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




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

Princess Taiping was the most powerful and influential princess of the Tang dynasty. In my last article, I discussed Princess Taiping’s part she played in her mother, Empress Wu’s abdication and the restoration of her brother, Emperor Zhongzong, to the throne. In my second article on Princess Taiping, I will detail the power and influence she wielded during Emperor Zhongzong’s reign. While she wielded immense power and influence, she would find Empress Wei to be a difficult political rival. Throughout Emperor Zhongzong’s reign, the two fought each other for power. However, only one would be the victor. In this article, I will discuss how she ousted Empress Wei and restored her other brother, Emperor Ruizong, to the throne.

In 705 C.E., Princess Taiping contributed to restoring her brother, Emperor Zhongzong, to the throne. Emperor Zhongzong was immensely grateful to Princess Taiping. He gave Princess Taiping an honorary title. He also rewarded her with more territory, and she received her own office and staff. Princess Taiping became very influential during Emperor Zhongzong’s reign. It was said that upon her brother’s accession to the throne, Princess Taiping grew increasingly arrogant and was deeply involved in court politics.[1] She recommended officials to high positions to the Emperor.[2] Princess Taiping was also known for being generous among the poor, and she often gave them money.[3] She supported many writers and scholars.[4] Thus, she grew in popularity and had many supporters.[5] 

Even though Princess Taiping wielded immense influence at court, she greatly disliked her brother, Emperor Zhongzong. She found him to be a weak ruler who was often at the hands of his powerful, ambitious, and scheming wife, Empress Wei. [6] Princess Taiping was often at odds with Empress Wei and Imperial Consort Shangguan Wan’er, the consort of Emperor Zhongzong.[7] They both viewed Princess Taiping as a political rival and were jealous of her strategic mind, which they found was superior to theirs.[8] Their rivalry escalated when Emperor Zhongzong died on 3 July 710 C.E., and Empress Wei became regent to Prince Li Chongmao (Emperor Zhongzong’s son by a concubine).

In July 710 C.E., Empress Wei planned to usurp the throne and declare herself female Emperor of China like her mother-in-law, Wu Zetian.[9] Before she could make her daring move, she had to eliminate her brother-in-law, Prince Li Dan and Princess Taiping.[10] However, Princess Taiping and Prince Li Dan had already been conspiring for some time to oust the throne from Empress Wei.[11] Therefore, when Empress Wei sent assassins to murder them, Princess Taiping and her son, Xue Chongjian, had already joined the army of Prince Li Longji (Prince Li Dan’s son and the future Emperor Xuanzong).[12] 

On the night of 21 July 710 C.E., Prince Li Longji attacked the palace. Empress Wei was murdered. However, no one wanted to make a move against the boy emperor and put Prince Li Dan on the throne.[13] This was because of the Emperor’s age. They believed he was too young to be harmed.[14] When no one made a move, it was Princess Taiping who took the first step.[15] She boldly told the boy emperor, “Everybody turns to the prime minister, little boy; this is not your seat.” [16] After she said these words, she grabbed the boy emperor and pulled him away from the throne.[17] This encouraged Prince Li Dan to hesitantly take his seat upon the throne.[18] He was then proclaimed Emperor.[19] He officially took the throne as Emperor Ruizong on 25 July 713 C.E. Emperor Ruizong knew Princess Taiping’s contribution in restoring him to the throne and would greatly reward her.[20] During Emperor Ruizong’s reign, Princess Taiping would be the most powerful woman in Tang China.[21]

During Emperor Zhongzong’s reign, Princess Taiping and Empress Wei were the two most powerful women in Tang China. Yet, they realized they could not share power with each other. This was why one of them had to die.[22] In the end, it was Princess Taiping who came out the victor. Under Emperor Ruizong’s reign, she was the uncontested most powerful woman in Tang China.[23] Emperor Ruizong loved and respected her.[24] However, she soon gained another enemy. This enemy would prove to be her undoing. The enemy was Li Longji, who would become Emperor Xuanzong. In my next article, I will discuss the hostile relationship between Princess Taiping and Emperor Xuanzong. This relationship would lead Princess Taiping to do the most daring action she would ever do in her lifetime. She would try to be the next female Emperor of China. However, she would ultimately lose everything that was dear to her, including her life.

Read part three here.

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] Lee, 2014

[2] Aiwen, 2015

[3] Lee, 2014

[4] Lee, 2014

[5] Lee, 2014

[6] Aiwen, 2015

[7] Lee, 2014

[8] Lee, 2014

[9] Lee, 2014

[10]Lee, 2014

[11]Lee, 2014

[12]Lee, 2014

[13] Aiwen, 2015

[14] Aiwen, 2015

[15] Lee, 2014

[16] Aiwen, 2015, p. 208

[17] Aiwen, 2015

[18] Lee, 2014

[19] Aiwen, 2015

[20] Lee, 2014

[21] McMahon, 2013

[22] Lee, 2014

[23] McMahon, 2013

[24] Lee, 2014






About Lauralee Jacks 99 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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