Empress Feng Run – The Empress who cheated on the Emperor with a eunuch monk




Empress Feng Run was the second empress of Emperor Xiaowen. She has often been portrayed in a negative light. She has been depicted as a ruthless schemer who rid herself of her rivals, including her own sister. She even cheated on her husband with a eunuch monk and practised witchcraft to kill her husband. Yet, despite all her ruthless actions, Emperor Xiaowen continued to love her and protected her from being deposed.

Empress Feng Run 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, Prince Feng Lang, Princess Feng Run’s grandfather, was executed.[2] Feng Run’s father, Prince Feng Xi, fled to the nomadic Qiang tribes.[3] In his exile, a slave woman named Chang bore him a daughter named Princess Feng Run.[4] Chang also gave birth to another daughter, but she died at a young age.[5] 

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.[6] Princess Boling died shortly after giving birth to Feng Qing. After Princess Boling died, Prince Feng Xi married Chang, his former slave.[7]

Grand Empress Dowager Feng brought Princess Feng Run to the palace to be the future Empress of Emperor Xiaowen.[8] However, she fell ill and was placed in a Buddhist nunnery.[9] As soon as Princess Feng Run’s health had recovered, Emperor Xiaowen sent for Princess Feng Run to become his concubine.[10] She quickly became his favourite.[11] Yet, Consort Feng Run was ambitious and unhappy with her status. She was jealous of her half-sister, Empress Feng Qing’s status. Consort Feng Run slandered Empress Feng Qing.[12] She kept demanding her half-sister’s deposition.[13] At last, Emperor Xiaowen relented. In 496 C.E., Emperor Xiaowen deposed Empress Feng Qing and forced her to become a Buddhist nun.[14] In 497 C.E., Feng Run was installed as Empress.[15]

Empress Feng Run remained childless.[16] Lady Gao gave birth to the heir apparent named Yuan Ke. Shortly afterwards, Lady Gao died. Ancient chroniclers claimed that Empress Feng Run poisoned her.[17] It is unclear whether Empress Feng Run had a hand in Lady Gao’s death.[18] Later, when Yuan Ke took the throne in 499, he made Lady Gao the posthumous “Empress Dowager Wenzhao”.[19] Empress Feng Run was made the foster mother to the heir apparent, but they did not get along.[20]

Emperor Xiaowen went on military expeditions for years.[21] Thus, he rarely saw Empress Feng Run. Empress Feng Run had fallen in love with Gao Pusa, who was both a eunuch and a Buddhist monk.[22] The Emperor’s absence gave the opportunity for Empress Feng Run to indulge in her love affair with the eunuch monk.[23]

Empress Feng Run wished to increase her family’s status.[24] She wanted her younger brother to marry Emperor Xiaowen’s sister, Princess Pengcheng. Princess Pengcheng was so unwilling to marry the Empress’s brother that she told Emperor Xiaowen about Empress Feng Run’s passionate love affair with the eunuch monk.[25] Emperor Xiaowen refused to believe his sister’s accusation.[26] When Empress Feng Run learned that Princess Pengcheng had told her husband about her love affair, she was worried that she would be deposed like Empress Feng Qing. She and her mother, Princess Chang, practised witchcraft to kill the Emperor.[27] The witchcraft failed, and the news reached the Emperor’s ears. Even though there was evidence that Empress Feng Run and Princess Chang had practised witchcraft, Emperor Xiaowen refused to believe that his beloved Empress had tried to kill him.[28] 

In 499 C.E., Emperor Xiaowen was on his deathbed. He ordered Empress Feng Run to commit suicide by poison but that she would receive a burial fit for an Empress.[29] This may have been seen as an act of love.[30] Emperor Xiaowen knew his brothers hated Empress Feng Run.[31] They made it clear that once he died, they would kill the Empress themselves. [32] Thus, Emperor Xiaowen probably thought that having her commit suicide by poison would be better than his brothers’ methods of eliminating her. Empress Feng Run died of poison and was given a burial fit for an Empress. It is clear that Empress Feng Run was hated during and after her lifetime. Nevertheless, Emperor Xiaowen continued to love Empress Feng Run despite her cruel actions.

Sources:

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]  Tai & Ching-Chung, p. 284

[8] McMahon, p. 140

[9] Tai & Ching-Chung, p. 284

[10] McMahon, p. 140

[11] McMahon, p. 140

[12] McMahon, pp. 140-141

[13] McMahon, pp. 140-141

[14] McMahon, p. 141

[15] McMahon, p. 141

[16] Tai & Ching-Chung, p. 285

[17] Tai & Ching-Chung, p. 285

[18] Tai & Ching-Chung, p. 285

[19] Tai & Ching-Chung, p. 285

[20] Tai & Ching-Chung, p. 284

[21] McMahon, p. 141

[22] McMahon, p. 141

[23] McMahon, p. 141

[24] Tai & Ching-Chung, p. 285

[25] McMahon, p. 141

[26] Tai & Ching-Chung, p. 285

[27]  Tai & Ching-Chung, p. 285

[28] Tai & Ching-Chung, p. 285

[29] Tai & Ching-Chung, p. 285

[30]  Tai & Ching-Chung, p. 285

[31]  Tai & Ching-Chung, p. 285

[32]  Tai & Ching-Chung, p. 284






About Lauralee Jacks 84 Articles
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. I live in Tennessee where I taught first grade. 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 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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