Empress Chen Jiao – The deposed Empress who practiced witchcraft




Empress Chen Jiao
Empress Chen Jiao as portrayed by Zheng Yuan Yuan in The Virtuous Queen of Han (Screenshot/Fair Use)

Empress Chen Jiao was the first Empress of Emperor Wu of Han. She was Emperor Wu’s childhood sweetheart and first love.[1] Yet, she remained barren and could not give the Emperor a son. She turned into a jealous woman who resorted to witchcraft to eliminate her rival, Wei Zifu, which caused her to be deposed. Empress Chen Jiao’s story has moved poets and writers for over two thousand years.[2] It tells the tale of a promising and happy marriage that slowly deteriorated when she failed to have children.

In 149 B.C.E., Empress Chen Jiao was born. She is also known as Ajiao.[3] She was of imperial descent.[4] Her mother was the Grand Princess Liu Piao. Her maternal grandfather was Emperor Wen. Her maternal grandmother was Empress Dou Yifang. Her father was Chen Wu, the Marquis of Tangyi.

Chen Jiao was childhood playmates with her first cousin, Prince Liu Che (the future Emperor Wu of Han).[5] Legend has it that one day Grand Princess Piao sat Prince Liu Che on her lap and asked him if he wanted a wife.[6] Prince Liu Che pointed at Chen Jiao and said, “If I could have Ajiao as my wife, I would build a house of gold for her.” [7] Even though there are doubts about this legend, Grand Princess Piao did plan the marriage between Chen Jiao and Prince Liu Che.[8] She was also very instrumental in making Prince Liu Che the Crown Prince.[9] Eventually, Chen Jiao married Prince Liu Che.[10] She became his Crown Princess.

On 9 March 141 B.C.E., Liu Che ascended the throne as Emperor Wu of Han. He made her his Empress.[11] They were originally happy, and Empress Chen Jiao was his beloved.[12] However, ten years after Chen Jiao became Empress, she still could not give him any children.[13] Empress Chen Jiao’s barrenness caused her husband to stop visiting her and turn to other women.[14] Empress Chen Jiao became jealous and overbearing, and she gradually lost Emperor Wu’s love.[15] When Emperor Wu of Han favoured Wei Zifu, Empress Chen Jiao was desperate.[16] She tried to win Emperor Wu’s favour by attempting suicide.[17] This only made Emperor Wu angry with her and isolated himself from her.[18] Empress Chen grew more desperate to win Emperor Wu’s favour.[19]

In 130 B.C.E., Empress Chen Jiao hired a witch named Chu Fu to kill Wei Zifu.[20] When Emperor Wu learned that Empress Chen was practising witchcraft, he was enraged.[21] He executed all those who practised sorcery and witchcraft, including Chu Fu and her daughter.[22] This was a total of 300 people who were executed.[23] Emperor Wu did spare his Empress.[24] However, on 20 August 130 B.C.E., Emperor Wu officially deposed Empress Chen Jiao.[25] He stated that her being involved in witchcraft made her unfit to be an Empress.[26] Empress Chen Jiao was forced to give up her imperial seal and ribbon.[27] She was banished to Changmen Palace.[28] He made Wei Zifu his Empress instead.

Even though the deposed Empress Chen Jiao was banished, she did not give up hope of gaining Emperor Wu’s favour.[29] She paid a poet named Sima Xiangru a hundred gold to write a poem expressing her sorrow and grief. This poem is known as “Changmen Fu.” [30] Emperor Wu was so moved by it that he paid her a brief visit.[31] However, he never reinstated her as Empress.[32] The deposed Empress Chen Jiao spent the remainder of her life alone in Changmen Palace, where she died at the age of thirty-nine in 110 B.C.E.[33] She was buried east of Langguan Pavilion in Baling County, which was far from her ancestral cemetery.[34]

Empress Chen Jiao initially had a happy marriage with Emperor Wu. For over ten years, she was his beloved.[35] Yet, her greatest undoing was that she had failed to give Emperor Wu any children.[36] Her barrenness made her insecure and desperate.[37] It caused her to lose the Emperor’s favour, which led her to practice witchcraft and sorcery. If Empress Chen Jiao had given Emperor Wu a son, her story would have been very different. “Changmen Fu” [38] has caused many writers and poets throughout generations to be sympathetic towards Empress Chen Jiao.[39] They would portray her marriage to Emperor Wu as tragic.[40] Her story continues to move the world today.

