|Empress Dowager of Northern Qi|
|Grand Empress Dowager of Northern Qi|
|Died||20 May 562(aged 61)|
|Issue||Gao Cheng, Emperor Wenxiang|
Gao Yang, Emperor Wenxuan
Gao Yan, Emperor Xiaozhao
Gao Yu, Prince Jing of Xiangcheng
Gao Zhan, Emperor Wucheng
Gao Ji, Prince Wenjian of Boling
Empress Gao of Northern Wei
Empress Gao of Eastern Wei
Lou Zhaojun (Chinese: 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 Eastern Wei, and during Gao Huan's lifetime was already influential on the political scene. After Gao Huan's death, she continued to exert influence through the regency of her son Gao Cheng, and then as empress dowager after another son Gao Yang seized the throne from Emperor Xiaojing of Eastern Wei and established Northern Qi (as Emperor Wenxuan). She continued to serve as grand empress dowager through the reigns of Gao Yang's son Emperor Fei, and then again as empress dowager during the reigns of two more of her own sons, Emperor Xiaozhao and Emperor Wucheng.
Lou Zhaojun was born in 501, as the daughter of a rich merchant, Lou Gan (婁幹), and she grew up in Pingcheng (平城, in modern Datong, Shanxi), the old capital of Northern Wei. In her youth, she was described to be intelligent and resolute, and when she saw Gao Huan, who was then too poor even to own a horse, serving as a soldier and standing guard on Pingcheng's wall, she became so impressed by him that she, against customs of the times that women's marriages were to be arranged by parents, became resolved to marry him, sending her servant girls to Gao Huan to deliver messages and monetary gifts for her. Her parents therefore became forced to allow the marriage, and they were married. Lou Zhaojun was of Xianbei ethnicity while Gao Huan was Chinese. In 521, she gave birth to a son, Gao Cheng. (She would eventually have six sons—Gao Cheng, Gao Yang, Gao Yan, Gao Zhan, Gao Yu (高淯), and Gao Ji (高濟) -- and two daughters, the eventual empresses for Emperor Xiaowu of Northern Wei and Emperor Xiaojing of Eastern Wei.) It was only after their marriage that Gao Huan could even afford a horse and was able to become an imperial messenger, delivering the governmental reports between Pingcheng and the new capital Luoyang. Once, when Gao Huan was severely battered, she cared for him all day and night and nursed him back to health.
In 525, when large portions of Northern Wei territory was overrun by agrarian rebels, Gao Huan, taking his family (then apparently made up of Lady Lou, Gao Cheng, and their oldest daughter), joined the rebellion of one of the major rebels, Du Luozhou (杜洛周), but subsequently became unimpressed with Du's behavior, and they fled from Du's camp and joined another rebel leader, Ge Rong (葛榮), but he eventually left Ge as well and joined the army of the Northern Wei general and Xiongnu tribal leader Erzhu Rong. Erzhu was initially unimpressed with Gao and did not give him great responsibilities; it was around this time that the family's wealth was so drained that Lady Lou herself made boots personally out of horse skin. Eventually, though, Gao's talent impressed Erzhu, and he became one of Erzhu's key commanders in his campaigns, first to seize power at Luoyang in 528, then on his campaign to destroy the rebels and reunify the empire. Lady Lou's brother Lou Zhao (婁昭) eventually became a key commander under Gao Huan. Gao Huan was said to also often consult Lady Lou herself for her views on important decisions.
