Zhang Sung

Zhang Sung

Chinese Empress
Country: China

  1. Biography of Empress Zhangsun
  2. Empress Zhangsun's Modesty and Kindness

Biography of Empress Zhangsun

Empress Zhangsun, also known as Empress Wende, was a Chinese empress who was known for her modesty and humility throughout her life. She was born in 601 in a family of generals from the Sui Dynasty. Empress Zhangsun received a good education under the guidance of her uncle, her mother's brother, after the death of her father.

At the age of 12, in 613, she married Li Shimin, the second son of General Li Yuan from the Tang Dynasty. Li Shimin was 14 years old at the time. In 617, Li Yuan and Li Shimin captured the city of Chang'an. In 618, after news of Emperor Yangdi's death in a coup, Li Yuan became the emperor of the Tang Dynasty and appointed Li Shimin as the crown prince and his wife as the princess.

Empress Zhangsun's husband, Li Shimin, was known for his intelligence and capability among his brothers. He managed to defeat his main enemies and overshadowed his older brother's glory, despite the fact that his older brother was next in line for the throne. According to sources, in 626, Li Shimin's brothers planned to eliminate him by setting a trap, but he learned about it from trusted sources and organized a counterattack with his most reliable and loyal soldiers. When Li Shimin led his troops to the mansion, Princess Zhangsun personally visited the soldiers to instill confidence in victory. Her brother was one of Li Shimin's key aides. After successfully dealing with their enemies, Li Shimin forced the emperor to make him the heir prince. Two months later, the emperor passed the throne to Li Shimin, who became Emperor Taizong, and his wife became Empress Zhangsun. Their eldest son was given the title of crown prince.

Empress Zhangsun's Modesty and Kindness

Throughout her life, Empress Zhangsun was known for her great modesty and humility, rejecting any luxury. When the nurse of the crown prince claimed that the palace lacked goods and money, she replied that the crown prince should be concerned with increasing virtue and honor, rather than material wealth. The empress treated her ladies-in-waiting and eunuchs with tolerance. Whenever any of them fell ill, she would reduce her expenses and pay for their medical treatment. If the emperor was angry with someone from the court for some reason, the empress would ask for permission to personally interrogate them. She would keep the person who had offended her, waiting until her husband's anger subsided, and then beg him to cancel the unjust punishment.

Empress Zhangsun constantly inspired her husband to rule with fairness, citing examples from history. Emperor Taizong occasionally tried to discuss certain state affairs with her, but she always refused, saying that it was not her business. One of Zhangsun's brothers did a lot for Li Shimin, but when the emperor wanted to appoint him as the chancellor, the empress, on behalf of her brother, declined the position, stating, "I have the opportunity to be in the palace and receive the highest honors. I do not want to see my brothers and nephews in high positions. This may lead to a bad reputation and a decline in affairs. There are examples of this in history. I pray that Your Imperial Majesty does not appoint my brother as chancellor."

Emperor Taizong initially disagreed with his wife's decision and appointed her brother as the chancellor in the autumn of 627. However, he later reconsidered her words and revoked his decision. In the same year, another brother of Empress Zhangsun was implicated in a treasonous conspiracy along with several generals. The conspirators were sentenced to death, but Zhangsun pleaded for her brother, stating that he undoubtedly deserved death, but people might think that the empress was seeking revenge for the wrongs her brother had done to her in childhood. The emperor agreed with her, and as a result, the conspirator was exiled to a remote province.

Empress Zhangsun's health deteriorated with each passing year. She suffered from severe asthma, but despite this, she continued to participate in all palace affairs. When the emperor fell seriously ill, Zhangsun would visit him in the morning and evening with a vial of poison on her waist, asking for permission to commit suicide if he were to die. In 634, her own illness began to progress. In 636, the doctors said they had done everything possible, and Emperor Taizong decided to declare a general amnesty so that those released could make a pilgrimage to Taoist temples and pray for the empress. However, Zhangsun, knowing that the emperor disapproved of Buddhism and Taoism, refused this. She said that in her life, she had never caused harm to anyone, and after her death, she did not want to make people labor for her. The empress noted that it was not worth expending the empire's resources to build a luxurious tomb and wished for only brick or wooden elements to be used in the construction of her grave. Taizong buried Zhangsun with all the honors due to an empress but minimized the expenses to the greatest extent possible, as she had desired.

After her death, the bereaved emperor often said that he had lost a wonderful friend and companion, and he bitterly regretted that he would never again hear her wise words. When Emperor Taizong died in 649, he was buried in the same tomb as Empress Zhangsun. The courtiers created a 30-volume work titled "Examples for Women," which described the life of the empress. For many subsequent generations of Chinese women, Zhangsun remained an ideal of kindness and fairness.