A study of dowager Empress Liu in the reign of Emperor Song Renzong = Song Renzong chao Liu huang tai hou yan jiu
KeywordsEmpresses - China
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AbstractThis thesis studies the political career of Empress Dowager Liu (劉皇太后) in the reign of Emperor Song Renzong (宋仁宗) between 1022 to 1033. Liu started her political career in 1020, being a de facto regent of China, when her husband, Emperor Song Zhenzong (宋真宗), was seriously ill. She established herself as the “power behind the throne” and handled most political affairs of the country. Emperor Zhenzong died in 1022 and his thirteen-year-old son, Emperor Renzong, succeeded to the throne in the same year. Liu, entitled as Empress Dowager, became the formal regent during the minority of Emperor Renzong’s reign. In holding court with the officials, Liu sat behind a bamboo curtain, with Emperor Renzong sitting on the throne at the front. She instructed him on decision-making, and influenced his ways of managing the state affairs. This was known in the Chinese history as “holding court behind the curtain.” She performed effective ruling over the Chinese government in the early Song dynasty for 13 years until she died in 1033. Indeed, Liu was a significant female figure in Chinese history, but her political influence was not positively viewed. This biographical research aims to reappraise Liu’s contribution and influence as Empress Dowager, and hopefully offers a closer look at the political scene of her time.
The thesis consists of nine parts.
Chapter 1 is a literature review of the previous researches on different Empress Dowagers of the Song Dynasty since the late 19th century. This section also lays out the objectives and methodology of the thesis.
Chapter 2 focuses on the family background of Liu and examines her marriage and love story for a more comprehensive picture of the palace women.
Chapter 3 explores how Liu conspired with the government officials to seize power.
Chapter 4 examines Liu’s political establishment by ruling behind the curtain.
Chapter 5 investigates Liu’s conflicts and collaboration with the senior government officials, the emperor’s relatives and the eunuchs in Renzong’s reign.
Chapter 6 presents Liu’s management of the internal chaos, including the social, the economic and the religious aspects.
Chapter 7 studies Liu’s management of the northern frontier, in particular under the threat of Khitan incursion. It discusses, respectively, Liu’s efforts in her diplomacy with the Liao dynasty, her strategies in military defense, and her reformation of different military policies.
Chapter 8 investigates the relationship between Liu and the young emperor Renzong.
The final chapter acknowledges Liu’s positive contribution as an influential political figure in Chinese history with regard to the insufficient criticisms on her regency.
Master of Philosophy
Lau, Y. [劉綺伶]. (2017). A study of dowager Empress Liu in the reign of Emperor Song Renzong = 宋仁宗朝劉皇太后研究. (Thesis). University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong SAR.