Lady Wu
Suzhou, Jiangsu
SpouseSun Jian
Posthumous name
Empress Wulie (武烈皇后)

Lady Wu (died 202),[1] personal name unknown, was a Chinese noble lady, aristocrat and posthumously honoured as Empress of Eastern Wu state. She was the wife of the warlord Sun Jian, who lived during the late Eastern Han dynasty of China. She bore Sun Jian four sons and a daughter – Sun Ce, Sun Quan, Sun Yi, Sun Kuang and Lady Sun. She was posthumously honoured as Empress Wulie in 229 by her second son Sun Quan, who became the founding emperor of the state of Eastern Wu in the Three Kingdoms period.[2]

Early life and marriage to Sun Jian

Lady Wu was from Wu County, Wu Commandery, which is around present-day Suzhou, Jiangsu, but she grew up in Qiantang County in present-day Hangzhou, Zhejiang. She was orphaned at a young age as both of her parents died so she lived with her younger brother, Wu Jing.[3]

Sun Jian heard of her beauty and character and desired to marry her. However, Lady Wu's relatives disliked Sun Jian, whom they perceived as an idler and a rascal, so they wanted to reject his proposal. Sun Jian was embarrassed and angry at their decision. Lady Wu told her relatives, "Why bring disaster upon yourselves just because of your love for me? If this turns out to be a bad marriage, I'll accept it as my fate." Lady Wu's relatives then agreed to her marriage to Sun Jian. She bore Sun Jian four sons and a daughter.[4] She probably married Sun Jian in 175 or earlier because their first child, Sun Ce, was born that year.

According to a story in In Search of the Supernatural, Lady Wu dreamt about the moon entering her body before she gave birth to Sun Ce. Later, before she gave birth to Sun Quan, she had a similar dream about the sun entering her body. When she asked her husband about her strange dreams, he said, "The sun and the moon capture the true essence of yin and yang. They are very auspicious symbols. My descendants will become great men!"[5]

In 190, when Sun Jian raised an army to join the campaign against Dong Zhuo, he relocated his family from Changsha Commandery (長沙郡; covering present-day Changsha and parts of Hunan) to Shu County (舒縣), Lujiang Commandery (廬江郡), which is in present-day Shucheng County, Anhui. In Shu, Sun Ce met and befriended Zhou Yu, who was about the same age as him. Zhou Yu offered to let Sun Ce and his family stay with him and he paid respects to Lady Wu as though she was his real mother. Zhou Yu and Sun Ce became very close friends.[6]

Life during Sun Ce's conquests in Jiangdong

See also: Sun Ce's conquests in Jiangdong

Sun Jian was killed in action at the Battle of Xiangyang in 191 against Liu Biao's forces. He was succeeded by his eldest son Sun Ce. Around the time, Lady Wu's younger brother Wu Jing was appointed by the warlord Yuan Shu as the Administrator (太守) of Danyang Commandery (丹楊郡; around present-day Xuancheng, Anhui),[7] but had yet to assume his appointment. Wu Jing was at Qu'e County (曲阿縣; in present-day Danyang, Jiangsu) then, so Sun Ce brought his family to Qu'e County to join his uncle.

Between 194 and 199, Sun Ce embarked on a series of conquests in the Jiangdong (or Wu) region to seize territories from the local governors and warlords in the area. He left his mother and family members in Qu'e County, but later had them relocated to Liyang County (歷陽縣; present-day He County, Anhui) and Fuling County (阜陵縣; around present-day Quanjiao County, Anhui) consecutively.[8] After Sun Ce had conquered Wu (around present-day Suzhou) and Kuaiji (around present-day Shaoxing, Zhejiang) commanderies, he relocated his family to Wu County, which was Lady Wu's hometown.

When Sun Ce was in power in Jiangdong, he encountered a Taoist priest called Yu Ji, who had attracted a sizeable following for spreading his faith and for his alleged healing powers. Sun Ce accused Yu Ji of heresy and had him arrested. Many women came to see Lady Wu and implored her to save Yu Ji, so Lady Wu asked her son to release Yu Ji. She said, "Yu Ji brings good luck to the army and heals the soldiers. You shouldn't kill him." However, Sun Ce insisted that Yu Ji was a heretic and was corrupting the masses through his "teachings", so he had Yu executed.[9]

Lady Wu was known for her wisdom and shrewdness in politics. The Kuaiji Dianlu (會稽典錄) recorded one incident in which Sun Ce wanted to kill Wei Teng (魏騰), an Officer of Merit (功曹) serving under him, when Wei opposed his views. The other officials were afraid and did not know what to do. Lady Wu showed up, stood beside a well, and told her son, "You've recently established a foothold in Jiangnan and there are many things you still need to do. You should treat men of talent with respect, pardon them for their minor mistakes and honour them for their contributions. Officer Wei has been performing his duties faithfully. If you kill him today, tomorrow others will rebel against you. I don't wish to see a tragedy occur, so I'll throw myself into this well." Sun Ce was shocked and he immediately released Wei Teng.[10]

Life during Sun Quan's administration

Sun Ce was assassinated in 200 CE by the servants of Xu Gong, a commandery administrator whom he killed earlier. He was succeeded by his younger brother, Sun Quan, who was still young when he took over the reins of power. Lady Wu rendered much assistance to Sun Quan in administering political and military affairs.[11]

