly as Li Shao (李紹) in 738, was an emperor of the Tang dynasty and the son of Emperor Xuanzong. Suzong ascended the throne after his father fled to Sichuan during the An Lushan Rebellion in 756; Li Heng himself had fled in the opposite direction, to Lingwu, where he was declared emperor by the army. Much of Emperor Suzong’s reign was spent in quelling the aforementioned rebellion, which was ultimately put down in 763 during the reign of his son Emperor Daizong.