In 530, Emperor Xiaozhuang of Northern Wei, suspicious that Erzhu Rong would eventually seize the throne, ambushed him in the palace and killed him. Erzhu Rong's relatives, led by his cousin Erzhu Shilong and nephew Erzhu Zhao, rose against Emperor Xiaozhuang, defeating and killing him later in the year. Gao Huan did not break with the Erzhus at this time, but was largely uninvolved in their campaign against Emperor Xiaozhuang, although he did aid Erzhu Zhao later in the year, after Emperor Xiaozhuang's death, in Erzhu Zhao's campaign against the general Gedouling Bufan (紇豆陵步番), who was loyal to Emperor Xiaozhuang. Under the instigation of the Erzhus, Emperor Jiemin of Northern Wei, whom the Erzhus had made emperor, created Gao Huan the Prince of Bohai, and Lady Lou thereafter carried the title the Princess of Bohai. In 531, seeing that the people were disappointed in the level of corruption shown by the Erzhus, he declared a rebellion against them, defeating them in 532 and deposing Emperor Jiemin, whom the Erzhus made emperor. He made Yuan Xiu the Prince of Pingyang emperor (as Emperor Xiaowu), and gave Princess Lou's oldest daughter to Emperor Xiaowu in marriage as his empress.
Emperor Xiaowu, however, strained to free himself from Gao Huan, and their relationship soon deteriorated, as Emperor Xiaowu entered into alliances with the independent generals Yuwen Tai, who controlled the western provinces, and Heba Sheng (賀拔勝), who controlled the southern provinces, against Gao Huan. In 534, when Emperor Xiaowu secretly prepared to attack Gao Huan, Gao Huan saw through his façade, and marched on Luoyang. Emperor Xiaowu fled to Yuwen Tai's territory, without taking Empress Gao with him. Gao Huan declared Yuan Shanjian, the son of Emperor Xiaowu's cousin Yuan Dan (元亶) the Prince of Qinghe emperor (as Emperor Xiaojing), and Northern Wei was divided in two, Eastern Wei under Emperor Xiaojing and Western Wei under Emperor Xiaowu.
Lou Zhaojun supported and assisted Gao Huan when he married more women, wanting to expand his power.
An incident involving Gao Cheng soon threatened to undermine not only his position as Gao Huan's heir apparent but Princess Lou. In 535, Gao Cheng was discovered to have had an affair with Gao Huan's concubine Zheng Dache (鄭大車). Gao Huan was so angry that he caned Gao Cheng 100 times and put him under house arrest, and also refused to see Princess Lou. At that time, his favorite concubine was Erzhu Rong's daughter and Emperor Xiaozhuang's former empress Erzhu Ying'e, whose son Gao You (高浟) he now considered making heir apparent to replace Gao Cheng. Only at the intercession of Gao Huan's friend Sima Ziru (司馬子如) -- who first reminded Gao Huan Princess Lou's contributions to his success, as well as Lou Zhao's, and then forced the main witness to the affair, Lady Zheng's servant girl, to commit suicide—were Gao Cheng and Princess Lou able to remain in their positions. Still, Princess Lou and Gao Cheng submitted themselves to humiliating apologies to Gao Huan, where they knelt at each step as they approached Gao Huan after Gao Huan went to see them. After the incident, however, Gao Huan appeared to continue to honor Princess Lou and turn to her for advice. For example, in 537, in the aftermaths of Gao Huan's defeat against Yuwen Tai at Shawan (沙苑, in modern Weinan, Shaanxi), the general Hou Jing suggested making an ambush against Yuwen's own camp; it was Princess Lou who advised Gao Huan against such action, noting that if Hou actually captured Yuwen, Hou would never return.
In 539, Princess Lou's second daughter married Emperor Xiaojing as his empress.
In fall 545, due to an alliance between Western Wei and Rouran to attack Eastern Wei, Gao Huan sued for peace with Rouran by requesting a marriage between a daughter of Rouran's Chiliantoubingdoufa Khan Yujiulü Anagui and Gao Cheng. Yujiulü Anagui refused, stating that it would only be sufficient if Gao Huan himself married her. Gao Huan himself initially refused, but Princess Lou, Gao Cheng, and the general Wei Jing all persuaded him otherwise, and he married Yujiulü Anagui's daughter, referring to her as the Princess Ruru (蠕蠕公主). To facilitate this marriage, Princess Lou moved out of the mansion (and in gratitude, Gao Huan himself knelt down to Princess Lou to thank her), but Gao Huan and Princess Lou were not formally divorced, although, at Princess Lou's own request (arguing that the Princess Ruru would realize what was happening), Gao Huan did not visit her.
