Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Hsiao-lieh Wu Huang-hou
HSIAO-lieh Wu Huang-hou (孝烈武皇后), 1590–1626, Oct. 1, third wife of Nurhaci [q. v.], was the daughter of Mantai (see under Bujantai), beile of the Ula Nara 烏拉納喇 tribe of the Hûlun nation. Her maiden name was Abahai 阿巴亥 (not to be confused with Emperor T'ai-tsung's name, which also was Abahai). In 1601, five years after her father's death, her uncle, Bujantai, sent her to Nurhaci as one of the latter's secondary consorts. She gave birth to Nurhaci's twelfth son, Ajige [q. v.], in 1605, to his fourteenth son, Dorgon [q. v.], in 1612, and to his fifteenth son, Dodo [q. v.], in 1614. She became Ta Fujin 大福晉 (Chief Wife) about 1620, after Nurhaci's second wife was divorced and murdered (see under Nurhaci). She accompanied Nurhaci when the latter moved his capital from Hetu Ala to Liao-yang in 1621, to Tung-ching in 1624, and to Mukden in 1625 (see under Nurhaci). In September 1626, when Nurhaci lay dying on a boat on his way to Mukden he requested her presence. She proceeded immediately down the Hun-ho 渾河 and met him on the boat. On the afternoon of September 30, while still forty li from Mukden, Nurhaci died. His body was hurriedly taken to the capital that same night. Early on the following morning his elder sons by other wives told Empress Hsiao-lieh that, according to their father's last verbal instructions, she must commit suicide in order to serve him after death—a custom known as hsün-tsang 殉葬 still observed by the Manchus early in the seventeenth century. At first she demurred, but when the princes insisted she attired herself in royal ceremonial robes and jewels and, after requesting generous treatment for her two young sons, Dorgon and Dodo, took her life at the hour of ch'ên 辰 (7–9 o'clock in the morning). Three years later her remains and those of Empress Hsiao-tz'ŭ (see under Abahai) were buried in the tomb of Nurhaci, about twenty li east of Mukden.
In the second version of the Shih-lu, or "Veritable Records", of the reign of Nurhaci, completed in December 1636 by order of his successor, Emperor T'ai-tsung (see under Abahai), Empress Hsiao-lieh is described as having been endowed with great beauty and cleverness, but possessed of a jealous disposition which frequently caused Nurhaci displeasure. According to this account, Nurhaci feared that after his death she might cause trouble to the state; he had instructed his older sons that she must die with him, and the princes thereupon compelled her to commit suicide. The derogatory references to her seem rather forced, and evoke a suspicion that the writers of the Shih-lu were trying to conceal some facts.
According to the report of a Korean living in Mukden when Nurhaci died, Dorgon was named heir to the throne, with Daišan [q. v.] as regent. But after Nurhaci's death Daišan supported Abahai for the throne. To make sure that Dorgon's mother would not raise objections she was forced to commit suicide. Another theory has it that Nurhaci did not actually designate a successor but left instructions that the seven or eight princes then in charge of the Eight Banners should rule jointly and elect a nominal head from one of their number. Since Ajige, Dorgon, and Dodo were singled out as entitled to control one Banner each after Nurhaci's death, the other princes feared that this trio might become too powerful if their mother, Empress Hsiao-lieh, were to re-enforce their claims. Hence the four older princes, Daišan, Amin, Manggûltai [q. v.], and Abahai, decided that Hsiao-lieh must die. If this theory is correct, she was forced to commit suicide, not in accordance with Nurhaci's will, as the four princes maintained, but because they feared her power. Thus the supposed instructions of Nurhaci were fictitious and the account about her in the Shih-lu was deliberately fabricated to show that, because of her conduct, her son could lay no claim to the throne. When in 1636 Abahai curtailed the power of the other princes and became emperor in fact as well as in name, he conferred on his mother the posthumous title, Empress Hsiao-tz'ŭ, but gave no recognition to his father's other consorts (see under Nurhaci).
When Abahai died (1643) several plotters approached Dorgon to persuade him to take over the throne, but he declined and had the plotters exposed. Since Abahai's son and successor, Emperor Shih-tsu (see under Fu-lin), was then only a child, Dorgon was made one of the two regents. After 1644, when the capital was moved to Peking, Dorgon (as his biography shows) had behind him many military successes in China and gradually attained to a controlling power in the government. In 1650, at the height of his power, he conferred on his mother the posthumous name, Hsiao-lieh Wu Huang-hou, and entered her name in the Imperial Ancestral Hall. He also ordered the officials in charge of the history of the dynasty to expunge from the Shih-lu the unfavorable references to her. Late in 1650 he died, and two months later was charged by a number of princes with many "crimes", among them alteration of the official history, and installation of his mother's name in the Imperial Ancestral Hall. He was also accused of having maligned the young Emperor by proclaiming that his father (Emperor T'ai-tsung) had usurped the throne from the rightful successor.
Following these accusations against Dorgon, and his posthumous disgrace, the honors conferred upon Empress Hsiao-lieh were revoked. The account of her in the Shih-lu of 1636, which Dorgon had expunged, was reinserted, but was altered in the final version of 1740 to make it appear that she had taken her life out of respect for her husband. Though the Shih-lu of 1636 spoke slightingly of her, it nevertheless gave her the Chinese designation Hou 后 (empress or queen) which was taken as the equivalent of the
earlier designation Ta Fujin. In the final version of 1740 she is referred to as Ta-fei 大妃, a title inferior to that of Hou. Thereafter all the wives of Nurhaci were designated fei (concubines of varying rank) and only Abahai's mother was spoken of as Empress (Hou).
[1/220/3b; Ch'ing lieh-ch'ao Hou-fei chuan-kao (see under Su-shun) shang 14b; Ch'ing T'ai-tsu (Nurhaci) Shih-lu (completed Dec. 11, 1636, printed 1932) 4/11b; id. revised edition (completed 1739, printed 1931) 10/79b; Ch'ing Huang-shih ssŭ-p'u (see under Fu-lung-an) 2/2b; 燃藜室記述 Jan-li shih chi-shu 27/3a; Naitō Torajirō 內藤虎次郎, 清朝初期の繼嗣問題 Shirin (史林) vol. VII, pp. 42–56; Fuchs, Walter, Der Tod der Kaiserin Abahai I. J. 1626, in Monumenta Serica, vol. I (1935–36), pp. 71-81.]
M. Jean Gates