Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Hsiao-hsien Huang-hou

HSIAO-hsien Huang-hou 孝獻皇后, Empress Hsiao-hsien, 1639–1660, Sept. 23, favorite consort of Emperor Shih-tsu (i.e. Fu-lin, q.v.), was the daughter of Oši 鄂碩 (d. 1657) of the Donggo clan and the Plain White Banner. Oši took part in many campaigns from 1634 to 1650 and was rewarded with the hereditary rank of viscount, which was raised to a third class earldom in 1656, as a favor to his daughter. His son, Fiyanggû [q. v.], was the famous commander who in 1696 defeated Galdan [q. v.] in Mongolia.

Hsiao-hsien, also known as Tung-o Fei 董鄂妃 (Imperial Secondary Consort of the Donggo clan), entered the Palace in 1656 at eighteen sui. According to some Jesuit accounts she had been the "wife of a young Tartar Lord”, but Emperor Shih-tsu passionately loved her and after her husband's death took her to be his consort (see under Fu-lin). At any rate, suddenly in 1656, she became the Emperor's favorite, was given the title of Hsien-fei 賢妃 (Virtuous Imperial Consort of the Second Class), and a month later was raised to the rank of Huang Kuei-fei 皇貴妃, or Imperial Consort of the First Class, a rank next only to that of Empress. Shih-tsu had deposed his first Empress, but was barred from deposing a second with a view to making Hsiao-hsien Empress, owing to the opposition of the Dowager Empress, Hsiao-chuang [q. v.], and the officials. But he lavished his love on her, and gave her more favors than were due a woman of her rank. Thus late in 1656, or early in 1657, following the ceremonies which made her Huang Kuei-fei, a general amnesty was proclaimed and her father was made an earl. She gave birth to a son on November 12, 1657 who died on February 25 of the following year. Contrary to practice this child was posthumously made a prince of the first class, with the title Jung Ch'in-wang 榮親王. In the Palace Hsiao-hsien studied Chinese and practiced calligraphy, and under the influence of the Emperor she also studied Ch'an (Zen) Buddhism. When she died the Emperor was greatly moved, and issued a long account of her life in which he enumerated her virtues. She was posthumously made an Empress and was canonized as Hsiao-hsien Huang-hou. Her body was borne by high officials to the hillock, Ching-shan 景山, north of the palace in Peking, where elaborate Buddhistic ceremonies were conducted at enormous cost and where her remains were cremated. Certain eunuchs and maids in the Palace committed suicide in order that their spirits might accompany her. This practice, known as hsün-tsang 殉葬, had long been abandoned by Chinese rulers, but was retained by the Manchus until this time (see under Empress Hsiao-lieh).

After Empress Hsiao-hsien died the Emperor could not control himself for grief, and he himself died four and a half months later. Thereupon the Dowager Empress and the Manchu regents issued an alleged will of the deceased Emperor in which he declared himself blameworthy for many things, among them the lavish and costly posthumous rites he had accorded the Empress Hsiao-hsien. This, however, may have been only the opinion of the Dowager Empress. Probably in deference to her wishes, too, Empress Hsiao-hsien was not given the Emperor's posthumous designation, Chang (see under Fu-lin), which was necessary if her name was to be celebrated in the Imperial Ancestral Hall. Despite this discrimination, her ashes were deposited in the tomb of the Emperor.

Legends concerning Empress Hsiao-hsien soon grew up. According to one, she was in reality a Chinese woman, named Tung Po (see under Mao Hsiang), popularly known as Tung Hsiao-wan who, owing to her beauty, had been abducted by Manchu soldiers and sent to the Palace. Stories also arose to the effect that the Emperor was so grief stricken after her death that he became a Buddhist monk, although ceremonies were performed as if he had really died. Some writers professed to believe that the novel, Hung-lou mêng, or Dream of the Red Chamber (see under Ts'ao Chan), was based on the love affair of Hsiao-hsien and the Emperor. But enough actual data are now available to prove these suppositions groundless.

[1/220/8a; Ch'ing lieh-ch'ao Hou-fei chuan kao (see under Su-shun) 上/65a; Ch'ing Huang-shih ssŭ-p'u (see under Fu-lung-an) 2/9a; Chin Chih-chün [q. v.], 端敬皇后傳 in 松鄰叢書 Sung-lin ts'ung-shu; 胡適文存 Hu Shih wên-ts'un 3/185-248; See bibliography under Fu-lin.]

M. Jean Gates