Sources:

Wang, L. (2015). “Chen Jiao, Empress of Emperor Wu”. Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Women: Antiquity Through Sui, 1600 B.C.E. – 618 C.E. (L. X. H. Lee, Ed.; A. D. Stefanowska, Ed.; S. Wiles, Ed.). NY: Routledge. pp. 114-115.

iNews. (n.d.). “Chen Ajiao is so proud of being pampered she can’t buy a gift for her daughter to exchange it for Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty.”. Retrieved on 9 October 2023 from https://inf.news/en/history/cba283a29807b89785ba52f2ab87309a.html.

iNews. (n.d.). “The first queen Emperor Wuxi of the Han Dynasty – cousin Chen Jiao”. Retrieved on 9 October 2023 from https://inf.news/en/history/c972fbd1ae7ccd2fba75df1dd28180a5.html.


[1] Wang, 2015

[2] Wang, 2015

[3] Wang, 2015

[4] Wang, 2015

[5] Wang, 2015

[6] Wang, 2015

[7] Wang, 2015, p. 114

[8] iNews, n.d., “The first queen Emperor Wuxi of the Han Dynasty – cousin Chen Jiao”

[9] iNews, n.d., “The first queen Emperor Wuxi of the Han Dynasty – cousin Chen Jiao”

[10] iNews, n.d., “The first queen Emperor Wuxi of the Han Dynasty – cousin Chen Jiao”

[11] Wang, 2015

[12] Wang, 2015

[13] Wang, 2015

[14] Wang, 2015; iNews, n.d., “Chen Ajiao is so proud of being pampered, she can’t buy a gift for her daughter to exchange it for Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty.”

[15] Wang, 2015

[16] Wang, 2015

[17] Wang, 2015

[18] iNews, n.d., “The first queen Emperor Wuxi of the Han Dynasty – cousin Chen Jiao”

[19] iNews, n.d., “The first queen Emperor Wuxi of the Han Dynasty – cousin Chen Jiao”

[20] Wang, 2015

[21] iNews, n.d., “Chen Ajiao is so proud of being pampered, she can’t buy a gift for her daughter to exchange it for Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty.”

[22] Wang, 2015

[23] Wang, 2015

[24] iNews, n.d., “Chen Ajiao is so proud of being pampered, she can’t buy a gift for her daughter to exchange it for Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty.”

[25] iNews, n.d., “Chen Ajiao is so proud of being pampered, she can’t buy a gift for her daughter to exchange it for Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty.”

[26] Wang, 2015

[27] Wang, 2015

[28] Wang, 2015

[29] Wang, 2015

[30] Wang, 2015, p. 115

[31] Wang, 2015

[32] Wang, 2015; iNews, n.d., “Chen Ajiao is so proud of being pampered, she can’t buy a gift for her daughter to exchange it for Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty.”

[33] Wang, 2015

[34] Wang, 2015

[35] Wang, 2015

[36] Wang, 2015

[37] Wang, 2015

[38] Wang, 2015, p. 115

[39] Wang, 2015

[40] Wang, 2015






About Lauralee Jacks 188 Articles
I am a former elementary teacher in Tennessee. I have a bachelor’s degree in Liberal and Civic Studies from St. Mary’s College of California, a master’s in Elementary Education from the University of Phoenix, and a doctorate in Educational Leadership from the College of Saint Mary. Because my family are from East Asia, I have a passion for historical Chinese and Korean television shows. I always wanted to separate fact from fiction in dramas. Writing articles from History of Royal Women gives me a chance to dig deeper and explore these royal women as they might have been in real life. Also, it gives me a chance to look at the history and culture of where my family originated. I love researching East Asian royalty because they rarely get enough attention in the West often being overshadowed by European royalty. I find these royal women to be just as fascinating and their stories deserve to be told. Thus, I am excited to write for History of Royal Women!

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