Princess Taiping – The most powerful Princess of the Tang Dynasty (Part three)




taiping
Princess Taiping as portrayed in Palace of Desire (Screenshot/Fair Use)

In my last article, I discussed the political struggle between Princess Taiping and Empress Wei. Princess Taiping had successfully prevented Empress Wei from becoming the next female Emperor of China. Upon the accession of Emperor Ruizong, Princess Taiping was the most powerful and richest woman in Tang China.[1] However, she made an enemy of her nephew, Prince Li Longji, the Crown Prince and future Emperor Xuanzong. In this article, I will describe the hostile relationship between Princess Taiping and her nephew. Princess Taiping would boldly try to usurp the throne from Emperor Xuanzong to become the next female Emperor of China, but she would ultimately lose.

On 25 July 713 C.E., Emperor Ruizong officially became Emperor of China. Emperor Ruizong recognized Princess Taiping’s role in restoring him to the throne and was immensely grateful to her.[2] Due to Princess Taiping’s “meritorious service” [3], he increased her fiefdom to ten thousand households.[4] Princess Taiping won her brother’s love and respect.[5] Princess Taiping became the most influential woman in court, and her brother often heeded her advice.[6] She would always have the final say on political issues.[7] She was also very rich. Her manor was on the most fruitful land in the capital, and she had thousands of servants.[8] Her wealth was so immense that her treasures rivalled the Emperor’s.[9] So vast was her wealth that after her death, it took over three years for the officials to document her properties.[10] 

It was said that the vast privileges and wealth that Emperor Ruizong bestowed on Princess Taiping made her more arrogant, corrupt, and power-hungry.[11] Many courtiers would bribe her in order to get promotions.[12] It was even said that she had an affair with a monk named Hui Fan.[13] This affair has proven to be false and has been debunked by many historians as a means to further debase her reputation.[14] She soon gained an enemy in Prince Li Longji. Prince Li Longji was disgusted by his aunt consorting in bribery and forming her own political faction.[15] He made no secret of his dislike of her.[16] 

Princess Taiping recognized Prince Li Longji as her enemy, and she tried to remove him as the heir apparent.[17] However, Prince Li Longji had many followers and pressured Emperor Ruizong to remove Princess Taiping from the court.[18] Reluctantly, Emperor Ruizong agreed.[19] He sent Princess Taiping and her husband, Wu Youji, to Puzhou (modern-day Yongji District in Shanxi Province).[20] Emperor Ruizong then began to rely on his son, Prince Li Longji, in political matters.[21] Eventually, Princess Taiping and Wu Youji were recalled back to Chang’an. In 712 C.E.,  Wu Youji died, and Emperor Ruizong made him the posthumous Prince of Ding. In that same year, Emperor Ruizong abdicated in favour of his son, Prince Li Longji. He became Emperor Xuanzong. 

Emperor Xuanzong kept his watch constantly on Princess Taiping.[22] She openly expressed her dislike of Emperor Xuanzong.[23] She secretly plotted a coup to dethrone Emperor Xuanzong and make herself the next female Emperor of China.[24] However, her plot was leaked to Emperor Xuanzong.[25] Emperor Xuanzong planned a surprise attack against her and her followers.

On 29 July 713 C.E., Emperor Xuanzong led a surprise attack against Princess Taiping.[26] Her followers were killed or committed suicide.[27] Princess Taiping managed to escape the attack and fled to a temple in the mountains.[28] She stayed there for three days.[29] Princess Taiping returned home because she believed the political tension between her and Emperor Xuanzong was over.[30] When she returned home, she found an imperial edict from Emperor Xuanzong ordering her to commit suicide.[31]  Therefore, on 2 August 713 C.E., Princess Taiping committed suicide. Princess Taiping’s first husband, Xue Shao’s grave was destroyed.[32] Only her son, Xue Chongjian, was spared because of his close friendship with Emperor Xuanzong.[33] Emperor Xuanzong granted Xue Chongjian the imperial surname of Li and let him keep his titles.[34] The rest of her sons were executed.

Princess Taiping was the most influential princess of the Tang dynasty. She played a key role in her mother’s abdication and the restoration of her brothers to the throne. However, she made two powerful enemies. She defeated her first enemy, Empress Wei, but she could not defeat her second enemy, Emperor Xuanzong. She tried to take the throne from Emperor Xuanzong but failed. Princess Taiping had her mother’s personality and political acumen, but she could not succeed in following her mother’s footsteps as the next female Emperor of China. It is no wonder why Tang China saw females like Princess Taiping as a threat.[35] She was the last woman of Tang China to ever wield immense political influence.[36] With the death of Princess Taiping, no woman had ever dominated the court of Tang China.[37] Emperor Xuanzong and his successors were to ensure that there would never be another woman as powerful as Princess Taiping.[38]

Sources:

Aiwen, L. (2015). “Princess Taiping”. Notable Women of China: Shang Dynasty to the Early Twentieth Century. (B. B. Peterson, Ed. Y. Jun, trans.). London: Routledge. pp. 206-209

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

Lee, L. X.H. (2014). “Li, Princess Taiping.” Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Women, Volume II: Tang Through Ming 618 – 1644. (L. X. H. Lee, Ed.; A. D. Stefanowska, Ed.; S. Wiles, Ed.). NY: Routledge. pp. 200-203.


[1] McMahon, 2013

[2] Lee, 2014

[3] Lee, 2014, p. 202

[4] Lee, 2014

[5] Lee, 2014

[6] Lee, 2014

[7] Lee, 2014

[8] Lee, 2014

[9] Lee, 2014

[10] Lee, 2014

[11] Aiwen, 2015

[12] Lee, 2014

[13] Aiwen, 2015

[14] McMahon, 2013; Lee, 2014

[15] Lee, 2014

[16] Lee, 2014

[17] Lee, 2014

[18] Lee, 2014

[19] Lee, 2014

[20] Lee, 2014

[21] Lee, 2014

[22] Lee, 2014

[23] Lee, 2014

[24] Lee, 2014

[25] Lee, 2014

[26] Aiwen, 2015

[27] Lee, 2014

[28] Aiwen, 2015

[29] Lee, 2014

[30] Lee, 2014

[31] McMahon, 2013

[32] Aiwen, 2015

[33] Lee, 2014

[34] Lee, 2014

[35] McMahon, 2013

[36] McMahon, 2013

[37] McMahon, 2013

[38] McMahon, 2013






About Lauralee Jacks 98 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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