Generous and Broad-Minded Empress Zhangsun

Empress Zhangsun.

Empress Zhangsun was the wife of Emperor Taizong (Li Shimin) of the Tang Dynasty. (Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

In ancient times, it was really rare for a queen like Empress Zhangsun to be generous and broad-minded.

Empress Zhangsun was the wife of Emperor Taizong (Li Shimin) of the Tang Dynasty who became emperor shortly after the incident at Xuanwu Gate where he defeated and killed his brothers, Li Jiancheng and Li Yuanji, who were staging a coup against their father. As well as taking care of Li Jiancheng’s and Li Yuanji’s widows, Empress Zhangsun did her best to comfort and compensate the bereaved families, arrange accommodation for them, and choose maids to take care of them.

Subscribe to our Newsletter!

Receive selected content straight into your inbox.

Zhangsun Wuji, who was the elder brother of the empress, was very well thought of by the emperor due to his talents, knowledge, and strategy, and was named Qi Guogong. Once, the emperor wanted to promote Wuji as a chancellor, but he was opposed by the empress. She believed that Emperor Taizong should take a lesson from history and should not let the elders of the Zhangsun family hold too much power.

Emperor Taizong still insisted on promoting Wuji. The empress had no choice but to privately discuss it with her brother, hoping that he would consider the overall situation of the country, and would choose not to participate in politics. To stop people from criticizing the emperor, Empress Zhangsun suggested that Wuji give his resignation to the emperor. Later, Wuji expressed his unwillingness to be an official to Emperor Taizong. On seeing that both the brother and sister insisted so much on it, Taizong had no choice but to relent and allow Wuji to resign.

Seeing that his wife and her brother both insisted so much on it, Taizong had no choice but to relent and allow Wuji to resign.
Seeing that his wife and her brother both insisted so much on it, Taizong had no choice but to relent and allow Wuji to resign. (Image: Xiaojun Deng via Flickr)

Empress Zhangsun lived a frugal and humble life

Empress Zhangsun’s life, from her clothing to her horses and carriage, was frugal and humble. She also asked her sons and maids-in-waiting to live in the same manner. One time, the prince’s nanny suggested buying some equipment for the prince. Empress Zhangsun was very angry and said to the prince: “Now that the country has just been established, the people are still living in war and restlessness. As a prince, you should be frugal, show self-restraint, be compassionate to civilians, and thereby be a virtuous emperor in the future!”

If Tang Taizong was a virtuous emperor who could accept admonishment, then Empress Zhangsun was the behind-the-scenes supporter who promoted his generosity and acceptance of admonishment. On one occasion, Taizong returned angrily from a meeting and said that he would kill chancellor Wei Zheng.

After asking what had happened, it turned out that Wei Zheng made reckless remarks in front of everyone in the imperial hall, and made Taizong completely lose face. Taizong was so angry that he wanted to get rid of Wei Zheng. Unexpectedly, after listening to Taizong’s words, Empress Zhangsun retreated to her bed-chambers and put on the official empress gown and came out. Taizong was surprised and confused.

Empress Zhangsun smiled and said: “Congratulations, your Majesty! I have heard that only a virtuous emperor will have subordinates who have integrity. Wei Zheng dared make such a bold remark, which means that your Majesty has the grace and can accept the opinions of the courtier, and is a virtuous emperor! So I congratulate your Majesty.” After hearing this, Taizong suddenly came to an understanding.

The empress turned Taizong’s anger to happiness by congratulating him for having subordinates with integrity.
The empress turned Taizong’s anger into happiness by congratulating him for having subordinates with integrity. (Image: Xiaojun Deng via Flickr)

Empress Zhangsun died of illness at the age of thirty-six. Before she died, she asked Taizong to remember her words: “Get close to those who have a noble character, stay away from those who have low morals, accept loyal admonishment, save labor, and refrain from hunting.”

As well as being a virtuous and capable wife, Empress Zhangsun’s broad-mindedness and generosity also left a role model of motherhood for all generations.

Translated by Joseph Wu and edited by Helen

Follow us on TwitterFacebook, or Pinterest

Recommended Stories

A bronze statue of Plato.

The Life and Works of the Philosopher Plato, 427-347 B.C.

Plato was a Greek philosopher from Athens, the most famous student of Socrates, and the ...

From 'The Boy and the heron.'

The Boy and the Heron: Hayao Miyazaki’s Latest Studio Ghibli Masterpiece

The Boy and the Heron might seem unfamiliar, but in just a matter of time, ...

A woman embracing a horse's head.

Equine Empathy: The Remarkable Connection of Horses to Human Emotions

You’ve likely heard that dogs are man’s best friend, but horses may be the most ...

A birdseye view of some Hong Kong school students during an excursion.

Hong Kong Students to Have More Compulsory ‘Red’ Study Trips to Mainland China

In April 2023, Hong Kong’s Chief Secretary Eric Chan bid farewell to about 200 Hong ...

This is an image of the comet known as C/2023 P1 (Nishimura).

Are We About to See the Rare Green Comet Nishimura Light Up the Sky?

Of all the objects in the Solar System, perhaps the most spectacular are the great ...

Mr. Yang.

Successful Entrepreneurs in China Lose Everything on Trumped-Up Charges (Part 1)

Mr. Yang, one of China’s highly successful entrepreneurs now living in exile, recounted how he ...

A closeup view of jail cell iron bars casting shadows on the prison floor.

Successful Entrepreneurs in China Lose Everything Overnight on Trumped-Up Charges (Part 2)

Mr. Yang said persecuted entrepreneurs like him are too numerous in his home province and ...

Stir-fried pebbles.

Stir-Fried Pebbles: Chinese Vendors Are Making a Dish Made of Stones

Chinese street food vendors have amused the world by creating a unique cuisine; stir-fried pebbles, ...

Chinese painting of Kou Zhun, an official during the Northern Song Dynasty.

The Inspirational Story of Kou Zhun’s Mother: A Lesson in Moral Education

China, with its 5,000-year-old civilization, has always been recognized for the importance it places on ...

Send this to a friend