Wei dynasty

Guo Nüwang

Guo Nüwang (184 – 14 March 235), formally known as Empress Wende, was an empress of the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period of China. She was married to Cao Pi, the first emperor of Wei.

Her Story

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Guo Nüwang’s father Guo Yong (郭永) came from a line of minor local officials. When she was young, she was known for her intelligence, and her father, impressed by her talent, gave her the unusual style name “Nüwang” (literally “queen regnant”). Her parents died when she was five, however, and she became a servant at the household of one Marquis of Tongdi. It is not known how it came about, but she eventually became a concubine of Cao Pi when he was the heir apparent of the vassal kingdom of Wei under his father Cao Cao.

She quickly became a favorite – so much so that he began to neglect his wife Empress Luoshen (Lady Zhen), who was also known for her beauty.

Guo Nüwang gave Cao Pi shrewd political advice during the succession controversy that pitted Cao Pi against his brothers. Her biography goes further to state that when Cao Pi was finally designated heir, Guo Nuwang had a hand in planning it. Empress Luoshen (Lady Zhen) eventually lost Cao Pi’s favor altogether by complaining that he favored other women over her, and after he became emperor of Cao Wei in late 220 (after forcing Emperor Xian of Han to abdicate to him), he forced Empress Luoshen (Lady Zhen) to commit suicide in August 221. In October 222, he made Lady Guo empress.

After Guo Nüwang became empress, she was said to have been a good leader of the imperial consorts, treating them well and disciplining them appropriately when they acted improperly, while hiding their faults from Cao Pi. She also appeared to have lived thriftily. Also, in 226, at the urging of her mother-in-law Empress Dowager Bian, she interceded on Cao Hong’s behalf, allowing Cao Hong to be spared his life even though Cao Pi had previous grudges against him.

Empress Guo had no sons or recorded children. Cao Pi’s eldest son Cao Rui, by Lady Zhen, was therefore considered the presumptive heir, but because of his mother’s fate was not created crown prince, but only Prince of Pingyuan. (He was inconsistently described as having been raised by Empress Guo or by Cao Pi’s concubine Consort Li.) While she was empress, she apparently had a cordial relationship with Cao Rui. There was no evidence that she opposed his candidacy when Cao Pi, seriously ill in 226, created him crown prince. Cao Pi died soon after, and Cao Rui ascended the throne.

Her Spouse

Cao Pi (c.late 187 – 29 June 226), courtesy name Zihuan, was the first emperor of the state of Cao Wei in the Three Kingdoms period of China. He was the second son of Cao Cao, a warlord who lived in the late Eastern Han dynasty, but the eldest son among all the children born to Cao Cao by his concubine (later wife), Lady Bian. According to some historical records, he was often in the presence of court officials in order to gain their support. He was mostly in charge of defense at the start of his career. After the defeat of Cao Cao’s rival Yuan Shao at the Battle of Guandu, he took Yuan Xi’s widow, Luo Shen (also known as Lady Zhen), as a concubine, but Empress Luo Shen died and Guo Nüwang became empress.

About this Portrait

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

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