Empress Zhangsun (長孫皇后, personal name unknown, presumably Wugou (無垢) (15 March 601 – 28 July 636), formally Empress Wendeshunsheng (文德順聖皇后, literally “the civil, virtuous, serene, and holy empress”) or, in short, Empress Wende (文德皇后), was a Chinese essayist and an empress of the Chinese Tang dynasty. She was the wife of Emperor Taizong and the mother of Emperor Gaozong. She was well-educated, and her ancestors were of Xianbei ethnicity. Their original surname was Tuoba, later changed to Zhangsun. During her tenure as empress, she served as a loyal assistant and honest advisor to her husband, Emperor Taizong.
As Princess of Qin and crown princess
In 617, Li Yuan, aided by Li Shimin and his older brother Li Jiancheng, among others, rebelled at Taiyuan (太原, in modern Taiyuan, Shanxi), and later that year captured the capital Chang’an, declaring Emperor Yang’s grandson Yang You the Prince of Dai emperor (as Emperor Gong). In 618, after news arrived that Emperor Yang had been killed in a coup at Jiangdu (江都, in modern Yangzhou, Jiangsu) led by the general Yuwen Huaji, Li Yuan had Yang You yield the throne to him, thus establishing the Tang Dynasty. Li Yuan became the first Tang ruler, Emperor Gaozu. He appointed his son, Li Shimin, as the Prince of Qin, his wife as the Princess of Qin. The couple would eventually have three sons – Li Chengqian, Li Tai, and Li Zhi – and at least three daughters, who were later named Princesses Changle, Jinyang, and Xincheng.
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As empress, Empress Zhangsun was said to be frugal and humble, taking only the supplies that she needed without living luxuriously. When Li Chengqian’s wet nurse Lady Sui’an stated that his palace lacked sufficient goods and requested more, she replied, “All a crown prince should worry about is not having enough virtues or enough fame. Why worry about not having enough goods?” It was also said that she rarely got angry with the ladies in waiting and eunuchs who served her. She often gave Emperor Taizong examples from history to inspire him to rule better, and if there was a problem with the decision of Emperor Taizong about the administration, or for the officials and officers, she respectfully asked her to change the decision. Her influence over him was such that she interceded on behalf of condemned criminals and changed his harmful decisions with gentle counsel. At times, if Emperor Taizong got angry at the ladies in waiting or eunuchs for no reason, she would pretend to be angry as well and ask to personally interrogate them and hold them in custody; she would then wait until his anger had subsided, and then begin to plead on their behalf, thus reducing improper punishments within the palace. It was said that whenever Emperor Taizong’s concubines or ladies-in-waiting would be ill, she would personally visit them and reduce her own expenditures to treat them.
She died in 636. After she died, the palace authorities submitted Empress Zhangsun’s writings—a 30-volume work titled Examples for Women (女則, Nü Ze), and a commentary criticizing Han Dynasty’s Empress Ma – to Emperor Taizong. When Emperor Taizong read her works, he was greatly saddened, and he stated:
This book, written by the empress, is capable of being an example to generations. It is not that I do not know the will of heaven and mourn uselessly, but now, when I enter the palace, I can no longer hear her corrective words. I have lost a wonderful help, and I cannot forget her.
He summoned Fang back to his chancellor position, and then he buried her with honors due to an empress, but reduced the expenditures as much as possible, as she wished. He himself would eventually be buried at the same tomb, after his own death in 649.
Spouse: Emperor Huan of Han
Emperor Taizong of Tang (28 January 598 – 10 July 649), previously Prince of Qin, personal name Li Shimin, was the second emperor of the Tang dynasty of China, ruling from 626 to 649. He is traditionally regarded as a co-founder of the dynasty for his role in encouraging Li Yuan, his father, to rebel against the Sui dynasty at Jinyang in 617. Taizong subsequently played a pivotal role in defeating several of the dynasty’s most dangerous opponents and solidifying its rule over China.