(5.1) Empress Biàn 武宣卞皇后

Wǔ-Xuān empress Biàn was a Lángyé Kāiyáng woman, Emperor Wén’s mother. Originally she was a performer, (1) aged twenty, Tàizǔ at Qiáo accepted the empress as a concubine. Later she accompanied Tàizǔ to Luò. Whén Dǒng Zhuó made chaos, Tàizǔ in plain clothes to the east went out to feel the troubles. Yuán Shù spread report of bad fortune for Tàizǔ, at the time those of Tàizǔ’s left and right that came to Luò all wished to return, the empress stopped them saying: “Sir Cáo’s good fortune or bad fortune cannot yet be known, [if] today [we] return home, tomorrow if he is here, what face would [we] have to again face each other? Even if disaster arrives, dying together is what bitterness?” They followed the empress’s words. Tàizǔ heard and praised this.


At Jiàn’ān’s beginning, lady Dīng was deposed, and therefore the empress became the successor wife. The various sons without mothers, Tàizǔ all had the empress raise them. (2) When Emperor Wén became Heir-Apparent, the left and right chief manager congratulated the empress saying: “The General has been appointed Heir-Apparent, Under Heaven none are not joyous, the queen should pour out the stores to give endowments.” The Empress said: “The King himself because Pī is the eldest therefore used him as successor. For me to be without mistakes in teaching is already good fortune, why then again give endowments?” The chief manager returned and told this to Tàizǔ. Tàizǔ was pleased and said: “In anger to not change expression, in joy to not lose integrity, is the most difficult.”


  • (1) Wèishū states: The Empress in Hàn’s Yánxī Third Year Twelfth Moon Jǐsì [159 December 30] was born in Qí prefecture Báitíng, there was a yellow aura filling the house for accumulated days. Her father Marquis Jìng was bewildered by this, asked a diviner Wáng Dàn, [Wáng] Dàn said: “This is an auspicious omen.”

  〔一〕 魏書曰:后以漢延熹三年十二月己巳生齊郡白亭,有黃氣滿室移日。父敬侯怪之,以問卜者王旦,旦曰:「此吉祥也。」

  • (2) Wèilüè states: Tàizǔ originally had lady Dīng, and also lady Liú begat Zǐxiū and Qīnghé elder princess. Liú early died, Dīng raised Zǐxiū. Zǐxiū died at Ráng, Dīng always said: “You killed our son, and no longer think of it!” Therefore she wept without restraint. Tàizǔ was angered at this, and sent her back to her family, wishing her thoughts to change. Later Tàizǔ went to see her, the lady was weaving, the outside people spread word: “His excellency arrives,” the lady sat at the machine as before. Tàizǔ arrived, stroked her back and said: “Look back at me and we’ll return together.” The lady did not look back, and also did not answer. Tàizǔ withdrew to leave, stood outside the door, and again said: “Is it not possible?” Therefore she did not answer. Tàizǔ said: “This is truly goodbye.” Therefore they separated, and he wished for her family to marry her off, her family did not dare. Previously, lady Dīng was the primary wife, and also had Zǐxiū, and Dīng’s regard for the empress, mother and sons, was insufficient. The empress became the successor wife, did not hold old grudges, and taking advantage of when Tàizǔ went out on travels, always in the four seasons sent people to give gifts, and also privately welcomed her, having her take the primary seat and herself below her, welcoming at the coming and seeing her off, like in the old days. Dīng apologized saying: “[I am] a deposed and abandoned person, my lady how can you always be like this?” After Dīng died, the empress requested Tàizǔ to bury her, permitted it, and so buried her at Xǔ city’s south. Later Tàizǔ was ill and destitute, himself anxious and unable to rise, and sighed and said: “My beginning to end actions and thoughts, in my heart there has never been a regret. But if the dead have awareness, and if Zǐxiū asks: ‘where is my mother,’ how can I answer?”
  • Wèishū states: The empress by nature was economical and frugal, did not esteem the flowery and beautiful, was without embroidery and pearls and jade, her dishware all were black lacquer. Tàizǔ once obtained famed ornaments of several sets, and ordered the empress to herself choose a set, the empress picked a middle one, Tàizǔ asked her reason, she replied: “To take a top one is greedy, to take a low one is false, therefore I took a middle one.”

  〔二〕 魏略曰:太祖始有丁夫人,又劉夫人生子脩及清河長公主。劉早終,丁養子脩。子脩亡於穰,丁常言:「將我兒殺之,都不復念!」遂哭泣無節。太祖忿之,遣歸家,欲其意折。後太祖就見之,夫人方織,外人傳云「公至」,夫人踞機如故。太祖到,撫其背曰:「顧我共載歸乎!」夫人不顧,又不應。太祖卻行,立于戶外,復云:「得無尚可邪!」遂不應,太祖曰:「真訣矣。」遂與絕,欲其家嫁之,其家不敢。初,丁夫人既為嫡,加有子脩,丁視后母子不足。后為繼室,不念舊惡,因太祖出行,常四時使人饋遺,又私迎之,延以正坐而己下之,迎來送去,有如昔日。丁謝曰:「廢放之人,夫人何能常爾邪!」其後丁亡,后請太祖殯葬,許之,乃葬許城南。後太祖病困,自慮不起,歎曰:「我前後行意,於心未曾有所負也。假令死而有靈,子脩若問『我母所在』,我將何辭以答!」魏書曰:后性約儉,不尚華麗,無文繡珠玉,器皆黑漆。太祖常得名璫數具,命后自選一具,后取其中者,太祖問其故,對曰:「取其上者為貪,取其下者為偽,故取其中者。」

