No other woman in the Early Han held the same amount of influence as Empress Lü throughout her various titles as Empress, Empress Dowager, and then Grand Empress Dowager. Stories recounting her manipulative nature paint a picture of a scheming empress using her imperial power to bestow favors and political positions to her own clan. This essay argues that Empress Lü used the lack of precedence for her position as Empress Dowager to manipulate court officials into granting power to her clan, which caused political unrest late in her life and resulted in the destruction of the Lü clan. To support this claim, this essay will discuss the exceptional nature of Empress Lü's power and the extent of her ability to manipulate the court, and then this paper will provide evidence of a Lü clan extermination after the death of the empress that held power for fifteen years after her husband died – in a nation with no precedence for this kind of rule.
Lü Zhi (241–180 BC), commonly known as Empress Lü and Empress Dowager Lü, was the empress consort of Emperor Gaozu (256–195 BC), the founder and first ruler of the Han Empire. The consort earned her title by bearing Liu Ying (210–188 BC), who would later become Emperor Hui of Han. As such, Lü Zhi was the first woman to assume the title Empress of China, a title for which there had been no prior precedence. The later death of her husband in 195 BC resulted in the empress holding her power as a dowager, or a widow with a title from her late husband. Since Lü Zhi did not hold formal power through an office, and instead wielded a ceremonial position in the ruling household, her ability to manipulate the court without legal ramifications was amplified, and due to both her age and her sway over the ...
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