Empress Feng Qing – The deposed Empress who was forced to become a Buddhist nun

Empress Feng Qing’s story is truly tragic. She was a woman who could not control her own fate. She was the first Empress of Emperor Xiaowen. However, she was supplanted by her own half-sister, Feng Run. Feng Run did not have any sisterly affection for Empress Feng Qing. Instead, Feng Run slandered her and demanded her half-sister’s deposition. Emperor Xiaowen, at last, gave way. He deposed Empress Feng Qing and forced her to become a Buddhist nun. Even though she had a tragic ending, Feng Qing proved to be a virtuous empress.

Empress Feng Qing was a great-granddaughter of Emperor Wentong of the short-lived Northern Yan dynasty.[1] Sometime after the Northern Wei defeated the Northern Yan dynasty, Princess Feng Qing’s grandfather, Prince Feng Lang, was executed.[2] Feng Qing’s father, Prince Feng Xi, fled to the nomadic Qiang tribes.[3] When Grand Empress Dowager Feng recalled Prince Feng Xi from exile, the King of the Qiang gave Prince Feng Xi a princess from his tribe to marry. This woman was Princess Boling of the Qiang tribe and Feng Qing’s mother.[4] Princess Boling died shortly after giving birth to Feng Qing. Feng Qing had an older half-sister named Princess Feng Run. Princess Feng Run was the daughter of Prince Feng Xi and a slave woman named Chang.[5] After Princess Boling died, Prince Feng Xi married Chang, his former slave.[6]

Grand Empress Dowager Feng brought her older half-sister Princess Feng Run to the palace to be the future Empress of Emperor Xiaowen[7]. However, she fell ill and was placed in a Buddhist nunnery.[8] Grand Empress Dowager Feng sent for Princess Feng Qing. Princess Feng Qing married Emperor Xiaowen and became his concubine.[9] 

After Grand Empress Dowager Feng died, Emperor Xiaowen changed his last name from Tuoba to the Han-Chinese name Yuan.[10] He also moved his capital of Pingcheng to Luoyang.[11] He installed Feng Qing as his Empress in 493 C.E.[12] As Empress, Feng Qing managed the inner palace well.[13] She suggested for the Emperor to treat all his consorts equally instead of favouring only a few.[14] She also supported the Emperor in his policies and helped the harem transition easily into the new capital.[15]

Once Emperor Xiaowen’s new capital was established, Princess Feng Run had recovered from her illness, and Emperor Xiaowen ordered her to become his concubine.[16] As soon as Princess Feng Run arrived, she quickly became the Emperor’s favourite.[17] Emperor Xiaowen openly snubbed Empress Feng Qing and openly favoured Consort Feng Run. Empress Feng Qing did not receive any kindness from her arrogant half-sister. Consort Feng Run frequently slandered her. She kept on insisting to Emperor Xiaowen that he should depose Empress Feng Qing and make her Empress instead.[18] Emperor Xiaowen did as Consort Feng Run suggested. In 496 C.E., Emperor Xiaowen deposed Empress Feng Qing and forced her to become a Buddhist nun.[19] In 497 C.E., Feng Run was invested as Empress.[20]

When Prince Feng Xi died, the deposed Empress Feng Qing came out of the nunnery to attend the mourning ceremonies.[21] After the funeral, she went back to her nunnery, where she spent the rest of her life. Just like her birth, the date of her death remains unrecorded. Even though she spent most of her life in obscurity, ancient chroniclers have ensured that she was not forgotten. Many writers have been moved by Empress Feng Qing’s tragic story.[22] She has been praised as a paragon of virtue.


McMahon, K. (2013). Women Shall Not Rule: Imperial Wives and Concubines in China from Han to Liao. NY: Rowman and Littlefield.

Tai, P. Y. & Ching-Chung, P. (2015). 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.

[1] Tai & Ching-Chung, p. 284

[2]  Tai & Ching-Chung, p. 284

[3] Tai & Ching-Chung, p. 284

[4]  Tai & Ching-Chung, p. 284

[5]  Tai & Ching-Chung, p. 284

[6]  Tai & Ching-Chung, p. 284

[7] McMahon, p. 140

[8] Tai & Ching-Chung, p. 284

[9]  Tai & Ching-Chung, p. 284

[10]  Tai & Ching-Chung, p. 284

[11] Tai & Ching-Chung, p. 284

[12] McMahon, p. 140

[13]  Tai & Ching-Chung, p. 284

[14]  Tai & Ching-Chung, p. 284

[15] Tai & Ching-Chung, p. 284

[16] McMahon, p. 140

[17] McMahon, p. 140

[18] McMahon, pp. 140-141

[19] McMahon, p. 141

[20] McMahon, p. 141

[21]  Tai & Ching-Chung, p. 285

[22]  Tai & Ching-Chung, p. 285

About Lauralee Jacks 118 Articles
I am a third grade 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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