Twenty-fourth Year, appointed as Queen, the tally said: “The lady Biàn fostered the various sons, having the virtue of a mother’s ceremony. Now advance in rank to Queen, the Heir-Apparent and various lords in accompanying seat, the various ministers sending up long life wishes, reduce in the state death penalties by one degree.”

Twenty-fifth Year, Tàizǔ passed away, Emperor Wén succeeded the King’s throne, honored the empress as Queen Dowager, reaching the ascension, honored the empress as Dowager Empress, called as Yǒngshòu Palace. (1) When Emperor Míng succeeded the throne, honored the Dowager Empress as Grand Dowager Empress.


  • (1) Wèishū states: The empress because the state’s supplies were not sufficient, removed and reduced tools and food, and the various gold and silver vessels she all removed them. King of Dōng’ē [Cáo] Zhí was the Dowager Empress’s youngest son, and she most loved him. Later [Cáo] Zhí violated law, was by managers reported, Emperor Wén ordered the Dowager Empress’s younger brother’s son Presenting Chariots Commandant [Biàn] Lán take the Excellencies’ and Ministers’ discussion to report to the Dowager Empress, the Dowager Empress said: “Unexpectedly this son did this, you return and tell the Emperor, that he cannot on my account ruin the state’s laws.” When she met the Emperor, she did not speak of it.
  • Your Servant Sōngzhī notes: Emperor Wén dreamed of rubbing a coin, wishing to remove its markings but instead making them more clear, about this asked Zhōu Xuān. Xuān replied: “This is Your Majesty’s household affairs, though you wish for it, the Dowager Empress does not listen.” Then the Dowager Empress used her wishes, and it could not be like what this book says.
  • Wèishū also states: The Dowager Empress every time accompanying the army on campaign, on seeing the aged and white headed, at once stopped the chariot and called and asked, bestowed fabric and silk, and facing them shed tears saying: “I regret my father and mothers did not reach my times.” The Dowager Empress every time seeing the [Cáo’s] in-law kin, did not adorn her appearance, always saying: “In residing at home one should attend to frugality, and should not hope for bestowed reward, and consider your own failings. The outer residences are bewildered that I treat them too meagerly, it is because I have my own standard judgments. I served Emperor Wǔ for forty to fifty years, enacted frugality for a long time, and cannot myself change to extravagance, and if there are those that violate restrictions, I yet am able to apply punishment of one degree, and none are to hope for cash and rice generous loans.” The Emperor for the Dowager-Empress’s younger brother [Biàn] Bǐng raised a mansion, the mansion was finished, the Dowager Empress visited the mansion and invited the various families of the in-laws, set up lesser cooking, without exceptional meats. The Dowager Empress’s left and right, hate vegetables and grain, without fish or meat. Her frugality was like this.

  〔一〕 魏書曰:后以國用不足,滅損御食,諸金銀器物皆去之。東阿王植,太后少子,最愛之。後植犯法,為有司所奏,文帝令太后弟子奉車都尉蘭持公卿議白太后,太后曰:「不意此兒所作如是,汝還語帝,不可以我故壞國法。」及自見帝,不以為言。臣松之案:文帝夢磨錢,欲使文滅而更愈明,以問周宣。宣答曰:「此陛下家事,雖意欲爾,而太后不聽。」則太后用意,不得如此書所言也。魏書又曰:太后每隨軍征行,見高年白首,輒住車呼問,賜與絹帛,對之涕泣曰:「恨父母不及我時也。」太后每見外親,不假以顏色,常言「居處當務節儉,不當望賞賜,念自佚也。外舍當怪吾遇之太薄,吾自有常度故也。吾事武帝四五十年,行儉日久,不能自變為奢,有犯科禁者,吾且能加罪一等耳,莫望錢米恩貸也。」帝為太后弟秉起第,第成,太后幸第請諸家外親,設下廚,無異膳。太后左右,菜食粟飯,無魚肉。其儉如此。

During Huángchū, Emperor Wén wished to posthumously give fief on the Dowager Empress’s father and mother, Secretariat Documenter Chén Quán memorialized saying: “Your Majesty by sagely virtue answered changes to accept the mandate, inaugurated the enterprise and reformed regulations, and should forever be an example for posterity. Citing the writings of ancient records, there is no system of a wife dividing territory for noble rank. By the ritual canons, the wife answers the husband’s noble rank. Qín violated the ancient laws, the Hàn clan followed this, it is not the canon of the ancient kings.” The Emperor said: “This commentary is correct, thus do not put it into effect. Write the Imperial Order and send it down for storage in the terrace pavilion, to forever be a model for posterity.” Reaching Tàihé Fourth Year [230] spring, Emperor Míng then gave posthumous name on the Dowager Empress’s father’s father [Biàn] Guǎng as Kāiyáng Gōng-hóu [‘respectful marquis’], father [Biàn] Yuǎn as Jìng-hóu [‘venerated marquis’], father’s mother Zhōu enfeoffed as Yángdū lady and Jìng-hóu’s wife were all bestowed seals and ribbons. That year Fifth Moon, the Empress passed away. Seventh Moon, buried together at Gāolíng.


