- Empress Guo Nüwang
Empress Guo Nüwang (郭女王) (184 - 235), formally Empress Wende (文德皇后, literally, "the civil and virtuous empress") was an
empressof Cao Weiduring the Three Kingdomsperiod. Her husband was Cao Pi(Emperor Wen), the first emperor of Cao Wei.
Family background and marriage to Cao Pi
It is not known when the future Empress Guo was born. What is known is that her father Guo Yong (郭永) came from a line of minor local officials. When she was young, she was known for her intelligence, and her father, impressed by her talent, gave her the unusual name Nüwang (literally, "female king" -- in modern time often used as translation for "queen regnant"). Her parents died early, however, and she became a servant at the household of one Marquess of Tongdi. It is not known how it came about, but she eventually became a concubine of Cao Pi when he was the crown prince of the Principality of Wei, under his father
Cao Cao. Cao Pi was impressed with her talent and beauty, and she quickly became a favorite -- so much so that he began to neglect his wife Zhen Luo, who was also known for her beauty. She further created tension between Cao Pi and Lady Zhen by planting seeds of suspicion in Cao Pi's mind that Lady Zhen's son Cao Ruiwas not biologically Cao Pi's son, but rather the son of Lady Zhen's former husband Yuan Xi-- citing the fact that Cao Rui was apparently born only eight months after Cao Pi married Lady Zhen. It was because of this that Lady Zhen eventually lost Cao Pi's favor altogether, and after he became emperor of Cao Wei in 220 (after forcing Emperor Xian of Hanto abdicate to him), he forced Lady Zhen to commit suicide in 221. In 222, he made Lady Guo empress.
After Guo Nüwang became empress, she was said to have been a good leader of the imperial consorts, treating them well and disciplining them appropriately when they acted improperly, while hiding their faults from Cao Pi. She also appeared to have lived thriftly. Her influence on her husband's administration appeared to be minimal, and the only incident in which she was mentioned happened in 226, when, at the urging of her mother-in-law
Empress Dowager Bian, she interceded on Cao Hong's behalf, allowing Cao Hong to be spared his life even though Cao Pi had previous grudges against him.
Empress Guo had no sons. Cao Pi's oldest son Cao Rui, by Lady Zhen, was therefore considered the presumptive heir, but because of his mother's fate was not created
crown prince, but only Prince of Pingyuan. (He was inconsistently described as having been raised by Empress Guo or by Cao Pi's concubine Consort Li.) While she was empress, she apparently had a cordial relationship with Prince Rui. There was no evidence that she opposed his candidacy when Cao Pi, seriously ill in 226, created him crown prince. Cao Pi died soon after, and Cao Rui ascended the throne (as Emperor Ming).
As empress dowager
The new emperor, although he posthumously honored his mother as an empress, honored his stepmother as empress dowager, and he bestowed members of her family with moderate amounts of wealth and titles. When she died in 235, she was buried with honors due an empress and buried with her husband Cao Pi. Her family remained honored by her stepson.
How Empress Dowager Guo came to die, however, is a matter of historical controversy. An apparently reliable historical account (although not conclusive one) states that at some point during Cao Rui's reign, Consort Li told him Empress Dowager Guo's role in Lady Zhen's death -- and further told him that after Lady Zhen died, it was at Empress Dowager Guo's suggestion that she was buried with her hair covering her face and her mouth filled with rice grain shells -- so that even after her death she would be unable to complain. Cao Rui became enraged and confronted Empress Dowager Guo -- who could not deny her involvement directly. He then forced her to commit suicide, and, while he buried her with the honors due an empress, he also had her face covered with her hair and her mouth filled with rice grain shells.
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