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 Wudi 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 largely 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, polite, but extremely decisive and strong when a huge 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 the Beautiful queen of Han Dynasty

Wei Zifu's Encounter and Love with Emperor Wudi 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 Wudi of Han or Han Wudi, came to the princess’ place one day. 

Princess Pingyang, also the emperor’s sister, recommended many beautiful women to him, but he didn’t like any of them. 

Later, during their banquet, Emperor Wudi found a performing singer was extremely beautiful. 

Emperor Wudi of Han Liu Che

Liu Che the Emperor Wudi 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, Emperor Wudi forgot her completely until one year later when she met him again. After when 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 Emperor Wudi heard about this, he promoted Wei Qing as his guard. 

Bronze Light that can Channel Smoke and Disposal Gas into the Water in the Belly of the Wild Goose

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 Emperor Wudi. She then was promoted and more cherished by her emperor husband.

Years later, Emperor Wudi abolished his first queen for her arrogance, jealousy, and having tried to hurt Zifu using witchcraft.  

After 10 years together with Emperor Wudi, Wei Zifu gave birth to the emperor’s first baby boy and was awarded as the queen of the empire. This boy Liu Ju (128 BC — 91 BC) soon was 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 successes defeating Xiongnu (or the Huns) in battlefields.

Besides, her brother Wei Qing also married Princess Pingyang, their former master. 

Gilt Silver Incense Burner that Emperor Wudi Awarded to His Sister Princess Pingyang and Wei Qing

Gilt Silver Incense Burner that Emperor 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 Emperor Wudi 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, the crown prince Liu Ju, was also a very kind and smart person.

After Zifu’s powerful brother Wei Qing and nephew Huo Qubing all departed, many people tried to frame up the crown prince.

These people didn’t want Liu Ju to ascend the throne, because they planned to support other princes whom they were related to become the next emperor.

Once, a witch told Emperor Wudi that the reason for his sickness was that the capital city had been cursed by someone; 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 the queen Wei Zifu’s house, this evil person led other witches soon “found” that the crown prince Liu Ju was using the witchcraft to “curse” Emperor Wudi.

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 Emperor Wudi the “crime” that Liu Ju committed, in the meanwhile, trying to assassinate him and fake it as the suicide of fear. 

At that time, Liu Ju didn’t have time and opportunity to defend himself in front of his father, who was living far away from the capital city Changan at that time. 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.

Restoration Map of Wei Yang Gong in Changan City, the Royal Palace of the Han Dynasty. 

Counterattack in 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 less than a thousand guards.

So, Liu Ju armed tens of thousands of civilians living in the capital city to fight, using the weapons of the arsenal; those witches were killed and burnt to death.

But this was not the end.

When Emperor Wudi sent someone to investigate what was happening in the capital city 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

Inlaying Gold and Silver Bronze Crossbow (Nu Ji) of the Han Dynasty — Nanjing Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

The emperor was furious and sent a big army enclosed Chang'an city and to 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 a big tragedy, which had lasted for five days and took away large numbers of people's lives.

The crown prince Liu Ju failed and escaped out of Chang'an.

Unearthed Cavalry Figurines of the Western Han Dynasty — Xianyang Museum

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 as well, under the same reason as his mother, to show their faithfulness, and refuse to be humiliated. Liu Ju’s wife and concubines and all kids were murdered; his grandson, a newborn baby, was thrown into prison.

Their names were cleansed after Emperor Wudi published the first Edict of Introspection as a monarch in the history of China in two years later. 

Imperial Jade Seal of Queens of the Han Dynasty

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

Those who had involved in framing up the crown prince were all sentenced to death by Emperor Wudi; tens of thousands of lives were taken on this trial.

Emperor Wudi then built a palace to memorize their son Liu Ju, wishing his soul could forgive him and visit there sometimes.

Some people believed that Emperor Wudi did plan to weaken Wei Zifu’s powerful clan, to make sure 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 in the end. 

Others considered Emperor Wudi was just a cold blood monarch who did not want to lose any power and became fatuous in his late years.

Gold Ingot Unearthed From Mausoleum of Marquis Haihun (Haihunhou), A Grandson of Emperor Wudi 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 then became the most exceptional marshals of the history of China.

Huo Guang (? — 68 BC), the half brother of Huo Qubing, was empowered as a respected regent after Emperor Wudi passed away and assisted new emperors reigned the empire well.

Her great-grandson that 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

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, who has been highly praised in the official records of the history of China. Besides, she had never abused her power, nor took advantage of her strong clan.  

She was also quite brave and decisive when her son was framed up. When she knew the emperor, her beloved husband whom she lived half a century with, didn’t trust her anymore, she behaved quite calm and dignified.

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)