Wei Zifu of the Han Dynasty — From A Beautiful Slave Singer to Empress of Han
Wei Zifu (? — 91 BC), respected as Empress Xiao Wu Si or Wei Si Hou, was the second queen of Emperor Wu of Han.
From a beautiful slave singer to the honorable, legendary queen of the Han Dynasty, Wei Zifu brought the empire with two extraordinary generals that well-defended their kingdom and broadly extended Han’s territory, a remarkable regent that contributed significantly to stabilizing and developing Han’s governance, and an exceptional emperor that led the Han Empire reached its peak.
She was kind, benevolent, and polite but extraordinarily decisive and strong when a big crisis broke out.
In the end, she lost everything after brave battles, but she was also the first empress with an independent, honored posthumous title.
Wei Zifu's Encounter and Love with Emperor Wu of Han
Wei Zifu was born into a poor family and was selected to be a singer in Princess Pingyang's mansion when she was little.
The current emperor Liu Che (156 BC — 87 BC), respected as Emperor Wu of Han or Han Wudi, came to the princess' place one day.
Princess Pingyang, the emperor's sister, recommended many beautiful women to him, but he didn't like them.
Later, during their banquet, Emperor Wu found a performing singer extremely beautiful.
Liu Che the Emperor Wu of Han
Hence, this singer Wei Zifu served the emperor that night and later was taken to the royal palace, along with her brother Wei Qing.
However, Han Wudi forgot her entirely until she met him again one year later. After that, they spent more time together, and soon she got pregnant.
The current queen, who was the daughter of another very powerful princess, the cousin and childhood sweetheart of the emperor, got jealous and asked people to beat up Zifu’s brother Wei Qing.
After the emperor heard about this, he promoted Wei Qing as his guard.
Royal Painted Bronze Light of Han Dynasty that can Channel Smoke and Disposal Gas into the Water in the Belly of the Wild Goose — National Museum of China (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Wei Zifu As the Empress of the Han Dynasty
Soon, Wei Zifu gave birth to a beautiful princess, also the first child of Han Wudi. She was then promoted and more cherished by her emperor husband.
Years later, the emperor abolished his first queen for her arrogance, jealousy, and having tried to hurt Zifu using witchcraft.
After ten years with Han Wudi, Wei Zifu gave birth to the emperor’s first baby boy and was awarded the queen of the empire.
This boy Liu Ju (128 BC — 91 BC), was soon nominated as the crown prince.
Meanwhile, her brother Wei Qing and nephew Huo Qubing became exceptional heroes in the history of China who protected the country and achieved unprecedented success defeating the Xiongnu (or the Huns) on battlefields.
Besides, her brother Wei Qing married Princess Pingyang, their former master.
Gilt Silver Incense Burner that Han Wudi Awarded to His Sister Princess Pingyang and Wei Qing — Shaanxi History Museum
Wei Zifu’s clan became the most powerful and honorable one at that time, but she remained modest, elegant, polite, and respectful throughout the entire 38 years of her being the queen.
When she was older, some younger and prettier imperial concubines came to the royal palace, but the emperor always respected Zifu as his wife and honorable queen.
As a powerful empress, Wei Zifu never gave those beautiful young women hard times; instead, she treated them quite well.
Blue Glaze Decoration of the Han Dynasty — Changsha Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Political Attacks Toward Wei Zifu and the Crown Prince
Empress Wei Zifu's son, crown prince Liu Ju, was very kind and intelligent.
After Zifu's powerful brother Wei Qing and nephew Huo Qubing departed, many people tried framing up the crown prince.
These people didn't want Liu Ju to ascend to the throne because they planned to support other princes related to becoming the next emperor.
Once, a witch told Han Wudi that the reason for his sickness was that someone had cursed the capital city, so the emperor moved out of the capital and asked him to "find out" who did this.
After having carefully "searched" the entire royal palace, including queen Wei Zifu's house, this evil person led other witches and soon "found" that the crown prince Liu Ju was using witchcraft to "curse" the emperor.
Unearthed Amulet (Ya Sheng Pai) of the Han Dynasty that was Used to Curse Other People, Defeat Evilness, or To Pray for Good Luck — Hebei Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Then, they reported to Han Wudi the "crime" that Liu Ju committed, in the meanwhile, trying to assassinate him and fake it as a suicide out of fear.
At that time, Liu Ju didn't have time or opportunity to defend himself in front of his father, who was living far away from the capital city of Changan.
Soon, he was misled that his over 70 years old father had already departed.
Besides, many people from Wei Zifu's clan were already murdered by these evildoers under the name of "accomplice cursers", including her two daughters, the oldest son of her brother, general Wei Qing, her sister's family, and so on.
So, Liu Ju decided to fight back; however, the crown prince didn't have the right to command any army in the Han Dynasty.
Restoration Map of Wei Yang Gong in Changan City, the Royal Palace of the Han Dynasty.
Counterattack in A Desperate Situation
Under that circumstance, Wei Zifu used her queen's power to open the arsenal for her son, but she and Liu Ju only had fewer than a thousand guards.
So, Liu Ju armed tens of thousands of civilians living in the capital city to fight, using the arsenal's weapons; those witches were killed and burnt to death.
But this was not the end.
When the Emperor Wu of Han sent someone to investigate what was happening in the capital city of Chang'an, the insidious servant told the emperor that the crown prince rebelled for sure.
Inlaying Gold and Silver Bronze Crossbow (Nu Ji) of the Han Dynasty — Nanjing Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
The emperor was furious and sent a giant army to enclose Chang'an city and attack Liu Ju's forces.
Inside the city, those who didn't want Liu Ju to ascend to the throne were all trying their best to perish him and Wei Zifu by all means.
Consequently, this battle turned out to be an immense tragedy, which lasted for five days and took away many people's lives.
The crown prince Liu Ju failed and escaped from Chang'an.
Unearthed Cavalry Figurines of the Early Han Dynasty — Xianyang Museum
Heroic Departure with Honor
Queen Wei Zifu committed suicide after her queen’s seal was taken away, though the emperor didn’t command to banish her nor ask her to move out of the queen’s palace.
Her son, the former crown prince Liu Ju, committed suicide later for the same reason as his mother, to show their faithfulness, and refuse to be humiliated.
Liu Ju’s wife, concubines, and all kids were murdered; his grandson, a newborn baby, was thrown into prison.
Their names were cleansed after Han Wudi published the first Edict of Introspection as a monarch in the history of China two years later.
Imperial Jade Seal of Queens of the Han Dynasty — Shaanxi History Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Those who had been involved in framing up the crown prince were all sentenced to death by Han Wudi; tens of thousands of lives were taken on this trial.
The emperor then built a palace to memorize their son Liu Ju, wishing his soul could forgive him and visit there sometimes.
Some people believed that the emperor did plan to weaken Wei Zifu’s powerful clan to ensure they won’t manipulate politics much after Liu Ju ascended to the throne.
But he didn’t predict that he would lose his queen, crown prince, daughters, and grandchildren.
Others considered Han Wudi was just a cold-blood monarch who did not want to lose any power and became fatuous in his later years.
Gold Ingot Unearthed From Mausoleum of Marquis Haihun (Haihunhou), A Grandson of Emperor Wu of Han — Jiangxi Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Legendary, Perfect Queen Wei Zifu
Wei Zifu was one of the most influential queens of the Han Dynasty.
Because of her status, her brother Wei Qing and Nephew Huo Qubing had the opportunity to meet with the emperor and be given chances to become the most exceptional marshals in the history of China.
Huo Guang (? — 68 BC), the half-brother of Huo Qubing, was empowered as a respected regent after Emperor Wu of Han passed away and assisted new emperors in reigning the empire well.
Her great-grandson, who was thrown into prison, ascended to the throne as Emperor Xuan of Han (91 BC — 48 BC) a few decades later and became one of the most exceptional monarchs of the Han Dynasty. Under his reign, the Han Empire reached its peak.
Jade Cup of Emperor Xuan of Han — Xi'an Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Wei Zifu was lucky that she met and impressed the most powerful man at a very young and beautiful age.
She was modest, decent, kind, and cautious and has been highly praised in the official records of the history of China.
Besides, she had never abused her power nor taken advantage of her strong clan.
She was also quite brave and decisive when her son was framed.
When she knew the emperor, her beloved husband, whom she had lived with for half a century, didn’t trust her anymore, she behaved calmly and dignifiedly.
Her legendary life was documented in history, with no mysteries or unsolved puzzles, just like herself, bright and magnanimous.
Gilding Copper Wine Cup (Er Bei) and Its Shelf of the Han Dynasty — Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Next Story: Slave Born Great Marshal Who Defeated the Huns — Wei Qing
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