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

Deng Sui (81 — 121), respected as Empress Hexi, was a successful, influential monarch who brought people an excellent reign and an incredibly 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 an absolute monarch of the Eastern Han Dynasty

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

Beautiful Queen Deng Sui of the Eastern Han Dynasty

A Beautiful and Intelligent Highborn Girl

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

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

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

Her stunning beauty captivated the emperor at first sight, arousing jealousy in the current queen.

Filigree Gold Dragon of the Eastern Han Dynasty Decorated with Gems

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

Humility as the Ultimate Contention

The current Empress Yin (80 — 103) was another talented highborn girl who enjoyed a blissful 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, Empress Yin became suspicious, angry, and arrogant, gradually making the emperor 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 fancy clothes, refused all the privileges the emperor awarded her, and frequently claimed sick to ensure the emperor could spend more time with the queen and other concubines. 

The more perfectly Deng Sui behaved, the more jealous and fidgety Empress Yin became.

Years later, someone reported to the emperor that Empress Yin and her mother tried to use sorcery to curse Deng.


Soon, Empress Yin was abolished, her father committed suicide, and her clan was expelled.

Imperial Jade Seal of Queens of the Han Dynasty

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 for the reason of mourning the last queen and praying for the empire.

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

Then, Deng Sui became one of the perfect queens in the history of China; she took excellent care of everyone, cut off most of the 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 become 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 he achieved after brutal 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 believe she would be different.

Jade Comb with Gold Decoration of the Eastern Han Dynasty

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-month-old baby, ascended to the throne and 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 flood disaster happened, and a nomadic regime attacked the empire, she handled those difficulties quite well.

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

Ultimately, the kingdom progressed after suffering a big flood and long-term wars. 

Painted Pottery Building of the Eastern Han Dynasty

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, individuals from her clan maintained relatively modest behavior. Her brothers secured political positions based on their abilities, yet none of them attained paramount power like the relatives of other empress dowagers in history.

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

During her reign, her clan never wielded significant power or overstepped boundaries; some even sought to avoid involvement in politics altogether and declined 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

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

Departure of Empress Deng and the Decline 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.

After Deng Sui passed away, some greedy eunuchs framed up other people from Deng’s clan, and the emperor finally expressed his dissatisfaction with Deng.

The Clan of Deng that obtained less power quickly 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 gained more power and began manipulating politics, contributing to the severe decline of the Han Dynasty until its eventual end.

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