Empress Ma Xiuying of Ming Dynasty — A Virtuous Queen and Her Great Love Story
Empress Ma (1332 — 1382), posthumous title Empress Xiaocigao, was one of the most highly respected queens in the history of China for her virtue, kindness, power, modesty, and benevolence.
She accompanied her husband from an ordinary soldier to an excellent monarch and played an essential role in establishing the Ming Empire.
A Well-Educated Girl Marrying to A Brave, Young Soldier
Empress Ma, named Ma Xiuying in some unofficial histories, was born into a wealthy family; as the only child of her parents, she was literate, elegant, polite, and exceptionally kind.
However, her mother passed away when she was little.
Later, her father was forced to escape from an enemy and had to entrust Ma to his best friend, Guo. Soon, her father passed away in other places too.
Her foster father, Guo, was wealthy and ambitious.
Seeing that many forces had started to rebel against the reign of the Yuan Dynasty (1271 — 1368), he also organized an army and occupied some cities as his military base.
Jade Horse of Ming — Capital Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Soon, Guo found that one of his soldiers, Zhu Yuanzhang was quite brave and intelligent, so he married his foster daughter Ma to this young man and promoted him.
Zhu Yuanzhang and Ma Xiuying had spent a happy life after, who always loved and respected each other.
Together, they had five sons (in official history documents) and two daughters and adopted nearly 30 children.
Most of them grew into exceptional generals that contributed significantly to the establishment of the Ming Dynasty.
Unearthed Gold Tablet, Carved with the Testament of Exceptional General Mu Ying the King of Qianning, the Adoptive Son of Empress Ma and Hongwu Emperor — Nanjing Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Great Love of Ma Xiuying and Zhu Yuanzhang
Ma’s husband, Zhu Yuanzhang, was an orphan suffering in a chaotic period who lived alone and used to beg for food for a long time.
After they married, Ma became the first person in the world who truly loved Zhu Yuanzhang, who had just gotten promoted.
Soon, because of Zhu Yuanzhang’s exceptional talent, he achieved more and more success and a good reputation among soldiers.
Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang's Self Description, Wrote on the Painting "Lin Weiyan Fang Mu Tu" of Artist Li Gongling (1049 — 1106) — Palace Museum
At the same time, he also encountered more jealousy from other generals in their army.
Later, Zhu Yuanzhang was imprisoned after being framed and not getting food for days.
During that captive period, Ma Xiuying always saved her meal, hid, and secretly sent them to her husband; even though some hot foods scalded her skin frequently, she never gave up.
Meanwhile, she gave most of the money that her father left her to her adoptive parents and others who might be helpful.
Finally, her husband was released safe and sound thanks to her efforts.
After Zhu Yuanzhang was free, he decided to recruit an army independently.
During the first few years, when he only had a few thousand soldiers and was surrounded by many aggressive enemies, they experienced quite a difficult time.
Even under that circumstance, unlike other armies, Zhu Yuanzhang commanded his soldiers to do farm work and supply themselves instead of expropriating food or resources from civilians.
Ma Xiuying started to make shoes and clothes for soldiers herself as well; soon, she donated all of her money and jewelry in exchange for daily uses of the army.
When Zhu Yuanzhang was injured, she carried him on her back until they arrived at a safer place, which saved his life in one of the most dangerous battles.
Their first son later drew this into a painting to memorize their great love.
Cavalry Army of the Ming Dynasty in the Painting "Ping Fan De Sheng Tu", Painted Around 1573－1620 － National Museum of China
The Perfect, Virtuous Empress Ma
When Zhu Yuanzhang established the Ming Dynasty and became the Hongwu Emperor, Ma Xiuying was nominated as the honorable Empress Ma.
She was still modest, frugal, and helpful, as always.
She refused the emperor’s awarding of noble titles to her ordinary family members, saying that a big, powerful clan of the queen was not good for a kingdom.
Meanwhile, as an honorable queen of a rich country, Empress Ma kept doing many things herself, like cooking and sewing.
She also taught her kids to stay modest and diligent and to remember their parents’ difficult struggles.
Consequently, her kids were well-educated and accomplished; none were spoiled, arrogant, or extravagant.
As a great wife, mother, and queen, she was perfect and took good care of everyone around, including all imperial concubines and their children.
Royal Nine-tasselled Crown (Jiu Liu Mian) of Prince Zhu Tan, the Son of An Imperial Concubine and Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang — Shandong Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Empress Ma As A Benevolent Savior
With the more remarkable achievements that Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang reached and the more power he gained, he became suspicious and outrageous.
He founded a secret imperial agency to monitor officials and fight against their corrupt activities or potential rebellions.
Throughout the history of China, Hongwu Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang was one of the strictest monarchs to officials.
He considered them as the servants of civilians and executed many of them for corruption, even though some just took a small number of bribes.
Lotus Shaped Purple Glaze Writing Brush Wash of Ming — Capital Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
During that time, Empress Ma was the only person that could influence his decisions.
Hongwu Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang trusted Empress Ma completely, who kept persuading him to stay calm, remember other people’s contributions, and see their bright sides.
Empress Ma often made the emperor change his commands and saved countless lives.
Hence, she was highly respected by her husband and kids, all officials and generals, and most civilians of the Ming Dynasty.
Part of the Painting (Qingming Shang He Tu) Along the River During the Qingming Festival, Genre Painting of the Suzhou City of the Ming Dynasty by Artist Qiu Ying (1497 — 1552) — Liaoning Museum
Depart of Empress Ma
When Empress Ma was seriously sick, she refused all types of sacrificial ceremonies to pray for her health or recovery.
She insisted that life and death are the law of nature, and there’s no need to waste money to try and go against them.
After having persuaded her husband to trust talented people, to stay kind and modest, and wished him a prosperous empire, many bright officials, and happy civilians, she passed away because of sickness when she was 50.
Jade Board of Ming Dynasty Decorated with Mountains and Rivers' Pattern — Shanghai Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Large numbers of civilians spontaneously attended her seeing-off funeral.
Nearly all the officials and civilians cried for her, let alone her beloved husband and other family members.
After her death, Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang hadn't nominated another queen.
Over a decade later, he passed away and was buried with his beloved wife.
Their mausoleum, the Xiaoling of Ming, is located in Nanjing city and is intact.
Rich and poor, dangerous and stable, life and death, they have never been separated from when she married him.
The Mausoleum of Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang and Empress Ma — Ming Xiao Ling in Nanjing City
You Might Also Like: