Lady Gan

Lady Gan (died c. 210)[1] was a concubine of Liu Bei,[2] the founding emperor of the state of Shu Han in the Three Kingdoms period of China and Liu Shan's mother. She was later posthumously honoured as Lady Huangsi which means "the Lady whom the Emperor misses" by Liu Bei. Then after his death, she was named Empress Zhaolie by her son to match his father's posthumous title.

Lady Gan
Lady Gan Qing portrait.jpg
A Qing dynasty illustration of Lady Gan
Pei County, Jiangsu
Diedc. 210[1]
Gong'an County, Hubei
SpouseLiu Bei
IssueLiu Shan
Posthumous name
Lady Huangsi (皇思夫人)
Empress Zhaolie (昭烈皇后)


Lady Gan was born to a family of commoners from Pei (), which is in present-day Pei County, Jiangsu) though a diviner predicted a bright future in store for her.[3] When Lady Gan entered adulthood, her appearance becomes striking. And by the time she turned eighteen, she had already matured into a seductive and bewitching beauty. She had a beautiful body and soft flesh. When Liu Bei visited Xu Province, he stayed in Xiaopei (小沛; present-day Pei County, Jiangsu), where he met Lady Gan and took her as his concubine. Whenever Liu Bei would summon her within the silken curtains, she would look to anyone who gazed upon her from outside the window as if she was like drifted snow beneath the moon.[4][5]

Liu Bei had a three-foot-tall jade figurine that he kept in Lady Gan's apartment. He was reputed to have spent his days planning military strategies, retreating to the apartment at night: It is said that Lady Gan's body was as white and sleek as the jade figurine and that it was difficult to tell them apart. Realizing that Liu Bei's other concubines were extremely jealous of her and the jade figurine, Lady Gan wisely admonished Liu Bei for cherishing such a bewitching trifle, telling him that infatuation gives rise to suspicion. He heeded her warning and disposed of the jade figurine.[6]

Since Liu Bei lost several wives during this time, Lady Gan was in charge of family affairs. On several occasions, she was captured by Liu Bei’s enemies but always managed to emerge from the experience unharmed, and she succeeded in keeping his household together through such crises. Because of her leading role in the household, a common misinterpretation is that she was Liu Bei's first wife. However, though he liked her and trusted her, Liu Bei never married her as a formal wife.[2][7][a]

She followed Liu Bei to Jing Province later, where she gave birth to Liu Shan. During the Battle of Changban, Liu Bei was forced to abandon her and Liu Shan, but she and her son were both saved by Zhao Yun. She was buried in Nan Commandery (南郡; around present-day Jingzhou, Hubei), her death probably was what prompted the offer of marriage between Liu Bei and Lady Sun, since Liu Bei no longer had someone to manage his household or raise his son.[8]

Posthumous honoursEdit

In 221, after Liu Bei established the state of Shu Han and became its first emperor, he posthumously honoured Lady Gan as "Lady Huangsi" (皇思夫人), which literally means "the Lady whom the Emperor misses". Lady Gan's remains were excavated from Nan Commandery for reburial in Shu territory (covering present-day Sichuan and Chongqing), but Liu Bei died before this was completed.[9]

Later, after Liu Shan succeeded his father, Liu Bei, as the emperor of Shu, the chancellor Zhuge Liang wrote a memorial to Liu Shan, suggesting that Lady Gan be honoured and buried together with Liu Bei. Liu Shan obliged and posthumously honoured his mother as "Empress Zhaolie" (昭烈皇后) to match his father's posthumous title, "Emperor Zhaolie".[10]

In Romance of the Three KingdomsEdit

Lady Gan first appears in Chapter 15 of the novel alongside Liu Bei's other consort Lady Mi. The two of them had been treated well by Lü Bu who sought to maintain his alliance with their husband. They were also used as a bartering chip to ensure Guan Yu's loyalty to Cao Cao. Lady Gan urged her brother-in-law to escape upon hearing news of Liu Bei's whereabouts. She also provided him with numerous advices during the journey, even helping pacify Zhang Fei who mistook his brother's ties to Cao Cao as treachery.

After reuniting with her husband, Lady Gan, bore him a son, Liu Shan. On the night of the birth a white crane alighted on the yamen, sang some forty notes (number of years her son would reign), and flew into the west (place he would reign). During parturition an unknown fragrance filled the room. Once Lady Gan had dreamed that she swallowed the stars of the Northern Dipper and conceived as a result—hence the child's milkname, Ah Dou, or Precious Dipper. She was among those Zhao Yun saved when the conflict at Changban occurred. Her death in Chapter 54 inspired Zhou Yu to entrap Liu Bei in Wu by arranging a marriage between him and Lady Sun.[11]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Probably because he wanted a formal wife who would bring him some political advantage. Liu Bei's three known wives were all from a powerful clan in the region he was. Lady Mi in the Xu Province, Lady Sun in the Eastern Wu and Empress Wu in the Yi Province.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b de Crespigny (2007), p. 238.
  2. ^ a b de Crespigny (2007), p. 237.
  3. ^ (先主甘皇后,沛人也。) Sanguozhi vol. 34.
  4. ^ Empresses and Consorts Selections from Chen Shou's Records of the Three States with Pei Songzhi's Commentary. University of Hawaiʻi Press Reference. 1999. p. 208. ISBN 9780824819453.
  5. ^ (先主臨豫州,住小沛,納以為妾。先主數喪嫡室,常攝內事。) Sanguozhi vol. 34.
  6. ^ Biographical dictionary of Chinese women : antiquity through Sui, 1600 B.C.E.-618 C.E. Stefanowska, A. D., Lee, Lily Xiao Hong., Credo Reference. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe. 2007. p. 287. ISBN 978-1-78034-283-2. OCLC 759036519.CS1 maint: others (link)
  7. ^ (隨先主於荊州,產後主。) Sanguozhi vol. 34.
  8. ^ (值曹公軍至,追及先主於當陽長阪,於時困偪,棄後及後主,賴趙雲保護,得免於難。後卒,葬於南郡。后卒,葬于南郡。) Sanguozhi vol. 34.
  9. ^ (章武二年,追諡皇思夫人,遷葬於蜀,未至而先主殂隕。) Sanguozhi vol. 34.
  10. ^ (丞相亮上言:「皇思夫人履行脩仁,淑慎其身。大行皇帝昔在上將,嬪妃作合,載育聖躬,大命不融。大行皇帝存時,篤義垂恩,念皇思夫人神柩在遠飄颻,特遣使者奉迎。會大行皇帝崩,今皇思夫人神柩以到,又梓宮在道,園陵將成,安厝有期。臣輒與太常臣賴恭等議:禮記曰:『立愛自親始,教民孝也;立敬自長始,教民順也。』不忘其親,所由生也。春秋之義,母以子貴。昔高皇帝追尊太上昭靈夫人為昭靈皇后,孝和皇帝改葬其母梁貴人,尊號曰恭懷皇后,孝愍皇帝亦改葬其母王夫人,尊號曰靈懷皇后。今皇思夫人宜有尊號,以慰寒泉之思,輒與恭等案諡法,宜曰昭烈皇后。詩曰:『谷則異室,死則同穴。』禮云:上古無合葬,中古後因時方有。故昭烈皇后宜與大行皇帝合葬,臣請太尉告宗廟,布露天下,具禮儀別奏。」制曰可。) Sanguozhi vol. 34.
  11. ^ Romance of the Three Kingdoms