Lady Xian(冼夫人), also known as Duchess of the Qiao State, was a heroine that lived through the Liang dynasty (502-560), the Chen dynasty (557-589) and the Sui dynasty (581-618).
Born in 5th century, Lady Xian was a native in Gaoliang (currently Maoming city in Guangdong province). Maoming city is her hometown. Lady Xian was a member of ethnic Li. Her family was hereditary leader of their tribe.
Lady Xian was born in 512 to the chieftain of the Xian tribe of the Li people in Southern China. She lived during the Sui dynasty in what is now Guangdong in Southern China. Her family were hereditary leaders of their tribe.
She was a notable leader who successfully defended her tribe against its enemies, eventually earning her title as Lady of Qiaoguo. Her tribe’s people preferred to fight with each other. She often tried to prevent them from involved in wars. Her brother Xian Ting, the governor (刺史) of Nanliangzhou (南梁州), was conceited from wealth so he often harassed the surrounding counties or robbed their belongings, which made people in the Lingnan area miserable. Lady Xian often persuaded him not to do bad things so people’s resentment subsided gradually. Thus, thousands of people from Dan’er Commandery (儋耳郡) of Hainan were attracted by her fame and joined her.
At 535, she married Feng Pao, a Chinese general, and encouraged an appreciation of Chinese ways among her people. She also helped her Feng Pao with the local affairs. She was impartial and incorruptible when resolving the lawsuits. She would punish her tribe’s people if they committed crimes. As a result, Feng established their authority in the local place. From then on, nobody dared to disobey the government decrees.
Because she was a woman, her accomplishments shocked many Chinese. However, Emperor Chen Shubao of the Chen Dynasty had been impressed with her achievements and bestowed her with many awards, including the title “Lady of Qiaoguo”.
In the Southern and Northern Dynasties, human trafficking was very frequent in this area. According to the biography of Wang Sengru in the Book of Liang, Wang Sengru was the Prefecture of Nanhai. Every year many foreign boats docked here because many people were sold in Gaoliang. These foreign businessmen traded their goods for people being sold here. At that time, many businessmen in this county made money by doing this trade, which the officials permitted and did not take any action to prevent it. When Lady Xian rose to power, she took efforts to promote Han feudal culture and successfully abolished the Li trafficking system. She told the Li people to do more good things and be loyal to the country. Moreover, she encouraged the Han Chinese’s intermarriage to the people of the Li, which greatly promoted the ethnic communication and integration.
n 548, the Hou Jing rebelled against the Liang dynasty, which had a destructive effect on the whole country. In 550, Li Qianshi, the rebel leader from Gaozhou tried to entice Feng Pao to join the rebellion, but Lady Xian dissuaded him from joining the rebellion. He defeated Li Qianshi’s forces, thus helping general Chen Baxian suppress the Hou Jing rebellion. Her achievement is recorded in detail in the Book of Su.
In 558, Chen Baxian established the Chen Dynasty. Xiao Bo, the feudal provincial of Guangzhou sent out troops to attack him, while some other ambitious provincial leaders rose in rebellion, throwing Lingnan into chaos and driving many locals into homelessness and poverty. To restore the peace of Lingnan, Lady Xian adopted the strategy named “cure-replaced wars”. (治胜于战). She posted notices to warn the governors of nearby counties not to join Xiao, but to focus on the public security and stop the fighting. She promised that if they stop the rebellion, they will not be punished.
Meanwhile, she made strict discipline on her military, in which soldiers who committed crimes such as robbing or killing, will have their heads cut off and displayed in public. The rebel leaders took her advice so the insurgency subsided quickly.
She died in 602 of old age and was honored with the posthumous name of Lady Chengjing (诚敬夫人).
During her life, Lady Xian strove to safeguard the country’s territorial integrity and national unity, maintain the stability and peace in Lingnan area, promote the local development of economy, culture, science, technology and its trade with some ancient Maritime Silk Road countries in southeast Asia. She had made eminent contributions and was thus praised and honored by the imperial court for many times, admired and supported by the people in Lingnan area and given the honorary title of “Saintly Mother of Lingnan”.
During the reign of Emperor Tongzhi (1861-1875) and of Emperor Guangxu (1875-1908) in the Qing dynasty, Tan Yingxiang, an officer candidate of Datang village in Maoming county, had already edited and published the Book of Lady Xian. Unfortunately, such book had been lost and now there are only a few chapters available. It is the first book in China that focuses on the study of Lady Xian.
For more than 1500 years, people in the Lingnan area have been commemorating Lady Xian in various ways, worshiping her in temples, holding festivals in memory of her contribution. At the moment, there are about 2500 temples of Lady Xian across the world, spanning Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and the western part of Guangdong province. She is a heroine that is worshiped not only by local people but also overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia.