An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Empress Dowager Dou 竇太后

Sep 9, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald
There is another Empress Dou, the consort of Emperor Zhang 漢章帝 (r. 75-88 CE) of the Later Han dynasty 後漢 (25-220 CE).

Empress Dowager Dou 竇太后 (d. 135 or 129 BCE), or Empress Dou 竇后, was the wife of Emperor Wen 漢文帝 (r. 180-157 BCE) of the Former Han dynasty 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE). Her personal name was Yifang 猗房, and she hailed from Qinghe 清河 (in modern Hebei).

She came into the imperial palace as an attendant girl during the reign of Empress Dowager Lü 呂太后 (r. 188-180) and was later made a concubine to the Prince of Dai 代王, Liu Heng 劉恆, the eventual Emperor Wen. She became his favourite and gave birth to Liu Qi 劉啟, the later Emperor Jing 漢景帝 (r. 157-141 BCE).

Empress Dou was famous for her inclination to Daoism and Huang-Lao thought 黃老. She supported a lot of Daoist magical practicioners at the court and also used them for political advice. The reigns of the emperors Wen and Jing are known as being influenced by the political attitude of the Daoists that required a government of non-action, on order to relax the population and to revive the economy.

After the early death of her son, she was given the title of Grand Empress Dowager (taihuang taihou 太皇太后). With the support of her own family, she was able to exert control over the central government and to dominate the court. Persons contradicting her, even those of her own family, as well as some officials inclined to Confucianism, were chased out of their office, like Dou Ying 竇嬰, Zhao Wan 趙綰 (known as expert in the "Book of Songs" Shijing 詩經; forced to commit suicide), Tian Fen 田蚡, Wang Zang 王臧 (suggested the erection of a traditional royal Mingtang Hall 明堂, criticized the Empress Dowager for interfering into government; forced to commit suicide) or Master Yuan Gu 轅固生 (an erudite for the Shijing).

She died from a disease, but the sources are contradicting concerning the exact date of her death.

Cang Xiuliang 倉修良, ed. (1996). Hanshu cidian 漢書辭典 (Jinan: Shandong jiaoyu chubanshe), 1124.