Dou Wu (Chinese: 竇武; died 25 October 168[1]), courtesy name Youping (游平), was a Chinese philosopher and politician of the Eastern Han dynasty. He was known as a Confucian scholar and served as a low-level official during the reign of Emperor Huan until his daughter Dou Miao was elevated from imperial consort to empress, which caused him to be promoted, eventually to become one of the most important imperial officials when his daughter became empress dowager and regent for Emperor Ling. He, along with Chen Fan, attempted to curb the eunuchs' power and install Confucian scholars in imperial government, but after a plot by him and Chen to exterminate the most powerful eunuchs was discovered, he was defeated in battle and committed suicide.

Dou Wu
Traditional Chinese竇武
Simplified Chinese窦武

Career under Emperor HuanEdit

Dou Wu's father Dou Feng (竇奉) was a great-grandson of Dou Rong (竇融), who contributed much to Emperor Guangwu's campaign to re-establish the Han Dynasty. Dou Feng was the Administrator (太守) of Dingxiang (定襄) Commandery.[2] When Dou Wu was young, he became known for his scholarship in Confucian classics and was famous for it in the areas west of Dasan Pass, but was not involved in politics.[3]

That changed in 165 when his daughter Dou Miao was selected to be an imperial consort, as an eligible woman from an honored clan. Because of this, Emperor Huan made Dou Wu a low level official. Later that year, after Empress Deng Mengnü was deposed, the imperial officials all favored Consort Dou to be the new empress due to Dou Wu's reputation, and Emperor Huan gave in to their wishes although he personally did not favor Consort Dou. She was created empress later that year. Dou Wu was promoted to be the commander of the capital (Luoyang) defense forces and created a marquess.

In 167, during the height of the first Disaster of Partisan Prohibition (in which Confucian officials and their university student supporters were accused to be "partisans" scheming against the emperor), Dou Wu interceded on the partisans' behalf, requesting leniency and at the same time tendering his resignation (which Emperor Huan did not accept[4]). It was with his intercession and that of Huo Xu (霍謣) that Emperor Huan did not execute any of the partisans, although he did strip their civil liberties. Dou Wu, in the meantime, also recommended several scholars who were not accused to be partisans for important posts.

Career during his daughter's regency and deathEdit

Early in 168, Emperor Huan died without an heir. Empress Dou became empress dowager and regent. She consulted her father and Chen Fan with regard to who would be the new emperor. They eventually decided on the 12-year-old Liu Hong (劉宏), the Marquess of Jieduting. Later that year, he became emperor (as Emperor Ling). Empress Dowager Dou continued to serve as regent.

With Empress Dowager Dou as regent, Dou Wu and Chen became the most important officials in the imperial government. Dou Wu was given a larger march, while his son and two nephews were also created marquesses. As a reaction to this, Lu Zhi, then still a civilian with no official post, wrote to Dou Wu, advising him to reject the rewards; Dou ignored him.[5]

Dou and Chen recalled the partisans and made many of them important officials. Meanwhile, though, they became concerned that the emperor and the empress dowager were being surrounded by eunuchs, the ladies in waiting, and Emperor Ling's wet nurse Zhao Rao (趙嬈), who flattered them and were trusted by them. Chen and Dou therefore started a plot to exterminate all of the powerful eunuchs. When Dou Wu presented the plan to his daughter, however, she refused—reasoning that not all of the powerful eunuchs deserved death. Dou Wu therefore sought to execute four—Guan Ba (管霸), Su Kang (蘇康), Cao Jie (曹節), and Wang Fu (王甫). As Empress Dowager Dou was still pondering this proposal, another eunuch, Zhu Yu (朱瑀), while Dou Wu was on vacation, opened up Dou Wu's proposal and found out that Dou Wu proposed a mass extermination plan and became enraged. He gathered 17 other eunuchs and took Emperor Ling into custody (managing to persuade him that they did it for his own protection) and kidnapping Empress Dowager Dou. They then sent forces to arrest Dou Wu and Chen. Chen was quickly captured and killed, but Dou gathered his forces and resisted. The eunuchs tricked the general Zhang Huan (張奐), who was battle tested as the former commander of the northern border defense forces, into believing that Dou was committing treason, and Zhang led his forces to defeat Dou Wu. After defeat, Dou Wu committed suicide, and his entire clan was slaughtered. Empress Dowager Dou lost power and was put under house arrest ever since. However, Dou Wu's young grandson Dou Fu was saved.


  1. ^ According to Liu Hong's biography in Book of the Later Han, Chen Fan and Dou Wu, among others, were killed on the xinhai day of the 9th month of the 1st year of the Jianning era of his reign. This corresponds to 25 Oct 168 in the Julian calendar. [(建宁元年)九月辛亥,中常侍曹节矫诏诛太傅陈蕃、大将军窦武...] Houhanshu, vol.08
  2. ^ (窦武字游平,扶风平陵人,安丰戴侯融之玄孙也。父奉,定襄太守。) Houhanshu, vol.69
  3. ^ (武少以经行着称,常教授于大泽中,不交时事,名显关西。) Houhanshu, vol.69
  4. ^ (书奏,因以病上还城门校尉、槐里侯印绶。帝不许...) Houhanshu, vol.69
  5. ^ (([建宁元年]六月....。癸巳,录定策功,封窦武为闻喜侯,武子机为渭阳侯,兄子绍为鄠侯,靖为西乡侯,中常侍曹节为长安乡侯,侯者凡十一人。涿郡卢植上书说武曰:“足下之于汉朝,犹旦、奭之在周室,建立圣主,四海有系,论者以为吾子之功,于斯为重。今同宗相后,披图案牒,以次建之,何勋之有!岂可横叨天功,以为己力乎!宜辞大赏,以全身名。”武不能用。) Zizhi Tongjian, vol.56