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An illustration of Lady Li from the Qing dynasty book Baimei xinyong tuzhuan
Yingling, near Maoling
|Spouse||Emperor Wu of Han|
|Issue||Liu Bo, Prince Ai of Changyi|
|Relatives||Li Yannian (brother)|
Li Guangli (brother)
Liu He (grandson)
Lady Li (李夫人, d. 104-101 BC), also rendered as Li Fu-jēn in poems, was a Han dynasty concubine of Emperor Wu. When civil unrest broke out between her family and Wei Zifu's family, several of her relatives were tried and executed, leading to her downfall.
Lady Li's brother Li Yannian was a musician for Princess Pingyang. After he performed The Beauty Song (Chinese: 佳人曲; pinyin: jiārén qǔ) for Emperor Wu, the Emperor asked Li Yannian if he knew of such a woman, to which Princess Pingyang responded that the song was about Li's sister. The Emperor thus requested to meet with Lady Li, and she became one of his concubines. She had one son named Bo (髆).
It is recorded that when Lady Li became gravely ill, Emperor Wu came to visit her personally. However, she refused to allow him to see her face, citing the loss of her beauty. Upon Wudi's urging, Li went further and refused to even speak. As such, Wudi left unhappily. The lady's sisters then admonished her for not allowing the emperor to see her face. Li's reply was "The reason why I refused to meet the emperor was for my brothers' sake. I earned the emperor's goodwill by virtue of my good looks. Those who serve others using their looks, will lose their popularity once their looks have faded. The reason why the Emperor remembers me fondly was because of my good looks in the past. If he sees that my looks have been ravaged, he will definitely treat me with disgust, let alone remember me fondly or treat my brothers well!"
The date of Lady Li's death is unrecorded, but is calculated to be between 104 and 101 BC, as her brother Li Guangli was sent to attack Dayuan twice during this period, and it was recorded that Lady Li had passed away before Li Guangli returned from his second expedition. Emperor Wu's profound sadness was recorded in the Han Shu. Likewise, a famous poem has been recorded as being written by the grief-stricken Emperor. However, although composed in the persona of Han Wudi, there is doubt as to the actual authorship of this and similar poems.
Wudi's grief at the loss of Lady Li is recorded in a poem:
The Fallen Leaves and the Plaintive Cicada
The sound of her silk skirt has stopped,
On the marble pavement dust grows.
Her empty room is cold and still,
Fallen leaves are piled against the doors.
Longing for that lovely lady,
How can I bring my aching heart to rest?
Due to her popularity with the Emperor, her male relatives enjoyed favor with the Emperor, but in the civil unrest between the Li family and Empress Wei Zifu's family, several of her relatives were killed or executed. Li Guangli later surrendered to the Xiongnu circa 90-89 BC. With the suicide of Emperor Wu's crown prince Liu Ju in 91 BC, her son Liu Bo was among the candidates for the title of crown prince. However, the title ultimately went to young Liu Fuling, who succeeded Emperor Wu as Emperor Zhao of Han. (In any case, Liu Bo predeceased his father.) Her grandson, Liu Bo's son, Prince He of Changyi, was notoriously enthroned as emperor as Emperor Zhao's successor, but was removed from his position after 27 days by Huo Guang, impeached on 1127 charges of misconduct committed after being named emperor. Afterwards, Li's grandson was not included on the official historical list of Han emperors.
- Portrayed by Zhan Jie in the 1990 TV series Han Wudi
- Portrayed by He Jiayi in the 2000 BMN TV series The Prince of Han Dynasty
- Portrayed by Gao Tingting in the 2005 CCTV TV series The Emperor in Han Dynasty
- Portrayed by Zhang Xuan in the 2014 Zhejiang Huace Film and Now TV collaborative TV series The Virtuous Queen of Han
- Portrayed by Fala Chen in the 2014 HT TV series Sound of the Desert
- "Biographies of the Empresses and Imperial affinities", Book of Han (in Chinese), retrieved 11 March 2020 Cite error: The named reference "Hanshu" was defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
- Records of the Grand Historian. 125. Retrieved 11 March 2020.
- M. Loewe, 53.
- Rexroth, 133
- Translation, Arthur Waley, 1918, (in One Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems)