Daughter of Emperor Xiaoming of Northern Wei

Daughter of Emperor Xiaoming of Northern Wei
10th Emperor of Northern Wei
Reign1 April 528
PredecessorEmperor Xiaoming
SuccessorYuan Zhao
Born12 February 528
Luoyang, Northern Wei
(present-day Luoyang, Henan, China)
Full name
Family name: Yuan (元)
Given name: Unknown
Era name and dates
Wutai (武泰): 1st month – 4th month, 528[note 1] (Chinese calendar)
February – June, 528 (Gregorian calendar)
FatherEmperor Xiaoming
MotherPan Wailian

The unnamed daughter of Emperor Xiaoming of Northern Wei (12 February 528 – ?) was briefly the emperor of Northern Wei (386–534), a Xianbei dynasty that ruled Northern China from the late fourth to the early sixth century AD. She bore the surname Yuan (Chinese: ; pinyin: Yuán), originally Tuoba.[note 2] Yuan was the only child of Emperor Xiaoming (r. 515–528), born to his concubine Consort Pan. Soon after her birth, her grandmother the Empress Dowager Hu, who was also Xiaoming's regent, falsely declared that she was a boy and ordered a general pardon. Emperor Xiaoming died soon afterwards. On 1 April 528, Empress Dowager Hu installed the infant on the throne for a matter of hours before replacing her with Yuan Zhao the next day. Xiaoming's daughter was not recognised as an emperor (huangdi) by later generations. No further information about her is available.[3]


Empress Dowager Hu (d. 528), known posthumously as Empress Dowager Ling, was originally one of Emperor Xuanwu's (483–515, r. 499–515) consorts; she gave birth to his only living heir Yuan Xu (510–528). Following Xuanwu's death, Yuan Xu ascended the throne as Emperor Xiaoming, and Hu was honoured as Consort Dowager, and soon Empress Dowager.[4] Because Emperor Xiaoming was still young, she became his regent.[4] To exert her power as the highest ruler of Northern Wei, she addressed herself as Zhen (Chinese: ; pinyin: Zhèn), a first-person pronoun reserved for use by the emperor after the Qin dynasty. Officials addressed her as Bixia (Chinese: 陛下; pinyin: Bìxià), an honorific used when addressing the emperor directly.[5]

When Emperor Xiaoming grew up, however, his mother refused to hand authority over to him. She successfully eliminated many of her opponents, including favourites of the emperor.[6] The ancient Chinese historians who wrote the official history of the Northern Wei portrayed her as promiscuous.[7] Both her lifestyle and her ruling style elicited widespread dissatisfaction among officials and from her son.[8] Emperor Xiaoming gathered the people to oppose her and executed her lover Yuan Yi (元怿) in 520,[9] causing deep hatred from his mother.[10] After several failed attempts to overthrow the empress dowager, Xiaoming secretly ordered General Erzhu Rong to send troops to the capital Luoyang to coerce her into handing over the authority.[11] When she learned about the plot, she discussed strategies with the officials who supported her.[12]

As these events were occurring, on 12 February 528, Consort Pan, one of Emperor Xiaoming's nine concubines, gave birth to a daughter.[13][14] Empress Dowager Hu falsely declared that the child was a son;[13] she issued an edict the following day, ordering a general pardon and changing the emperor's reign title from Xiaochang (孝昌) to Wutai (武泰).[15][16]