Empress Dowager Bian

Empress Dowager Bian

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 Empress Wuxuan (武宣皇后, literally "the martial and knowing empress") was an empress dowager during the reign of her son Cao Pi (Emperor Wen) and her grandson Cao Rui (Emperor Ming), the first two emperors of Cao Wei, the foundation of which was built by her husband Cao Cao, although he would never be emperor himself. She was Cao Cao's second wife.

Family background and marriage to Cao Cao

It is not known when the future empress dowager was born. What is known is that she was from Langye Commandery (in modern southeastern Shandong), and that because her family was poor, she was a prostitute when she was young. When she was 19 (although it is not known which year that was), she became a concubine of Cao's. She bore him four sons -- Cao Pi, Cao Zhang, Cao Zhi, and Cao Xiong. After the death of Cao Cao's oldest son Cao Ang, Cao Cao's wife Lady Ding (who was not Cao Ang's biological mother but adopted him as her own) was constantly mournful, and Cao Cao became so displeased that he divorced her. He then made Lady Bian his wife. In 219 (after Cao Cao had been created the Prince of Wei in 213), Emperor Xian of Han created her the Princess of Wei. She was known for her wisdom and humility. She was particularly praised for refusing to celebrate lavishly (as her attendants had suggested) when her son Cao Pi was made crown prince of the Principality of Wei in 217.

As empress dowager

After Cao Cao died in 220, Cao Pi inherited his title as the Prince of Wei, and later that year forced Emperor Xian to abdicate in his favor, ending Han Dynasty and starting Cao Wei. Princess Dowager Bian became empress dowager. She was not much involved in her son's administration or in his campaigns against the rival Eastern Wu. She, in particular, refused to grant her family excessive wealth or titles, setting an example for the rest of Cao Wei's history. One incident that in which she engaged herself happened in 226, when Cao Pi wanted to execute Cao Cao's cousin Cao Hong due to grudges that they had previously. She, remembering the contributions that Cao Hong made -- including one occasion when he personally saved Cao Cao's life -- rebuked Cao Pi sufficiently that he spared Cao Hong's life, although Cao Hong's offices and titles were still stripped from him.

As grand empress dowager

After Cao Pi died in 226, his son Cao Rui became emperor, and he honoured his grandmother as grand empress dowager. In 227, she was inadvertently insulted by her granddaughter-in-law Princess Yu -- Princess Yu had been Cao Rui's wife when he was Prince of Pingyuan, but after he became emperor, he did not create her empress, but created his concubine Lady Mao as empress. She was upset, and Empress Dowager Bian tried to console her, and her response was, "the Caos have a tradition for favouring dishonourable women," forgetting that Empress Dowager Bian was formerly a prostitute. Empress Dowager Bian was greatly offended, but did not punish her further than having her sent back to Cao Rui's princely manor house.

Empress Dowager Bian died in 230, and she was buried with honours due an empress dowager, with her husband Cao Cao.


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