Portrait of Empress Zheng from National Palace Museum, Taipei (Song Dynasty). Image Credit: National Palace Museum.

By Jack Beesley

Empress Zheng (1079 – 1130) was an Empress of the Song dynasty as the wife of Emperor Huizong of Song (7th June 1082 – 4th June 1135). 

Unlike other Empresses, Zheng was not born into a military or official family, being born into a gentry family in Kaifeng. This caused controversy upon her elevation to Empress in 1110.

Zheng first served as a lady-in-waiting to Empress Xiang, the official mother of her future husband.

When Huizong was still a prince, Empress Xiang arranged his marriage to Empress Wang in 1099. As a wedding present, she gave Zheng and another one of her ladies-in-waiting to her son as concubines.

A year later, Huizong succeeded his brother as emperor. He and Empress Wang, however, were not close, and Zheng soon began competing with her for the emperor’s favour.

Zheng was described as beautiful, an adept dancer and singer, with a keen sense and ability of how to charm and praise Huizong.

In 1102, Huizong established Zheng as his ‘Virtuous Consort’. Only after the death of Empress Wang did the emperor elevate Zheng to the position of Empress. Being the daughter of a gentry family, Zheng’s influence was unpopular.

In 1126, Huizong abdicated in favour of his son, Emperor Qinzong of Song. A year later, the capital of Kaifeng was seized by the Jin dynasty during the Jin-Song Wars. Zheng and Huizong, along with most of the imperial court, were exiled.

Empress Zheng died in exile in 1130.

Recommended Reading

Hui-Shu Lee, “The Emperor’s Lady Ghostwriters in Song-Dynasty China,” Artibus Asiae 64.1 (2004): 61-101

Robin R. Wang, ed., Images of Women in Chinese Thought and Culture: Writings from the Pre-Qin Period Through the Song Dynasty (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2003).

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