Empress Dugu Qieluo (独孤伽罗，544-602), formally Empress Xian (literary meaning “the wise empress”), was an empress of the Sui Dynasty (581-618). She was the wife of Emperor Wen, the founder of the Sui Dynasty. On account of his love and respect for her, as well as an oath they made while they were young, Emperor Wen did not have any concubines for at least most of their marriage and might not have had any concubines while she was alive. It was an extreme rarity among Chinese emperors. She was powerful and influential during her husband’s reign, and she was heavily involved in his decision to divert the order of succession from their eldest son Yang Yong to the second son Yang Guang (later Emperor Yang). Historians often blamed Yang Guang as being the reason for Sui’s downfall.
Dugu Qieluo was born in 544, and was the seventh daughter of Dugu Xin, the Western Wei Dynasty (535-556) general. Dugu Xin was impressed with Yang Jian, the son of his subordinate general. In 557, shortly after Western Wei was succeeded by the Northern Zhou Dynasty (557-581), he married his daughter to Yang Jian. She was 13, and he was 16 then. Yang Jian and Lady Dugu loved each other dearly, and it was when they were both young that Yang Jian swore an oath that he would never let another woman have his children. They ended up having five sons and at least three daughters. In 568, Yang Jian inherited the title of Duke of Sui, and Lady Dugu carried the title of Duchess of Sui.
In 580, Emperor Xuandi, the retired emperor who was retaining imperial powers, died suddenly. Yang Jian seized power as regent. Duchess Dugu sent Yang Jian a message saying, “This is like riding a wild beast. You will not be able to come off of it. You need to fight hard to stay on.” After Yang Jian defeated the general rising against him, he had the throne yielded to him in 581. He ended Northern Zhou and established Sui Dynasty as its Emperor Wendi. He made Duchess Dugu become Empress and their eldest son Yang Yong Crown Prince.
Empress Dugu was said to be studious. She and Emperor Wendi often conferred with each other the important matters of state. Emperor Wendi favored and respected her, and they became known as “the Two Holy Ones” by the officials. When he hosted imperial meetings, she would accompany him almost all the way into the meeting hall before turning back. She often asked eunuchs to listen in on the meeting. When she believed that he made wrong decisions, she would advise him to change. She would also usually wait near the meeting hall for the meeting to finish, and then accompany him to the palace.
As she lost her own parents early in her life, she was particularly touched when she saw officials with both parents, and she would pay due respect to the officials’ parents when she saw them. When officials suggested that, in accordance with rules set in Northern Zhou (557-581), the empress be responsible for approving officials’ marriages,, she declined, believing that it was inappropriate for her to interfere in political matters.
She also lived frugally. Once, Emperor Wendi needed a medicine that required ground pepper. Ground pepper was more expensive than gold at the time and empresses used it for decorative purposes. He sought the ground pepper from his empress and found that she did not use it, on account of being overly expensive.
In 595, general Yang Su completed the luxurious summer vacation palace–Renshou Palace (in modern Shaanxi Province). When the frugal Emperor Wendi saw how luxurious the palace was, he was angry. He said: “Yang Su expended the efforts of the people to construct this palace. The people will despise me.” Soon thereafter, however, when Empress Dugu arrived at the palace as well, she advised Emperor Wendi to comfort Yang Su. When Emperor Wendi summoned Yang Su to the palace, she said: “You know that this old couple had little to enjoy, so you decorated this palace in this way. Is it not that in doing so, you are being both faithful and filial?” She gave him a large amount of money and silk.
Over the years, the relationship between Emperor Wendi and Empress Dugu was still very much a loving one. However, when Empress Dugu was sick, Emperor Wendi happened to see the beautiful granddaughter of Weichi Jiong, a former rebellious official. The girl had been forced into slave labor after her grandfather’s death. He had sexual relations with her.
When Empress Dugu found out, she had Lady Weichi killed. In anger, Emperor Wendi rode away from the palace on a horse and refused to return. His officials tracked him down and urged him to return to the palace. When Emperor Wendi did return to the palace after midnight, Empress Dugu was still waiting for him, and she wept and begged him for forgiveness. The officials subsequently hosted a banquet for them, and their differences disappeared.
Empress Dugu became resentful of the Crown Prince Yang Yong. When Yang Yong was young, Emperor Wendi and Empress Dugu had selected for him a wife from the imperial clan. However, Yang Yong did not favor Crown Princess Yuan. Instead, he had many concubines, including his favorite Consort Yun. He did not have any sons with Crown Princess Yuan. When Crown Princess Yuan died in 591 after a brief illness, Empress Dugu suspected she was poisoned. Therefore, she blamed Yang Yong for her death.
The second son of Emperor Wendi and Empress Dugu was Yang Guang, the Prince of Jin. Yang Guang had ambitions of displacing his older brother. He put on pretenses of living frugally and loving no one but his wife Princess Xiao. His behavior pleased Empress Dugu. By 599, both Emperor Wendi and Empress Dugu were considering replacing Yang Yong with Yang Guang.
Meanwhile, Yang Guang was continuing to provoke Empress Dugu, falsely stating that he feared that Yang Yong would eventually have him killed. Subsequently, Yang Guang engaged Yang Yong’s associate Ji Wei to falsely accuse Yang Yong of plotting treason. In 600, an investigation ordered by Emperor Wendi was conducted. Yang Su, a general favored Yang Guang planted evidence against Yang Yong. Then, Emperor Wendi deposed Yang Yong and put him under house arrest, replacing him with Yang Guang.
In fall 602, Empress Dugu died, and Emperor Wendi was greatly saddened. A flattering official, who tried to use prophecies to show that Empress Dugu was in fact a bodhisattva, comforted him.
After the Empress Dugu’s death, Emperor Wendi began to engage in sexual relations with his concubines, favoring Consorts Chen and Cai.
In spring 604, Emperor Wendi went to Renshou Palace to avoid the heat. While there, he fell ill, and in the fall of 604, he died. He was buried with Empress Dugu, but not in the same burial chamber.
(Source: sina.com.cn/Translated by womenofchina.cn)