A Tragic Princess of the Song Dynasty and Her Controversial Counterfeit

Zhao Duofu (1112 — about 1142), respected as Princess Roufu or Roufu Diji, was a noble princess of the Song Dynasty

She spent her childhood happily and elegantly in a fantastic palace and was supposed to marry a noble and talented man and spend an affluent, carefree life together.

However, the tragic Incident of Jingkang changed everything. 

Princess Duofu and her entire family were captured, humiliated, and tortured cruelly by their enemy. 

When she was suffering as a captive, however, another “con woman” stole Duofu’s identity and lived a luxurious life as a noble princess.

Noble Princess Roufu in A Catastrophic War

Duofu was the daughter of Emperor Zhao Ji (or the Emperor Huizong of Song) (1082 — 1135), an extremely talented artist, but was an incapable monarch. 

In the year 1126, the Jurchen Jin Dynasty invaded Song. Zhao Ji immediately abdicated the throne to his oldest son Zhao Huan, the Emperor Qinzong of Song (1100 — 1156), another incompetent monarch.  

Under Zhao Ji and Zhao Huan’s absurd commands, strong generals and officials were abolished, while absurd suggestions were implemented. 

About one year later, the Song’s fabulous capital city was occupied, large numbers of treasures were taken away or burnt down.

The princess and her entire royal clan, and large numbers of civilians were captured.

Part of the Painting (Qingming Shang He Tu) Along the River During the Qingming Festival
Genre Painting of the Capital City (Bianjing or Kaifeng) of the Song Dynasty,  by Artist Zhang Zeduan (1085 — 1145) — The Palace Museum

Duofu was the oldest (17 years old), unmarried princess at that time, so she was offered to the King of Jin.

But the king didn’t like her much, so she was sent to do laundry for years, after being humiliated for several times.

Years later, she was enslaved by another powerful lord of the nomadic regime, who got tired of her and soon assigned her to marry to an official of Song who was also captured during that war. 

Duofu and her husband lived a poverty life since after.

A sachet of Song Dynasty — Nanjing Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Establishment of the Southern Song Dynasty

When the whole royal family was captured to Jin northward, prince Zhao Gou was the only one that got escaped.  

Zhao Gou (1107 — 1187) was the ninth son of Emperor Zhao Ji, and he volunteered to be a hostage in Jin Dynasty when Jin and Song signed their first truce pact. 

Hence, Zhao Gou was in another city when Jin teared up the pact, occupied Song’s capital city, and enslaved Song’s entire royal family and tens of thousands of civilians. 

Hearing this tragedy, Zhao Gou escaped to southern China, summoned all of the Song’s forces, and established another empire also named Song, but with a smaller territory. 

Part of Painting Thousands Miles of Mountains and Rivers (Qian Li Jiang Shan Tu), By Emperor Zhao Ji’s Student Wang Ximeng (1096 — 1119) — The Palace Museum

Showing Up of Another Princess Roufu in the South

Three years after Zhao Gou, now the Emperor Gaozong of Song, built the new empire, some soldiers reported that they found a former princess. 

This woman claimed that she was Zhao Duofu, the former Princess Roufu. 

She knew all things and people from the royal family, and according to some former maids and eunuchs, she looked quite like Duofu as well. 

She told people that she escaped from the Jin Dynasty, suffered countless difficulties, got captured by some Song’s soldiers, and then finally got the chance to speak to the new emperor. 

Unearthed Blue Glass Decorations (Die Sheng) of Southern Song Dynasty, Homophone of Wishing to Take Back the Two Captured Emperors and Lost Land — Quzhou Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Zhao Gou and Duofu had different birth mothers and used to live in different palaces, so they were not quite familiar with each other before.  

But now, Duofu, if she’s real, was his only relative in the new empire. 

After careful investigations, everyone believed that this woman is the real princess Duofu. 

Soon, Duofu recovered her noble title, married to a talented, noble husband, and lived a wealthy, comfortable life. 

Flower Shaped Gold Cup (Zhan) of Southern Song Dynasty — Sichuan Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Returning of the Empress Dowager and Her Testimony

About a decade later, Zhao Gou executed great general Yue Fei and sued for peace with the Jin Dynasty after signing an unfair treaty. 

Afterward, Jin sent back Zhao Gou’s birth mother, together with his father Zhao Ji’s coffin. 

His birth mother Wei (? — 1090), respected as Empress Xianren after finally reunited with her son Zhao Gou, she pointed out that the Princess Roufu was a fake.

She told the emperor that the real Duofu had already died in the Jin Dynasty. 

Zhao Gou was furious and commanded to interrogate Duofu and those who proved she was the real princess. 

Later, those former imperial maids and eunuchs that proved this Duofu was the real princess all changed their minds; they claimed that they were not very sure, after such a long time.

This Duofu, in the end, admitted that her real name was Jing Shan (or Fa Jing), who had met with one of Duofu’s former maid before. The maid said that Jing looked like the former princess, and told her many stories of the royal family. 

Afterward, this "Princess Roufu", and everyone involved, were all executed. 

Ganoderma Shaped Crystal Hairpin (Zan) of Song Dynasty — Nanjing Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Suspicions and Gossips About Empress Dowager Wei 

Wei then spent a very wealthy and comfortable life as the empress dowager, until she passed away old. 

However, there were also some rumors of her captive life in the Jin Dynasty, including that she had remarried to a lord of Jin, shared the lord with Duofu, and she even had kids with the lord, etc. 

If those gossips were true, Duofu would be the only one that knew about Wei’s detailed history.

Hence, many people believed that the executed Duofu was real, and Wei needed her shameful history to be buried for good. 

Bamboo Bird Painting (Zhu Qin Tu), By Emperor Zhao Ji — Metropolitan Museum of Art

The counterfeit Duofu had lived in the Southern Song for about 12 years. 

During these 12 years, her talented, artsy brother Emperor Zhao Gou never found her inappropriate. Her smart husband, other nobles, officials, and former imperial servants, no one ever doubted Duofu’s authenticity. 

A noble princess that born and raised in the royal palace and a civilian born woman, their behavior, manner, speech, all should be quite different. 

But this Duofu made everyone believed that she was the daughter of artistic emperor Zhao Ji, the honored princess of Song; except for Empress Dowager Wei, who had also been captured and lived in the Jin Dynasty for a long time.  

Died in the Jin Dynasty or had been executed to protect Empress Dowager Wei’s reputation, either way, the Princess Duofu had always been a huge victim that could not control her fate. 

Painting of Lady Guoguo (Sister of Yang Guifei of the Tang Dynasty) Spring Outing, By Emperor Zhao Ji — Liaoning Museum

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