Empress Xiaoke – The neglected mother of the Longqing Emperor

Empress Xiaoke
(public domain)

The Jiajing Emperor of the Ming Dynasty had four Empresses. Yet, each of them met a pitiful and tragic end. One of them was Empress Xiaoke. She was never made Empress Consort, but was the mother of the Longqing Emperor. During the Jiajing Emperor’s reign, Empress Xiaoke and the Longqing Emperor were largely ignored. He even refused to let the Longqing Emperor mourn his mother for three years. Thus, Empress Xiaoke suffered decades of neglect by her abusive husband.

In 1510, Empress Xiaoke was born in Beijing. Her given name is unknown. She was of the Du family.[1] Her father was Du Lin. Her mother’s name is unknown. In 1530, Lady Du was selected to become a concubine to the Jiajing Emperor.[2] However, she was not favoured or promoted until six years later.[3] 

In 1536, Concubine Du had finally gained the Jiajing Emperor’s favour.[4] She was given the title of Consort Kang.[5] On 4 March 1537, she gave birth to Zhu Zaihou, the third son of the Jiajing Emperor. After the birth of her son, the Jiajing Emperor grew tired of Consort Kang.[6] She never regained her husband’s favour, and he strongly disliked her.[7]

Because Consort Kang was not the Jiajing Emperor’s favourite Consort, Prince Zhu Zaihou was largely ignored by his father.[8] In 1549, the Crown Prince of the Ming Dynasty died. This left Prince Zhu Zaihou, the eldest son and the next heir apparent.[9] However, the Jiajing Emperor disliked him and did not make him the Crown Prince.[10] He kept the Crown Prince position vacant and hoped that one of his other sons would take his place.[11] This left Prince Zhu Zaihou without a father’s love and ill-equipped for kingship.[12] When Prince Zhu Zaihou ascended the throne as the Longqing Emperor in 1567, he had very little interest in politics and often indulged in sensual pleasures.[13]

In February of 1554, Consort Kang died at the age of forty-four. The Jiajing Emperor denied her the burial privileges as the mother of the Crown Prince.[14] Instead, she was given the customary burial of an Imperial Consort.[15] She was buried in a simple tomb in Jinshan.[16] Against tradition, the Jiajing Emperor refused to allow Prince Zhu Zaihou to perform three years of mourning for his mother.[17] It was not until Prince Zhu Zaihou ascended the throne as the Longqing Emperor that he elevated his mother to Empress status.[18] She was given the posthumous name of Empress Xiaoke.[19] He also reburied her next to the Jiajing Emperor in the Yongling Mausoleum.[20]

Empress Xiaoke was favoured by the Jiajing Emperor for only a short time. Then, he strongly disliked her and neglected her for the rest of her life. He even refused to name her son the Crown Prince. This would leave repercussions not only for the Longqing Emperor but also for the Ming Dynasty.[21] He did not shower his son with love and the tools he needed to become Emperor. The Longqing Emperor would spend his reign on sensual pleasures and not politics.[22] If the Jiajing Emperor spent more attention on his son, then history would have been very different.[23] During the Jiajing Emperor’s reign, Empress Xiaoke was deprived of the privileges of the mother of the Crown Prince. Fortunately, her son gave her the privileges that she deserved.


Dillon, M. (2016). Encyclopedia of Chinese History. NY: Taylor and Francis.

McMahon, K. (2016). Celestial Women: Imperial Wives and Concubines in China from Song to Qing. NY: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Swope, K. M. (2019). The Ming World. NY: Taylor and Francis.

[1] McMahon, 2016

[2] McMahon, 2016

[3] McMahon, 2016

[4] McMahon, 2016

[5] McMahon, 2016

[6] McMahon, 2016

[7] Dillon, 2016

[8] Dillon, 2016

[9] Dillon, 2016

[10] Dillon, 2016

[11] Dillon, 2016

[12] Dillion, 2016; McMahon, 2016

[13] McMahon, 2016

[14] McMahon, 2016

[15] McMahon, 2016

[16] McMahon, 2016

[17] McMahon, 2016

[18] Swope, 2019

[19] Swope, 2019

[20] McMahon, 2016

[21] McMahon, 2016

[22] McMahon, 2016

[23] McMahon, 2016

About Lauralee Jacks 178 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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