Gongjin's Campaign Memorials
Gongjin's Campaign Memorials

Lady He 何氏, eventually Empress He 何皇后, was a woman known for her beauty. She was the younger half-sister of He Jin and He Miao , wife of Emperor Ling and mother of Liu Bian.


Presumably born around 160 A.D. and mentioned in the Book of the Later Han as being a woman of great beauty, Lady He was selected to be in Emperor Ling’s harem during the annual selection of concubines, which took place in the eighth month of each year.[1]

She earned the title of Guiren or Honoured Lady, because of her personality and beauty. She later gave birth to a son, Liu Bian, the later Emperor Shao. The date of birth of her son is said to be 173 A.D. or 176 A.D.[2]

In 180 A.D., Lady He was made Empress.

Empress He was a jealous woman. In 181 A.D. another concubine, The Beauty Wang[3], in the harem apartments, gave birth to a son named Liu Xie. Empress He poisened her and the Beauty died. The Emperor became furious when he found out about this and he wanted te depose her, but the eunuchs spoke on behalf of the Empress He and managed to dissuade him.

Empress He's own son was sent to a Taoist named Shi Zimiao, where Liu Bian became known as Lord Shi. This was done because several of the Emperor's children had all died at a very young age and because of that it was sometimes suspected that evil influences might be operating, so children were sent away to escape the effect. Liu Xie was sent to live with Empress-Dowager Dong.

Empress He had two half brothers, one was He Miao, from 133 A.D. and the other was He Jin from 135 A.D. He Jin held considerable rank when Empress He was in court. He was promoted to the high rank of General-in-Chief and led the Han forces to victory against Zhang Jue and the Yellow Turbans in 184 A.D.

Empress He and He Jin had the same father, He Zhen, but a different mother. Empress He's mother was also the mother of He Miao, and received the title of Lady of Wuyang in 183 A.D.

Emperor Ling's Passing[]

Emperor Ling died in 189 A.D., 13 May, and Empress He became Empress Dowager. The Emperor had not yet named an heir to his throne. He thought Liu Bian lacked dignity and was frivolous and therefore wanted Liu Xie on the throne, but he never made this official. Empress He was now to decide who would receive the throne. On 15 May Liu Bian was made Emperor and named Shao.[4]

Power Square[]

Following Emperor Shao's ascension to the throne, a power square was formed in the capital. On one side there was Emperor Shao and Empress-Dowager He with He Miao. On the other side there was He Jin, General-in-Chief on another side there were Zhang Rang and his Palace Attendants and lastly there was Jian Shuo, also a eunuch like Zhang Rang and party, but from a different faction.

Jian Shuo was made Colonel of the First Army, which made him superior to He Jin, a serious insult and demotion to the General-in-Chief.[5] He was also entrusted the care of Liu Xie, who he wanted on the throne. Jian Shuo had plans to kill He Jin, but when he was found out about this, He Jin wished to kill him instead. Jian Shuo felt uneasy about this and asked for the aid of some of Zhang Rang's eunuchs. They declined, Guo Sheng obtained Jian Shuo's letter, showed it to He Jin who then had Jian Shuo executed on 27 May 189 A.D.

Dong Zhong and ally of Zhang Rang's faction, disputed He Jin's authority. He was used by Empress-Dowager Dong to threaten Empress-Dowager He. Whenever the Empress-Dowager Dong sought to interfere in matters of government the Empress-Dowager He always stopped her. The Lady Dong was furious and shouted:

"You are powerful now because you rely on your brother! But I can order the General of Agile Cavalry [Dong Zhong] to cut off He Jin's head, and that would be easy as turning my hand!"

The Empress-Dowager He told He Jin about this, who then surrounded Dong Zhong's offices on 7 June and stripped him of his rank. Dong Zhong killed himself.[6] One month later, 7 July, Empress-Dowager Dong died of grief and fear. Because of this people no longer approved the He clan.

Following this, He Jin, after being pressed once more by [[Yuan Shao 袁紹|Yuan Shao, asked Empress He to dimiss all palace eunuchs and to appoint Gentlemen of the Household to fill their places. Empress He declined his request, saying:[7]

"Since ancient times it has been a custom of the house of Han that eunuchs control the forbidden apartments. You cannot do away with that. Moreover, when the late Emperor has only just left the world, how can I act so brazenly as to deal with men face to face?"

He Jin accepted this, but still wanted to punish Zhang Rang and the eunuchs of his faction.

Lady Wuyang and He Miao, who had often received bribes and gifts from the eunuchs, were convinced that He Jin wished to kill all eunuchs and told Empress He about this multiple times. Empress-Dowager He suspected this might be true.

He Jin then approved Yuan Shao's idea to move all their soldiers closer to the capital, as a means to put pressure on Empress-Dowager He.

One of the men summoned by He Jin was Dong Zhuo, though this was against the warnings of his officials. When Dong Zhuo heard of He Jin's summons, he immediatly wrote a memorial to Empress-Dowager He, asking for her permission to slay the eunuchs. The Empress would not approve, and He Miao spoke to his brother:

"When we first came from Nanyang we were all of us poor, and it was through the eunuchs of the inner palace that we came to wealth and honour. In affairs of state, how can you act so hastily? Once water is tipped out, it cannot be gathered up again. Think hard about it, then make peace with the eunuchs."

