Empress Guo Shengtong

Empress Guo Shengtong

Empress Guo Shengtong (郭聖通) (died AD 52) was an empress during Han Dynasty. She was the first empress of her husband Emperor Guangwu (Liu Xiu), the one who established Eastern Han Dynasty as a restoration of the overthrown Western Han Dynasty. She eventually lost her husband's favor and was deposed in 41. However, both she and her family continued to be respected and honored even after she was deposed.

Family background and marriage to Liu Xiu

Guo Shengtong came from a wealthy family. Her father Guo Chang (郭昌) was a major landowner in the Zhending Commandery (真定, roughly modern Shijiazhuang, Hebei). Her mother was a daughter of Liu Pu (劉普), Prince Gong of Zhending -- a hereditary prince descended from the Western Han imperial house, as a sixth generation descendant of Emperor Jing, and she carried the courtesy title of Lady. After Guo's maternal grandfather's death in 7 BC, her uncle Liu Yang (劉楊) inherited the principality. When Wang Mang usurped the Han throne, he was demoted to duke, and the following year demoted to a commoner.

Circa 23, as Wang Mang's Xin Dynasty was crumbling, Liu Yang rose in rebellion and, as his family had hereditary authority in Zhending, the people followed him, and he reclaimed the title of Prince of Zhending. He became a regional power in his principality and nearby commanderies. He nominally submitted to Emperor Gengshi. When the pretender Wang Lang, claiming to be a son of Emperor Cheng (with the name Liu Ziyu (劉子輿)) rose against Emperor Gengshi in late 23, Prince Yang supported his claim. In 24, however, as Liu Xiu, still an official under Emperor Gengshi, was trying to pacify the region, he engaged in talks with Liu Yang, and they reached an alliance, under which Liu Xiu took Liu Yang's niece Guo in marriage. (It should be noted that Liu Xiu was already married to Yin Lihua at the time, and it is not clear what Guo's status was vis-à-vis Yin, although Yin was likely in Liu's and her home territory of Nanyang (modern Nanyang, Henan) at the time, thus avoiding a direct difficult situation.)

In 25, after Liu Xiu proclaimed himself emperor of a restored Han Dynasty (as Emperor Guangwu), Guo was created an imperial consort. That year, she bore him his firstborn son, Liu Jiang (劉疆). Her position would not change, even though her uncle Liu Yang was suspected of planning a rebellion and killed in 26. (Despite that incident, Emperor Guangwu permitted Liu Yang's son and Consort Guo's cousin Liu De (劉得) to inherit the Principality of Zhending, although he would be demoted to marquess in 37 as part of a major reorganization of noble titles.)

Also in 26, Emperor Guangwu considered creating an empress. He favored his first love, Consort Yin. However, Consort Yin had not yet had a son by that point, and she declined the empress position and endorsed Consort Guo. Emperor Guangwu therefore created Guo empress and her son Prince Jiang crown prince.

As empress

Empress Guo would be one of the empress who would give birth to the most princes in Han history (a status she would eventually share with Yin), as she gave birth to five sons. However, as the years went by, Emperor Guangwu continued to favor his first love Consort Yin and not Empress Guo. This is even as he favored her brother Guo Kuang (郭況) as an official and promoted him on a number of occasions. She continuously complained about her lack of favor, which made Emperor Guangwu angry. In 41, he deposed her from her empress position and created Yin empress to replace her.

Empress Guo did not suffer the fate of other deposed empresses in history, however -- imprisonment or death. Rather, Emperor Guangwu, who has by that point created his sons only as dukes, promoted her son Liu Fu (劉輔) to Prince of Zhongshan and created her the Princess Dowager of Zhongshan -- a title that had not previously been and would not be later used for any mother of an imperial prince whose husband was still alive.

As princess dowager

After Empress Guo was deposed, Emperor Guangwu continued to bestow her family honors as would otherwise befit an empress' family. Her brother Guo Kuang, already a marquess, was bestowed a large march, and given such great wealth that his mansion was nicknamed "the gold mine" by the people of the capital Luoyang. Her cousins Guo Jing (郭竟) and Guo Kuang (郭匡, not to be confused with her brother), for their achievements in Emperor Guangwu's administration, were created marquesses as well, as was her cousin's husband Chen Mao (陳茂).

In 44, Prince Fu's principality was moved to Pei, and Princess Dowager Guo went with him.

In 50, Princess Dowager Guo's mother died, and Emperor Guangwu personally attended her wake and burial. He also posthumously created Guo Chang, Princess Dowager Guo's father, a marquess and had his casket reburied with honors with his wife.

In 52, Princess Dowager Guo died and was buried with honors, but not the honors of an empress, nor was she buried at Emperor Guangwu's eventual tomb.


* "Book of Later Han", vol. 10, Part 1.
* "Zizhi Tongjian", vols. 39, 40, 43, 44.

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