Around 202, the warlord Cao Cao, who controlled the Han central government, demanded that Sun Quan send one of his sons to the imperial capital Xu (許; present-day Xuchang, Henan) as a hostage so as to secure Sun's allegiance towards him. When Sun Quan gathered his subjects to discuss the issue, they could not arrive at a conclusion.[12] Personally, Sun Quan was not in favour of yielding to Cao Cao's demand, so he had another meeting with only his mother and Zhou Yu. Zhou Yu advised Sun Quan against sending a hostage[13] while Lady Wu endorsed Zhou's suggestion and asked her son to treat Zhou like an elder brother. Sun Quan heeded their advice.[14][a]

Before her death in 202, Lady Wu summoned Zhang Zhao, Dong Xi[15] and others and instructed them to help Sun Quan in governing the territories in Jiangnan. She was buried at Gaoling (高陵; believed to be somewhere in present-day Suzhou, Jiangsu).[1] In 229, when Sun Quan declared himself Emperor and established the state of Eastern Wu, he granted his mother the posthumous title "Empress Wulie" (武烈皇后).[16]

In Romance of the Three Kingdoms

In the 14th-century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Lady Wu had a fictional younger sister who also married Sun Jian. The elder Lady Wu was the mother of Sun Ce and Sun Quan while the younger one bore Lady Sun and Sun Lang. The younger Lady Wu was also known as "Wu Guotai" (吳國太; literally "Elder Lady Wu of the State"). Wu Guotai lived longer than her sister because she played a significant role in the marriage of her daughter to Liu Bei in 209.[17]

See also


  1. ^ See Zhou Yu#Advising Sun Quan not to send a hostage for details on this incident.


  1. ^ a b c (建安七年,臨薨,引見張昭等,屬以後事,合葬高陵。) Sanguozhi vol. 50.
  2. ^ de Crespigny (2007), pp. 864-865.
  3. ^ (孫破虜吳夫人,吳主權母也。本吳人,徙錢唐,早失父母,與弟景居。) Sanguozhi vol. 50.
  4. ^ (孫堅聞其才貌,欲娶之。吳氏親戚嫌堅輕狡,將拒焉,堅甚以慙恨。夫人謂親戚曰:「何愛一女以取禍乎?如有不遇,命也。」於是遂許為婚,生四男一女。) Sanguozhi vol. 50.
  5. ^ (搜神記曰:初,夫人孕而夢月入其懷,旣而生策。及權在孕,又夢日入其懷,以告堅曰:「昔姙策,夢月入我懷,今也又夢日入我懷,何也?」堅曰:「日月者陰陽之精,極貴之象,吾子孫其興乎!」) Sou Shen Ji annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 50.
  6. ^ (初,孫堅興義兵討董卓,徙家於舒。堅子策與瑜同年,獨相友善,瑜推道南大宅以舍策,升堂拜母,有無通共。) Sanguozhi vol. 54.
  7. ^ (袁術上景領丹楊太守, ...) Sanguozhi vol. 50.
  8. ^ (策母先自曲阿徙於歷陽,策又徙母阜陵,) Sanguozhi vol. 46.
  9. ^ (江表傳曰:時有道士琅邪于吉,先寓居東方,往來吳會,立精舍,燒香讀道書,制作符水以治病,吳會人多事之。策嘗於郡城門樓上集會諸將賔客,吉乃盛服杖小函,漆畫之,名為仙人鏵,趨度門下。諸將賔客三分之二下樓迎拜之,掌賔者禁呵不能止。策即令收之。諸事之者,悉使婦女入見策母,請救之。母謂策曰:「于先生亦助軍作福,醫護將士,不可殺之。」策曰:「此子妖妄,能幻惑衆心,遠使諸將不復相顧君臣之禮,盡委策下樓拜之,不可不除也。」諸將復連名通白事陳乞之,策曰:「昔南陽張津為交州刺史,舍前聖典訓,廢漢家法律,甞著絳帕頭,鼓琴燒香,讀邪俗道書,云以助化,卒為南夷所殺。此甚無益,諸君但未悟耳。今此子已在鬼籙,勿復費紙筆也。」即催斬之,縣首於巿。) Jiang Biao Zhuan annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 46.
  10. ^ (會稽典錄曰:策功曹魏騰,以迕意見譴,將殺之,士大夫憂恐,計無所出。夫人乃倚大井而謂策曰:「汝新造江南,其事未集,方當優賢禮士,捨過錄功。魏功曹在公盡規,汝今日殺之,則明日人皆叛汝。吾不忍見禍之及,當先投此井中耳。」策大驚,遽釋騰。夫人智略權譎,類皆如此。) Kuaiji Dianlu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 50.
  11. ^ (及權少年統業,夫人助治軍國,甚有補益。) Sanguozhi vol. 50.
  12. ^ (江表傳曰:曹公新破袁紹,兵威日盛,建安七年,下書責權質任子。權召羣臣會議,張昭、秦松等猶豫不能決, ...) Jiang Biao Zhuan annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 54.
  13. ^ (... 權意不欲遣質,乃獨將瑜詣母前定議, ...) Jiang Biao Zhuan annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 54.
  14. ^ (權母曰:「公瑾議是也。公瑾與伯符同年,小一月耳,我視之如子也,汝其兄事之。」遂不送質。) Jiang Biao Zhuan annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 54.
  15. ^ (策薨,權年少,初統事,太妃憂之,引見張昭及襲等, ...) Sanguozhi vol. 55.
  16. ^ (黃龍元年春, ... 是日大赦,改年。追尊父破虜將軍堅為武烈皇帝,母吳氏為武烈皇后, ...) Sanguozhi vol. 47.
  17. ^ Sanguo Yanyi ch. 54-55.