Empress Deng Sui — Beautiful Queen and Excellent Female Politician of the Eastern Han Dynasty

Deng Sui (81 — 121), respected as Empress Hexi, was a successful, influential monarch that brought people an excellent reign, and an extremely gorgeous queen whose beauty was documented in historical records.

After her husband departed at a young age and made her Empress Dowager in her 20s, she supported two young emperors and acted as a real monarch of the Eastern Han Dynasty

During 16 years of her reign, Deng Sui did a good job and proved everyone that a soft, beautiful woman could also be a powerful and outstanding monarch.

A Beautiful, Smart, and Humble Highborn Girl

Deng Sui was born into a noble and powerful family: her grandfather was one of the most trusted and contributive generals of Emperor Liu Xiu, her mother was a grandniece of Liu Xiu’s beloved queen Yin Lihua.

As such a highborn girl, Deng Sui was quite humble. Besides, compared to knitting and dressing up, she showed more passion for reading history and politics.

After she grew up, she became an imperial concubine of Liu Zhao (79 — 106), the Emperor He of Han. 

Her stunning beauty made the emperor fell in love with her at first sight, at the same time, made the current queen quite jealous.

Filigree Gold Dragon of the Eastern Han Dynasty Decorated with Gems — Dingzhou Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Being Humble as the Best Contention 

The current queen Yin (80 — 103), was another talented highborn girl that had a happy marriage with the emperor. 

After Deng Sui showed up in the royal palace, however, the emperor and other imperial concubines all showed more favor to her.

 

Hence, queen Yin became suspicious, angry, and arrogant, which gradually made the emperor get tired of her.

On the contrary, Deng Sui was quite humble and thoughtful. She showed great respect to the queen, and gained the support of almost everyone in the royal palace, from the emperor to maids and servants.

Deng Sui barely wore any fancy clothes, refused all the privileges that the emperor awarded her, and frequently claimed sick to make sure the emperor could spend more time with the queen and other concubines. 

The more perfect Deng Sui was, the more jealous and fidgety the queen Yin became.

Years later, someone reported to the emperor that the queen Yin and her mother tried to use sorcery to curse Deng. Soon, queen Yin was abolished, her father committed suicide, and her clan was expelled.

Imperial Jade Seal of Queens of the Han Dynasty —  Shaanxi History Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Deng Sui as the Perfect Queen

Afterward, everyone recommended Deng Sui to be the next queen, but she refused, under the reason of mourning the last queen and praying for the empire.

In the end, she finally accepted the queen’s crown when the third time the emperor begged her to be.

Then, Deng Sui became one of the most perfect queens in the history of China, who took very good care of everyone, cut off most of those luxury expenses of the royal palace, and never tried to empower her clan.

Unfortunately, her husband passed away at a young age, which made her became the empress dowager when she was only 20 years old. 

Her husband, Emperor Liu Zhao was an excellent sovereign that had spent lots of time fighting against his foster mother, the powerful empress dowager Dou, and her clan.

But he gave her the centralized power that he achieved after difficult fights because he trusted Deng Sui would be a loving adoptive mother of his baby son and an outstanding empress dowager of his empire. 

One of the most important reasons was that Deng Sui was a decent, trustworthy person, which made her excellent husband emperor believed that she would be different.

Jade Comb with Gold Decoration of the Eastern Han Dynasty — Metropolitan Museum of Art (Photo by Dongmaiying)

A Loving Empress Dowager and A Successful Politician

The next emperor, an a-few-months old baby, ascended to the throne and soon died when he was only one-year-old. Then, Deng Sui supported another 12-year-old prince as the next emperor.

Afterward, Deng Sui was in charge of the empire until she passed away. 

As a monarch, she was excellent and qualified.

She cut off many unnecessary expenses and lowered taxes. When a ten-year-long flood disaster happened and a nomadic regime attacked the empire, she handled those difficulties quite well.

She successfully led people to go through natural disasters, maintained peace in borders, and strictly punished corruption. 

In the end, the kingdom still further progressed, after having suffered a huge flood and long term wars. 

Painted Pottery Building of the Eastern Han Dynasty — Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Most importantly, Deng Sui constrained her clan very well.

As powerful as she was, people from her clan had quite behaved. Her brothers got political occupations based on their abilities, and none of them obtained paramount power like other empress dowagers’ relatives in the history of China.

Deng Sui also established a private school for people of her clan, teaching them to stay humble and polite.

During her reign period, her clan had never been very powerful, nor crossed the line; some of them even tried to hide from getting involved in politics and rejected honorable titles. 

As a perfect wife, she didn't fail her husband’s trust. She managed his empire well and left the next emperor with a prosperous kingdom that didn't have super powerful manipulative forces.

Empress Deng Sui Teaching Her Relatives to Behave Well, Painted by Artist Jiao Bingzhen of the Qing Dynasty — Palace Museum

Departure of Empress Deng Sui and Perishing of Her Clan

However, the emperor that Deng Sui supported was unhappy with her supervision and parenting style, though he had never challenged her because of her power and exceptional achievement.

Right after Deng Sui passed away, some greedy eunuchs framed up other people from Deng’s clan, and the emperor finally got the chance to express his dissatisfaction with Deng.

The Clan of Deng that obtained less power was easily perished by those eunuchs.

This new emperor Liu Hu (94 — 125), the Emperor An of Han used the eunuchs’ power to eliminate the House of Deng because of personal hatred; however, he couldn’t control the big eunuch group, nor bring the empire development. 

Since then, the eunuch group gradually occupied more power and started to manipulate politics, which severely declined the Han Dynasty, until it ended. 

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