Previously, the Dowager Empress’s younger brother [Biàn] Bǐng, for achievement was enfeoffed as a capital village Marquis, Huángchū Seventh Year advanced in fief to Kāiyáng Marquis, fief of one thousand two hundred households, becoming Shining Intensity General. (1) Bǐng died, his son Lán succeeded. When young he had talent and learning, (2) becoming Presenting Chariots Commandant, Traveling Strike General, added Cavalier Regular Attendant. Lán died, his son Huī succeeded. (3) Also divided Bǐng’s noble rank, enfeoffing Lán’s younger brother Lín as a ranked marquis, office reaching Infantry Colonel. Lán’s son Lóng’s daughter became the Duke of Gāoguì village’s Imperial Empress, Lóng as the empress’s father became Merit Grandee, ranked Specially Advanced, enfeoffed Suīyáng village Marquis, his wife Wáng became Xiǎnyáng village Lady. Posthumously enfeoffed Lóng’s previous wife Liú as Shùnyáng village Lady, because she was the Empress’s birth mother. Lín’s daughter also became the King of Chénliú’s Imperial Empress, at the time Lín had already died, enfeoffed Lín’s wife Liú as Guǎngyáng Lady.


  • (1) Wèilüè states: Previously, Empress Biàn’s younger brother [Biàn] Bǐng, in Jiàn’ān’s time was Separate Division Major, the Empress always toward Tàizǔ complained, Tàizǔ replied saying: “But to be my wife’s younger brother, is it not a lot?” The Empress also wished Tàizǔ to give cash and silk, Tàizǔ again said: “But you steal for him, is it not enough?” Therefore to the end of Tàizǔ’s age, Bǐng’s office did not change, and his wealth also did not increase.

  〔一〕 魏略曰:初,卞后弟秉,當建安時得為別部司馬,后常對太祖怨言,太祖答言:「但得與我作婦弟,不為多邪?」后又欲太祖給其錢帛,太祖又曰:「但汝盜與,不為足邪?」故訖太祖世,秉官不移,財亦不益。

  • (2) Wèilüè states: Lán presented rhapsody praising the Heir-Apparent’s virtue and beauty, the Heir-Apparent replied saying: “The rhapsody speaks of the attachment of category, the eulogy of the beauty of the form and appearance of flourishing virtue, and therefore the author is not empty in his words, the receiver must match its veracity. Lán in this rhapsody, how can I match it? In the past Wúqiū Shòuwáng once explained of a treasure tripod, Hé Wǔ and his sorts sang eulogies, yet received bestowment of gold and silk, Lán’s service though is not understanding, its meaning is sufficient to commend. Now bestow ox of one head.” Because of this he therefore met with closeness and veneration.

  〔二〕 魏略曰:蘭獻賦贊述太子德美,太子報曰:「賦者,言事類之所附也,頌者,美盛德之形容也,故作者不虛其辭,受者必當其實。蘭此賦,豈吾實哉?昔吾丘壽王一陳寶鼎,何武等徒以歌頌,猶受金帛之賜,蘭事雖不諒,義足嘉也。今賜牛一頭。」由是遂見親敬。

  • (3) Wèilüè states: In Emperor Míng’s time, Lán observed outside there were the two troubles, but the Emperor paid attention to the palace and residences, and always because he attended in following, repeatedly had cutting remonstration. The Emperor though did not listen, yet he accepted his sincerity. Later Lán suffered alcohol wasting thirst [diabetes], at the time the Emperor believed in a witch woman who used water, and had someone carry the water to bestow on Lán. Lán did not agree to drink. Imperial Order asked his intentions. Lán said that treating illness should be in using drugs, why trust in this? The Emperor changed color, but Lán to the end would not drink. Later his thirst became extreme, so that he died. Therefore at the time people observed Lán enjoyed blunt speech, said that the Emperor to his face rejected him and Lán killed himself, but in fact it was not so.

  〔三〕 魏略曰:明帝時,蘭見外有二難,而帝留意於宮室,常因侍從,數切諫。帝雖不能從,猶納其誠款。後蘭苦酒消渴,時帝信巫女用水方,使人持水賜蘭,蘭不肯飲。詔問其意?蘭言治病自當以方藥,何信於此?帝為變色,而蘭終不服。後渴稍甚,以至於亡。故時人見蘭好直言,謂帝面折之而蘭自殺,其實不然。

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s