Grand Empress Dowager Bo – The neglected Imperial Consort who became the most fortunate Empress Dowager




(public domain)

Grand Empress Dowager Bo was an illegitimate daughter who became the second Empress Dowager in the Han Dynasty. She was the concubine of two kings. One of them would eventually become the first Emperor of the Han Dynasty, who would mostly neglect her. Yet, when her son rose to the throne, Empress Dowager Bo became the most powerful woman in China. This article shows Grand Empress Dowager Bo’s unlikely path to power.

The birthdate of Grand Empress Dowager Bo is unknown. She was from Wu District (modern-day Jiangsu Province).[1] She was illegitimate.[2] Her mother was an imperial member of the Wei kingdom.[3] She had an affair with a man named Bo.[4] Thus, the future Grand Empress Dowager Bo was the result of the affair.[5]

The future Grand Empress Dowager Bo originally became a concubine to King Wei Bao of Wei.[6] During the war between Han and Chu, King Wei Bao was a supporter of King Xiang Yu of Chu.[7] King Wei Bao was defeated by King Liu Bang (the future Emperor Gaozu of Han).[8] King Wei Bao was declared a traitor and was killed by one of King Liu Bang’s generals. Concubine Bo was forced into a life of slavery.[9] She was sent into the weaving room at the rear of King Liu Bang’s palace.[10]

Concubine Bo was said to be extremely beautiful and charming.[11] King Liu Bang would occasionally enter the weaving room and was attracted to Concubine Bo.[12] He decided to make her his concubine.[13] Concubine Bo struck up a friendship with Consort Guan and Consort Zhao Zi’er.[14] They promised that they would never betray each other even if they won the King’s favour.[15] For a year and a half, Concubine Bo remained unfavoured.[16] Yet, both Consort Guan and Consort Zhao Zi’er became the king’s favourites.[17]

One day, King Liu Bang heard Consort Guan and Consort Zhao Zi’er mocking the pact they made with Concubine Bo.[18] The intrigued king made the consorts tell him about the pact.[19] Afterwards, King Liu Bang summoned Concubine Bo to his palace.[20] Concubine Bo told him that she dreamed that she would give birth to a future emperor.[21] This fascinated King Liu Bang, and he spent a night with her.[22] She immediately conceived and bore him a son named Prince Liu Heng (the future Emperor Wen of Han).[23] After the birth of her son, Concubine Bo was promoted to Lady Bo.[24] It was the only time Lady Bo was ever favoured.[25] She remained in her lowly position in the harem throughout her husband’s reign.[26] Even after King Liu Bang ascended the throne of China as Emperor Gaozu of Han, she never received any titles.[27] Thus, she was neglected and saw very little of Emperor Gaozu.[28]

When Empress Gaozu died on 1 June 195 B.C.E., Empress Dowager Lu Zhi imprisoned all the concubines that won Emperor Gaozu’s favour.[29] Only Lady Bo was not imprisoned because she was unfavoured.[30] Empress Dowager Lu Zhi made Lady Bo the Dowager Princess of Dai. She also made her son, Liu Heng, the Prince of Dai. Then, she sent them away from the palace to live in the state of Dai.[31]

When Empress Dowager Lu Zhi died on 30 July 180 B.C.E., Prince Liu Heng ascended the throne as Emperor Wen of the Han Dynasty. Princess Bo was made Empress Dowager Bo. Empress Dowager Bo immediately granted titles to her family.[32] She even made her younger brother, Bo Zhao, the Marquis of Zhi. When her grandson, Liu Qi, was appointed Crown Prince, she advised Emperor Wen to make his mother, Dou Yifang, his Empress.[33] This was because she believed that a mother must be honoured if the son was.[34] Thus, her influence helped make Dou Yifang the next Empress of China.

Empress Dowager Bo was known to be very careful and wary.[35] She did not interfere in troublesome situations.[36] She did, on one occasion, tell Emperor Wen to punish his son when he acted badly.[37] When Empress Dowager Bo fell sick for three years, Emperor Wen personally made soup and fed her medicine every day.[38] This demonstrated Emperor Wen’s filial piety to his mother.[39]

In 157 B.C.E., Emperor Wen died. Prince Liu Qi ascended the throne as Emperor Jing. Emperor Jing made his grandmother the Grand Empress Dowager.[40] Grand Empress Dowager Bo died on 9 June 155 B.C.E.[41] She was buried in the South Tomb.[42] In 2021, archaeologists unearthed Grand Empress Dowager Bo’s tomb.[43] They found numerous gold ware, including gold ornaments of horses and bears.[44] This tomb is significant because it shows that within the Western Han Dynasty, both the agricultural society and the nomadic tribes made exchanges and often merged with each other.[45] Emperor Jing also built a pagoda in honour of her, known as the Wangmu Tower.[46]