In 547, Gao Huan died, and Gao Cheng took over as regent. Princess Lou thereafter carried the title of Princess Dowager of Bohai. In 549, Gao Cheng was in turn assassinated by his slave Lan Jing (蘭京), and Princess Dowager Lou's second son Gao Yang assumed the regency. In 550, despite Princess Lou's reservations, Gao Yang had Emperor Xiaojing yield the throne to him, ending Eastern Wei and starting Northern Qi (as its Emperor Wenxuan). He honored her as empress dowager.
During the reign of Emperor Wenxuan—whom she had previously considered be unintelligent but whose reign initially was one characterized by diligence—Empress Dowager Lou did not directly assert authority, but was fairly influential on her son, who was devoted to her. However, later in his reign, he began to act cruelly and bizarrely, apparently fueled by his alcoholism. In an incident during this period, angry at his alcoholism, she battered him with her staff, stating, "What kind of father begat this kind of son?" He responded irreverently: "I will marry this mother to a Rouran barbarian from the north!" In anger, her expression turned stern. In order to try to induce her to smile, Emperor Wenxuan crawled on the ground, but as he did, he flipped her bed over, causing her to fall and suffer an injury. Once he became sober, he greatly regretted his action, and he set a fire, intending to jump into it. Alarmed, she grabbed him and forced a smile, stating, "You were simply drunk." He still prostrated himself and ordered his father Gao Huan's distant cousin Gao Guiyan (高歸彥) the Prince of Pingqin to batter him severely with a staff—stating to Gao Guiyan that if Gao Guiyan could not cause him to bleed, he would kill Gao Guiyan. However, Empress Dowager Lou grabbed him and would not permit it to happen. He still insisted on being at least battered on his feet 50 times, and then still apologized profusely to her and swore to abstain from alcohol. However, 10 days later, he resumed drinking. In another incident involving Emperor Wenxuan's errant behavior, he had considered seizing his wife Empress Li Zu'e's older sister as a concubine, after forcing her into an affair with him, so he summoned her husband Yuan Ang (元昂) to the palace and fired arrows at him, eventually killing him. Empress Li mourned greatly and offered to yield the empress title to her sister, and Empress Dowager Lou interceded against his taking her sister, and so Emperor Wenxuan did not do so.
Another son of Empress Dowager Lou's, Gao Yan the Prince of Changshan, was one of the few officials who dared to speak to Emperor Wenxuan to try to get him to change his behavior. While at times Emperor Wenxuan would listen to Gao Yan's advice, in one instance he angrily battered Gao Yan such that Gao Yan suffered a serious injury. In anger, Gao Yan went on hunger strike, and when Empress Dowager Lou saw this, she went on hunger strike as well. Emperor Wenxuan, fearful of what might happen to both Gao Yan and Empress Dowager Lou, allowed Gao Yan's associate Wang Xi (王晞), whom Emperor Wenxuan had earlier ordered to forced labor, to be freed from the labor so that he could encourage Gao Yan to end his hunger strike. Wang did so, and Gao Yan relented.
In 558, Emperor Wenxuan died from a severe alcoholism-related illness. He was succeeded by his crown prince Gao Yin, who took the throne as Emperor Fei. Emperor Fei honored Empress Dowager Lou as grand empress dowager.
Grand Empress Dowager Lou initially had considered trying to make Gao Yan emperor instead, but was prevented from doing so by officials loyal to Emperor Wenxuan's choice of his son Emperor Fei as crown prince. Still, she asserted more authority than she did during Emperor Wenxuan's reign. For example, she had long hated Gao Huan's son by his concubine Lady You, Gao Shi (高湜) the Prince of Gaoyang, as Gao Shi had received Emperor Wenxuan's favor by flattering him and had often been put in charge by Emperor Wenxuan of battering other imperial princes. In spring 560, Gao Shi was accused of crimes, and Grand Empress Dowager Lou took this opportunity to order that he be battered severely, and Gao Shi eventually died from his injuries.
