Empress Dowager Bo

Empress Dowager Bo
Consort Bo
Empress Dowager of China
Reign 180 BC - 157 BC
Grand Empress Dowager of China
Reign 157 BC - 155 BC
Predecessor Empress Lü Zhi
Successor Empress Dou
Spouse Wei Bao, Prince of Western Wei
Emperor Gaozu of Han
Emperor Wen of Han
Posthumous name
Empress Gao 高皇后
Father Lord Bo, Marquess of Linwen
Mother Lady Wei, Marchioness of Linwen
Died 155 BC

Empress Dowager Bo (薄太后), known as Consort Bo (薄姬) when her husband was alive, and more formally as either Empress Dowager Xiaowen (孝文太后) or (rarer) Empress Gao (高皇后) (died 155 BC) was an imperial concubine for Emperor Gao of Han (Liu Bang) who would, unanticipated by her, become the mother of an emperor.


Early years

The future Empress Dowager Bo's father, Gentleman Bo (薄翁), came from Wu County (吳縣, in modern Suzhou, Jiangsu). He had an adulterous affair with a Lady Wei (魏媼), the daughter of a member of the Wei royal family. Empress Dowager Bo was born of this union.

According to Chinese historical works except the Book of Han, Lady Bo was, when she was young, the prettiest concubine of Wei Bao (魏豹), the Prince of Wei. Wei Bao was once allied with Gaozu of Han to defeat Xiang Yu's force, but later betrayed Liu Bang by defecting to Xiang Yu's camp. Unlike other defectors who switched side again at the Liu Bang's final victory over Xiang Yu by rejoining Liu Bang, Wei Bao remain loyal to Xiang Yu to the end. After Han Xin conquered Wei, Wei Bao and his entire family were brough in front of Liu Bang waiting to be executed. It was too late for Wei Bao to regret and his begging was ignored until he noticed that Liu Bang could not take his eyes off Lady Bo. Utilizing this opportunity, Wei Bao managed successfully to have his life spared by Liu Bang by giving Lady Bo to Gaozu of Han as his concubines. Historical records did not provide the information on whether other members of Wei Bao's family were spared as well, but it was likely the case.

However, Lady Bo was not much favored, and after only one occasion of sexual relationship, Liu Bang never saw her again. However, that rare occasion of Liu Bang had sexual relations with her was enough to make her pregnant and bore him Prince Liu Heng, and when Liu Bang heard the news, he made Prince Liu Heng the Prince of Dai, after he declared himself emperor. The birth of her son elevated her status from Lady Bo to Consort Bo, and unlike many other concubines, was not confined to the palace, but accompanied her son to the remote Principality of Dai (modern northern Shanxi and northwestern Hebei) to be the princess dowager. Dai was not a rich domain to begin with, and on top of that, the region was under constant threats and attacks from Xiongnu. Although Consort Bo could not live a luxurious lifestyle as the princess dowagers (for her son would not either later when he became an emperor), she still managed to have a relatively comfortable life. Nonetheless, Consort Bo had to work in the occupation she previously had, as a seamstress to help out. (According to the Book of Han, Lady Bo returned to her previous occupation as a seamstress when on one occasion when Liu Bang, then the Prince of Han, saw her among the group of seamstresses, he made her one of his concubines. But all of the rest of the story depicted in the Book of Han is same as other Chinese historical works). Such rather difficult living conditions in comparison to other consorts had an unexpected benefit: unlike other consorts who became Empress Lü Zhi's victims due to her jealousy, Empress Lü Zhi was very sympathetic to Consort Bo and frequently sent financial helps, partially because Lady Bo and her son posed no threat to Empress Lü Zhi's quest of power.

Rise to the top

In 180 BC, after the death of her mistress, Emperor Gao's wife Grand Empress Dowager Lü, and after the officials then slaughtered the Lü clan, they offered the throne to Prince Heng over his nephew Emperor Houshao -- whom they accused of not being imperial blood. Prince Heng consulted Princess Dowager Bo, who could not decide either. It was later, after they dispatched Princess Dowager Bo's brother Bo Zhao (薄昭) to the capital Chang'an to observe the situation and to ascertain the officials' good faith that Prince Heng chose to accept the throne.

Later years

After Prince Heng took the throne as Emperor Wen, Princess Dowager Bo was honored as empress dowager, even though she had not previously been an empress. She was largely unassuming as empress dowager, and did not exert anywhere close to the influence that Empress Dowager Lü asserted over Emperor Hui or even her daughter-in-law, Empress Dou, would later assert over her grandson Emperor Jing. The one major instance in which she asserted her influence was in 176 BC. At that time, Zhou Bo (周勃), who had been instrumental in Emperor Wen's becoming emperor and who had by that time retired to his march, was falsely accused of treason and arrested. Empress Dowager Bo, believing in Zhou's innocence, famously threw her scarf at Emperor Wen, stating:

Before you became emperor, Zhou was in control of the imperial seal, and commanded the powerful northern guards. How ridiculous is it that he did not commit treason then, but now plans to use his small march as the base for a rebellion?

