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Persons in Chinese History - Empress Dowager Feng 馮太后

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Empress Dowager Feng 馮太后 (438 or 441 - 490) was regent for Emperor Xianwen 北魏獻文帝 (r. 465-470) of the Northern Wei dynasty 北魏 (386-534). She is famous for a series of administrative reforms carried out between 477 and 489. She hailed form Xindu 信都 in the commandery of Changle 長樂 (today's Jixian 冀縣, Hebei) as a daughter of Feng Lang 馮朗, Duke of Xijun Commandery 西郡公. With the age of 14 sui she was selected as a secondary wife (guiren 貴人) of Emperor Wencheng 北魏文成帝 (r. 452-465), and was then made his empress. When the emperor died, she expressed her wish to be buried together with him, according to the custom of the Tuoba people 拓跋 which had founded the dynasty. She became regent for the young emperor Xianwen. Her first activity was the execution of the Counsellor-in-chief Yihun 乙渾, who was charged with high treason and the attempt to usurp the throne. Because Empress Dowager Feng was not the mother of the emperor, she had killed all concubines and consorts from which she feared resistance. In 471 Emperor Xianwen ceded the throne to the five-sui old crown prince Tuoba Hong 拓跋宏, who mounted the throne as Emperor Xiaowen 北魏孝文帝 (r. 471-499). The Grand Empress Dowager (taihuang taihou 太皇太后) continued to reign for the infant. Soon thereafter the retired emperor was poisoned. Some history books say the Empress Dowager had a lover called Li Yi 李弈, a circumstance which the retired emperor had not appreciated and therefore ordered to kill Li Yi. The woman-in-power in turn decide to remove Xianwen. Having poisoned the retired Emperor, she was the unabatted person at the court, and for fourteen years dominated the politics of the Northern Wei empire. She was supported by a group of ministers loyal to her, like Wang Jun 王叡 or Li Chong 李沖, and gained the support of others by introducing a regular system of official salaries (fenglu 俸祿). This was only possibly by raising taxes. Each household had to deliver three bolts of fabric more, and an additional amount of 2 hu 斛 and 9 dou 斗 of grain. These additional levies of the grain-and-labour tax system (zudiao zhi 租調制) were called banlu 班祿. Officials were strictly evaluated whether they had fulfilled their duties correctly. In 485 supervising censors (jishizhong 給事中) Li Anshi 李安世 suggested to change the field allotment system and to introduce an "equal-field system" (juntian zhi 均田制), according to which each peasant family was granted a tract of land or allowed to open new farmland, on which it had to settle down and to pay tax and corvée labour (see yaoyi 徭役) accordingly. For this purpose, the population of the Northern Wei empire was for the first time regularly registered in household registers (huji 戶籍). The registration was to be overseen by a village head (zongzhu 宗主, the system was called zongzhu huduo zhi 宗主督護制), yet these often did not correctly register all households, thus artificially keeping down the tax quota. The unregistered households were called yinbi 蔭庇. The second problem of the system was that villages were classified in nine grades (jiupin 九品), and the tax quota therefore unevenly distributed. Li Chong therefore suggested to create a 'watertight' multi-level administration of wards (dang 黨), villages (li 里), and neighbourhoods (lin 鄰), units overseen by administrators in the "three-elders system" (sanzhang zhi 三長制). From then on the tax was levied per household, and not any more by village. Taxes were more justly applied, and 'black households' much less. Numerous ministers resisted this new system, but Empress Dowager Feng enforced its introduction. The effects of the new taxation system were felt soon, and the state revenue rose substantially, as the registration system was much more effective than in southern China. These revenues allowed the Northern Wei dynasty to transfer its capital to Luoyang 洛陽. In order to cement the power of the ruling dynasty, the Empress Dowager forbade intermarriage with members of the nobility of the Xianbei 鮮卑 tribe.
In 490 Empress Dowager Feng died. Her honorary title was Empress Wencheng 北魏文成帝皇后. She was buried in the Yonggu tomb mound 永固陵 and was granted a sacrificial place (fuji 祔祭) in the Taihe Hall 太和殿. She had written three hundred poems with educational content (Quanjie ge 勸戒歌), and instructions to the young emperor (Huanggao 皇誥).

Sources: Huang Banghe 黃邦和, Pi Mingxiu 皮明庥 (ed. 1987), Zhong-wai lishi renwu cidian 中外歷史人物詞典 (Changsha: Hunan renmin chubanshe), p. 89. ● Zhou Yilang 周一良 (1992), "Feng Taihou 馮太后", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 1, p. 225. ● Xue Hong 薛虹 et al. (ed. 1998), Zhongguo huangshi gongting cidian 中國皇室宮廷辭典 (Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe), p. 790. ● Chen Quanli 陳全力, Hou Xinyi 侯欣一 (e. 1991), Houfei cidian 后妃辭典 (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin jiaoyu chubanshe), p. 71.

December 30, 2015 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail
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