Meanwhile, the prime minister Yang Yin—a son-in-law of Grand Empress Dowager Lou, as he had married the former wife of Eastern Wei's Emperor Xiaojing after Emperor Wenxuan killed him around the new year 552—became suspicious that Gao Yan or another son of Grand Empress Dowager Lou, Gao Zhan the Prince of Changguang would try to seize the throne. Yang's associates Kezhuhun Tianhe (可朱渾天和) and Yan Zixian (燕子獻) were even considering killing the two princes and putting Grand Empress Dowager Lou under house arrest and transferring her authority to Emperor Fei's mother Empress Dowager Li. However, what they considered were leaked to Grand Empress Dowager Lou by Empress Dowager Li's lady in waiting Li Changyi (李昌儀), and the two princes took preemptive action, ambushing Yang and his associates and forcing them into the palace. Yang and his associates were executed, and power fell into the hands of Gao Yan. (Despite Grand Empress Dowager Lou's opposition of Yang's plans, however, she realized that he was acting out of his loyalty to Emperor Fei, and she personally mourned him, and because before his death, one of Yang's eyes had been battered out of its socket, she made an eye of gold and pressed it into Yang's eyesocket.)
Later that year, Gao Yan decided to take the throne. When he initially reported this intention to Grand Empress Dowager Lou, she disagreed with it, as she believed that this would be seen as usurpation. However, she eventually agreed, and she issued an edict deposing Emperor Fei, creating him the Prince of Ji'nan instead, and making Gao Yan emperor (as Emperor Xiaozhao). She specifically instructed Emperor Xiaozhao, however, "Do not let anything happen to your nephew." With the emperor again being her son rather than grandson, she became known again simply as empress dowager.
Emperor Xiaozhao was considered filially pious, and when once she became ill, he attended her for 40 days without resting. On another occasion, when she was suffering from unbearable chest pain, he inflicted pain on his own palms—then considered a way to transfer pain from her to him.
In 561, Emperor Xiaozhao, fearful of astrological signs that appear to indicate that the former Emperor Fei would return to the throne, put him to death. When soon thereafter, Emperor Xiaozhao had a riding accident and suffered a severe injury, Empress Dowager Lou attended to him, but as she did, she asked where the Prince of Ji'nan was. When Emperor Xiaozhao was unable to answer, she angrily stated, "Is it not that you killed him? You did not listen to me, and you deserve to die." She walked out without returning. He died soon thereafter, after issuing an edict passing the throne to Gao Zhan, who then took the throne as Emperor Wucheng. Empress Dowager Lou continued to be empress dowager.
In summer 562, Empress Dowager Lou died. Emperor Wucheng was unwilling to change to white mourning clothes, and continued to wear his red robe, and he also continued to feast and play music, throwing the white mourning clothes away. When his trusted advisor He Shikai requested that the music be stopped, Emperor Wucheng was sufficiently angry that he slapped He. She was buried with her husband Gao Huan, with honors due an empress.
Lou Zhaojun, 501-562, was the principal wife of Gao Huan, 496-547; their son Emperor Wenxuan (Gao Yang, 529-559; r. 550-559) was the founding emperor of Northern Qi. While neither was appointed emperor or empress during their lifetime, as the de facto founder of the Northern Qi dynasty Gao Huan was posthumously titled Emperor Shenwu of Northern Qi and Lou Zhaojun was posthumously title Empress Ming of Northern Qi.. . . Lou Zhaojun was from a wealthy Xianbei family that had served as officials under the Former Yan dynasty (located in the area of present-day Chaoyang in Liaoning Province). Her clan had Sinicized its name to Lou toward the end of the fifth century. Gao Huan, on the other hand, was from a Han-Chinese family from Bohai (present-day Hebei Province); they had lived for several generations in the area that is now Inner Mongolia and had consequently adopted a largely Xianbei way of life. Despite Gao Huan's lack of means and low social status, Lou Zhaojun is said to have set her heart on him almost from the moment she saw him. She dispatched a maid to tell him of her interest and to give him some money; then she married him, against the wishes of her parents.
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began to crumble, he became a general for Erzhu Rong (493-530) of Xiurong (in present-day Shanxi Province). Erzhu Rong belonged to the Jie people, possibly a branch of the Xiongnu, who came from the western regions, perhaps as far away as ancient Persia. As allies of the Northern Wei Tuoba, the Erzhu clan had been given a large fief that enabled them to control the major private sources of supply of animals and fodder for the Northern Wei armies. By the end of the fifth century they had become extremely wealthy, while the rapid disintegration of Tuoba power and the outbreak of rebellion along the northern borders in 524 further extended their influence. By the late 520s, they had become the most effective military force in the empire. . . Then, in a lethal series of moves and coutnermoves, Gao Huan outwitted Erzhu Rong in their struggle for control of the Northern Wei throne (vide Hu, Consort of Emperor Xuanwu of Northern Wei). Erzhu rong's puppet emperor (Yuan Ziyou, r.528-530) murdered him in 530; then Gao Huan had Yuan Ziyou murdered before installing his own puppet emperor (Yuan Ye, r. 530).
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began to crumble, he became a general for Erzhu Rong (493-530) of Xiurong (in present-day Shanxi Province). Erzhu Rong belonged to the Jie people, possibly a branch of the Xiongnu, who came from the western regions, perhaps as far away as ancient Persia. As allies of the Northern Wei Tuoba, the Erzhu clan had been give a large fief that enabled them to control the major private sources of supply of animals and fodder for the Northern Wei armies. By the end of the fifth century they had become extremely wealthy, while the rapid disintegration of Tuoba power and the outbreak of rebellion along the northern borders in 524 further extended their influence. By the late 520s, they had become the most effective military force in the empire. . . Then, in a lethal series of moves and coutnermoves, Gao Huan outwitted Erzhu Rong in their struggle for control of the Northern Wei throne (vide Hu, Consort of Emperor Xuanwu of Northern Wei). Erzhu rong's puppet emperor (Yuan Ziyou, r.528-530) murdered him in 530; then Gao Huan had Yuan Ziyou murdered before installing his own puppet emperor (Yuan Ye, r. 530).
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As Gao Huan's power grew, he took more wives. Lou Zhaojun encouraged him in this, understanding the importance of consolidating his already considerable influence through marriage alliances with powerful families. She herself bore six of Gao Huan's fifteen sons and she harbored ambitions for all of them; three of her sons were named emperor before she died and she helped stage a coup that deposed one of her grandsons from the Northern Qi throne.
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She wove the material from which a long gown and a pair of trousers were made for each of his sons,; in order to set an example, she had clothes made for warriors who were loyal to Gao Huan. Things did not always go smoothly between Lou Zhaojun and Gao Huan, however, and he banished her in 538 after discovering that their eldest son, Gao Cheng, had had an affair with one of his concubines. Lou Zhaojun and her son each received 100 strokes in punishment and Lou Zhaojun remained in disfavor until Gao Huan's companion Sima Ziru (488-551) reimnded him of the contribution Lou Zhaojun had made.
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Lou Zhaojun is said to have been a resolute and intelligent woman and the record confirms this. She remained impartial, never asking her husband to appoint her relatives to high-ranking positions but instead expecting them to earn any such privilege. Such was her ambition for her husband that she encouraged him to enter into several marriage alliances and treated these consorts as her own sisters. She even stepped down from her position as principal consort, ceding it to a Rouran princess in order to ensure her people's cooperation (the Rouran were a nomadic group located in present-day Outer Mongolia; they controlled the eastern section of the area now known as the Silk Road). She managed the inner palaces for her husband and is said to have regarded all of Gao Huan's sons as her own.
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