It was at least partly due to her influence that Emperor Wen eventually released Zhou.

She either did not try to intercede similarly (as appears more likely) or was ineffective in her intercession, when her brother Bo Zhao killed an imperial messenger -- a crime far more serious than ordinary murder -- in 170 BC. Even though Bo Zhao was her only sibling, Emperor Wen, although not having the heart to execute him publicly, eventually pressed him into committing suicide.

Empress Dowager Bo married one of her relatives' daughter to her grandson, then-Crown Prince Qi, during her son's reign. After Emperor Wen died in 157 BC and Crown Prince Qi succeeded him as Emperor Jing, Empress Dowager Bo became grand empress dowager. There was no recorded instance of her trying to assert political influence after that. She died in 155 BC. (This would prove disastrous for Empress Bo, Emperor Jing's wife, as she, now without support, was soon deposed.)

After she died, she was enshrined in a temple of her own, not in her husband's temple, because only one empress could be enshrined in an emperor's temple, and Empress Lü was already enshrined in Emperor Gao's temple. However, later, during Emperor Guangwu's reign, he effectively reversed their positions by enshrining Empress Dowager Bo as "Empress Gao" and demoting Empress Dowager Lü to a separate temple.


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Empress Dowager Ci'an — 孝贞显皇后(慈安太后) Regent of the Qing Dynasty Regency 11 November 1861 – 8 April 1881 ( 1 …   Wikipedia

  • Empress dowager — (Chinese: 皇太后; Chinese pinyin: Húang Tài Hòu, Korean pronunciation: Hwang Tae Hu, Japanese pronunciation: Kōtaigō, Vietnamese pronunciation: Hoàng Thái Hậu) was the title given to the mother of a Chinese, Korean, Japanese or Vietnamese emperor.… …   Wikipedia

  • Empress Dowager Hu — (胡太后, personal name unknown) (d. May 17, 528 [ [http://www.sinica.edu.tw/ftms bin/kiwi1/luso.sh?lstype=2 dyna=%A5 %C3Q king=%A7%B5%B2%F8%AB%D2 reign=%AB%D8%B8q yy=1 ycanzi= mm=4 dd= dcanzi=%A9%B0%A4l 兩千年中西曆轉換 ] ] ), formally Empress Ling (靈皇后,… …   Wikipedia

  • Empress Dowager He — may refer to:*Empress He (Ling), empress and empress dowager of Han Dynasty *Empress Dowager He (Sun Hao), empress dowager of the Eastern Wu of the Three Kingdoms …   Wikipedia

  • Empress Dowager Cixi — 慈禧太后 Regent of the Qing Dynasty Regency 11 November 1861 – 15 November 1908 ( 1000000000000004700000047 years, 100000000000000040000004 days …   Wikipedia

  • Empress Dowager Lou Zhaojun — (婁昭君) (501 562), formally Empress Ming (明皇后, literally the understanding empress ), was an empress dowager of the Chinese dynasty Northern Qi. She was the wife of Gao Huan, the paramount general of Northern Wei and its branch successor state… …   Wikipedia

  • Empress Dowager Dong — (董太后, personal name unknown), formally Empress Xiaocheng (孝成皇后) (died 189) was an empress dowager during Han Dynasty even though she was never empress, because she became mother to an emperor (Emperor Ling). She was blamed for contributing to her …   Wikipedia

  • Empress Dowager Lu Huinan — (路惠男) (412 February 24, 466 [ [http://www.sinica.edu.tw/ftms bin/kiwi1/luso.sh?lstype=2 dyna=%ABe%A7%BA king=%A9%FA%AB%D2 reign=%AE%F5%A9l yy=2 ycanzi= mm=1 dd= dcanzi=%A4%D0%A4l 兩千年中西曆轉換 ] ] ), formally Empress Dowager Zhao (昭太后, literally… …   Wikipedia

  • Empress Dowager Wang Baoming — (王寶明) (455 512), formally Empress An (安皇后, literally the peaceful empress ), semi formally Empress Dowager Xuande (宣德太后), was an empress dowager of the Chinese dynasty Southern Qi. She was never empress, but as she was the wife of Xiao Zhangmao,… …   Wikipedia

  • Empress Dowager Bian — ( zh. 卞太后; Pinyin: Biàn Tài Hòu personal name unknown) (d. July 9, 230 [ [http://www.sinica.edu.tw/ftms bin/kiwi1/luso.sh?lstype=2 dyna=%ABe%C3Q king=%A9%FA%AB%D2 reign=%A4%D3%A9M yy=4 ycanzi= mm=6 dd= dcanzi=%A5%B3%A4l 兩千年中西曆轉換 ] ] ), formally… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.