He Jin did not go through with his plans, and had Dong Zhuo stop his march to the capital. Yuan Shao was then given the staff of authority by He Jin, and he sent out commands to the regional commanders, telling them to gather their troops outside the palace.

Now the Empress-Dowager was frightened. She dismissed all the Regular Palace Attendants and the Junior Attendants of the Yellow Gates, and ordered them to return to their own homes.

Yuan Shao urged He Jin to take this opportunity to settle with them. He repeated three times, but He Jin would not agree. Yuan Shao then wrote further letters to all provincial and commandery governments, pretending that He Jin had issued orders to place all the eunuchs' families under arrest. For several days He Jin considered his plans, but it leaked out however, and one the eunuchs, Zhang Rang, whose son was married to a younger sister of Empress He, used his daughter-in-law to beg Empress He to be allowed to come back to the palace. Empress He agreed and reinstated all the eunuchs to their posts.

Eunuch Massacre[]

On 22 September of that year (189 A.D.), He Jin had an audience with Empress He. He requested all the eunuchs to be executed. What He Jin didn't know, was that he was being overheard by one of Zhang Rang's henchmen. When Zhang Rang, Duan Gui and the other eunuchs heard of this, they took up arms, summoned He Jin back to the palace where they ambushed him and killed him. He Jin was beheaded by Qu Mu

When He Jin's forces heard about the death of their general, they stormed the palace and slaughtered every single eunuch. Zhang Rang and some members of his faction told Empress He that He Jin rebelled and now had his troops raiding the palace. They took Empress He, the Emperor Shao and the King of Chen Liu and lead them to the Northern Palace through the Covered Way.[8]

Some made their escape to the Yellow River, but were stopped by Lu Zhi and Min Gong. Some of the eunuchs were killed, while some others, such as Zhang Rang, jumped in the river and drowned themselves. At the palace, Empress-Dowager He was released by Duan Gui and she escaped through a back door. The Imperial Seal was lost.[9]

Emperor Shao and Liu Xie were brought back to the capital by Lu Zhi and Min Gong. They were intercepted by Dong Zhuo who asked the young Emperor what happened. Shao was unable to answer the question properly. Liu Xie, however spoke clearly about what had happened and Dong Zhuo was very impressed with him. Since that moment he had it in mind to set Liu Xie upon the throne. On 25 September the Emperor returned.

Dong Zhuo[]

At this point, the capital was occupied by the forces of Dong Zhuo and those of Yuan Shao. Dong Zhuo had made false accusations about Minister of Works Liu Hong, and the latter was dismissed. Dong Zhuo took up the vacant post. Dong Zhuo talked with Yuan Shao about Emperor Shao, but it ended in a dispute when Yuan Shao clearly disaproved of Dong Zhuo's plan to set Liu Xie upon the throne. Yuan Shao left the capital and headed east.

Following this, Dong Zhuo held a council to propose the replacement of Emperors, nobody dared speak to him, except Lu Zhi, the Master of Writing, who made a fool of Dong Zhuo. Dong Zhuo became enraged and drew his sword but was stopped by Cai Yong.

Yuan Wei, uncle of Yuan Shao, agreed with Dong Zhuo's plan to put Liu Xie on the throne. On 28 September 189 A.D. the Emperor was dethroned and made King of Hongnong. Dong Zhuo turned to the weeping Empress-Dowager He, and openly remonstrated her for her actions against Empress-Dowager Dong. He then transferred her to the Palace of Perpetual Peace and had her placed under house arrest. Two days later, on 30 September, Dong Zhuo had the Empress-Dowager He drink poison, which killed her.[10]

When her burial ceremony was being held, the Excellencies, ministers and lower officials did not wear linen clothes, but simply wore white clothes, while the ceremony was carried out.[11]


  • Parents
    • He Zhen - father
    • Lady of Wuyang - mother
  • Children
  • Brothers


  • Empress He's date of birth is not known, but concubines were usually selected for their beauty and youth. HHS says she was a woman of beauty. With this theory it's quite safe to say Empress He was born around 160 A.D.[12]


  1. Hans Bielenstein’s “The Restoration of the Han Dynasty” and KMA.
  2. see TTK Wiki's article on Emperor Shao.
  3. Beauty (meiren) was the second rank of concubine after that of Honoured Lady.
  4. HHS 10B, 449-50 (10a), the Biography of the Empress He of Emperor Ling.
  5. HHS; Biography of He Jin.
  6. HHS 8, 357-58.
  7. HHS 69/59, 2248-49 (7b-8b), the Biography of He Jin.
  8. There were two imperial palaces at Luoyang, one in the north and one in the south of the city. These complexes were connected by the Covered Way
  9. HHS 8, 359 (16b), the Annals of Emperor Ling.
  10. TTK Wiki; Campaign against Dong Zhuo article.
  11. HHS 9, 367 (1a), the Annals of Emperor Xian; HHS 10B, 450 (10b), the Biography of the Empress He; HHS 72/62, 2324 (4b-5a), the Biography of Dong Zhuo; SGZ 6, 175 (9b) PC quoting [Hanmo] yingxiong ji. For the death of an empress, the court was expected to wear plain linen instead of silk during the time of mourning, but on this occasion they paid no such courtesy.
  12. Jonathan Wu from KMA, Lady He Bio.