Hu Shanxiang

Photo of Deng Jia Jia as Hu Shanxiang in ‘Ming Dynasty’. Image Credit: WikiCommons.

By Johanna Strong

Hu Shanxiang was born around 1400 in Jining (modern-day Shandong Province), China. Her father was company commander Hu Rong, though her mother remains unknown.

In 1417, she married Zhu Zhanji, the future Chinese Emperor Xuanzong, and became his first Empress upon his ascent to the throne. Xuanzong often complained that Hu Shanxiang gave him unsolicited advice about his travels, and this, in addition to their lack of sons, soured their relationship.

When Xuanzong’s consort Sun gave birth to a son in the late 1420s, he decided to put Hu Shanxiang aside and asked her to abdicate as empress, with his consort Sun becoming the new empress. In spring 1428, Hu Shanxiang was sent to Chang’an Palace and was given the title ‘Immortal Teacher of Quietude and Motherly Love’, a title traditionally given to empresses who had been ordered to become Daoist nuns, though she does not appear to have taken religious orders.

Empress Dowager Zhang, Xuanzong’s mother, sympathised with former-empress Hu Shanxiang and often invited her to the Qingning Palace and placed her in a position higher than Empress Sun. Once Zhang died in 1442, however, Hu Shanxiang was listed as a consort and when she died in 1443 she was buried at Jinshan with the rites traditionally bestowed on a concubine.

At Empress Sun’s death in 1462, Empress Qian urged her husband, the new Emperor Yingzong, to restore Hu Shanxiang’s title of Empress. It was with the status of an empress that Hu Shanxiang was reburied in a mausoleum in 1463.

Hu Shanxiang remains an empowering figure in China and has appeared in historical television series such as ‘Ming Dynasty’, released in 2019.

Recommended Reading

Lauralee, “Hu Shanxiang – The Gracious Yet Deposed Empress,” History of Royal Women, 2021.

Lily Xiao Hong Lee and Sue Wiles, eds., Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Women, Volume II: Tang Through Ming, 618-1644 (London: Routledge, 2014).

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