Grand Empress Dowager Bo’s story was an unusual one. She was the result of an ill-fated love affair. She was a concubine to both a king and an emperor. She was largely ignored by Emperor Gaozu. Yet, his neglect would prove to be her greatest fortune.[47] It allowed for her and her son to live in peace away from the palace until he became Emperor. When her son’s fortunes rose, hers did too.[48] Grand Empress Dowager Bo proved she was a good mother.[49] It is no wonder why she was greatly respected during and after her lifetime. Yet, her greatest legacy was her tomb and Wangmu Tower, which allows modern audiences a glimpse of the past.[50]

Sources:

Bao S. (2015). “Bo, Concubine of Emperor Gaozu”. 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. p. 99.

iMedia. (n.d.). “The Empress Dowager Bo and ‘Wangmu Tower'”. Retrieved on 7 October 2023 from https://min.news/en/history/49c92af12d580c999be3bc9efd35cec1.html.

iMedia. (n.d.). “The second empress dowager of the Han Dynasty: How legendary is the life of Empress Bo?”. Retrieved on 7 October 2023 from https://min.news/en/history/d300b686092b82d1bdc79083921cb7b6.html.

iNews. (n.d.). “Lucky in misfortune: Empress Dowager Bo made two wise choices, and made a generation of Ming Jun and Emperor Wen of the Han Dynasty”. Retrieved on 7 October 2023 from https://inf.news/en/history/d5965dcdb43f74fdb399dd576da6c5c1.html.

iNews. (n.d.). “What did Bo Ji do? He escaped the persecution of Empress Lu and raised his son to become an emperor through the ages.”. Retrieved on 7 October 2023 from https://inf.news/en/history/d7bce654d7a4e388bda2c093f5b3343b.html.

XinhuaNet News. (17 December 2021). “Goldware unearthed in the tomb of Han Dynasty emperor’s mother”. Retrieved on 7 October 2023 from http://www.news.cn/english/2021-12/17/c_1310379434.htm.


[1] Bao, 2015

[2] Bao, 2015

[3] Bao, 2015

[4] Bao, 2015

[5] Bao, 2015

[6] Bao, 2015

[7] Bao, 2015

[8] Bao, 2015

[9] Bao, 2015

[10] Bao, 2015

[11] Bao, 2015; iNews, n.d., “What did Bo Ji do? He escaped the persecution of Empress Lu and raised his son to become an emperor through the ages.”

[12] iNews, n.d., “What did Bo Ji do? He escaped the persecution of Empress Lu and raised his son to become an emperor through the ages.”

[13] iNews, n.d., “What did Bo Ji do? He escaped the persecution of Empress Lu and raised his son to become an emperor through the ages.”, n.d.

[14] Bao, 2015

[15] Bao, 2015

[16] iNews, n.d., “What did Bo Ji do? He escaped the persecution of Empress Lu and raised his son to become an emperor through the ages.”

[17] Bao, 2015

[18] Bao, 2015

[19] Bao, 2015

[20] Bao, 2015

[21] Bao, 2015

[22] Bao, 2015

[23] Bao, 2015

[24] Bao, 2015

[25] Bao, 2015

[26] Bao, 2015

[27] Bao, 2015

[28] Bao, 2015

[29] Bao, 2015

[30] Bao, 2015

[31] Bao, 2015

[32] Bao, 2015

[33] Bao, 2015

[34] Bao, 2015

[35] Bao, 2015

[36] Bao, 2015

[37] Bao, 2015

[38] iNews, n.d., “What did Bo Ji do? He escaped the persecution of Empress Lu and raised his son to become an emperor through the ages.”

[39] iNews, n.d., “What did Bo Ji do? He escaped the persecution of Empress Lu and raised his son to become an emperor through the ages.”

[40] Bao, 2015

[41] Bao, 2015

[42] Bao, 2015

[43] XinhuaNet News, 17 December 2021, “Goldware unearthed in the tomb of Han Dynasty emperor’s mother”

[44] XinhuaNet News, 17 December 2021, “Goldware unearthed in the tomb of Han Dynasty emperor’s mother”

[45] XinhuaNet News, 17 December 2021, “Goldware unearthed in the tomb of Han Dynasty emperor’s mother”

[46] iMedia, n.d., “The Empress Dowager Bo and ‘Wangmu Tower'”

[47] iNews, n.d., “Lucky in misfortune: Empress Dowager Bo made two wise choices, and made a generation of Ming Jun and Emperor Wen of the Han Dynasty”

[48] iNews, n.d., “Lucky in misfortune: Empress Dowager Bo made two wise choices, and made a generation of Ming Jun and Emperor Wen of the Han Dynasty”

[49] iMedia, n.d., “The second empress dowager of the Han Dynasty: How legendary is the life of Empress Bo?”

[50] XinhuaNet News, 17 December 2021, “Goldware unearthed in the tomb of Han Dynasty emperor’s mother”; iMedia, n.d., “The Empress Dowager Bo and ‘Wangmu Tower'”






About Lauralee Jacks 186 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!

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.