Lady Li (李夫人, died between 104 and 101 BC), also rendered as Li Fu-jēn, was a Han dynasty concubine of Emperor Wu. Civil unrest broke out between her family and Wei Zifu's family. Moreover, her siblings defected to the Xiongnu and became traitors to China. As a result, Emperor Wu ordered her relatives to be tried and executed, leading to the downfall of her and her family.

Lady Li
The image is a scan of a greyscale illustration of Lady Li from a Qing Dynasty book of historical and legendary women. It shows a full-body portrait of Lady Li, who is wearing a layered robe with long, flowing sleeves and a high sash.
An illustration of Lady Li from the Qing dynasty book Baimei xinyong tuzhuan
Diedbetween 104 and 101 BC
Yingling, near Maoling
SpouseEmperor Wu of Han
IssueLiu Bo, Prince Ai of Changyi
Posthumous name
Empress Xiàowǔ
ClanLi (李)
RelativesLi Yannian (brother)
Li Guangli (brother)
Liu He (grandson)


As concubineEdit

She was allegedly the inspiration for The Beauty Song, composed by her brother Li Yannian.[1]

Lady Li's brother Li Yannian was a musician for Princess Pingyang.[2] 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).[1]

However, although composed in the persona of Han Wudi, there is doubt as to the actual authorship of this and similar poems.[3]

Treason and execution of her familyEdit

In the civil unrest between the Li family and Empress Wei Zifu's family, several of Li's relatives were killed and executed. At the time Empress Wei Zifu was the head wife of Liu Che, and Wei and Li were jealous of each other.[4]

Moreover, Li Guangli later surrendered to the Xiongnu circa 90-89 BC and was accused of being a traitor. His grandson Li Ling also defected to the Xiongnu. Li's family was then tried and executed for treason.[4]

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 enthroned as emperor as Emperor Zhao's successor, but was removed from his position after 27 days by Huo Guang. Li's grandson was impeached on 1127 charges of misconduct committed, and afterwards, Li's grandson was not included on the official historical list of Han emperors.[4]


Album Gathering Gems of Beauty (畫麗珠萃秀)

At the end of her life, Lady Li became gravely ill. She refused to allow Emperor Wu 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.

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. But soon later Li Guangli and Li Ling defected to the Xiongnu, and her family was executed for treason.[5]

Popular cultureEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "Biographies of the Empresses and Imperial affinities", Book of Han (in Chinese), retrieved 11 March 2020
  2. ^ Records of the Grand Historian. Vol. 125. Retrieved 11 March 2020.
  3. ^ Rexroth, 133
  4. ^ a b c Book of Han
  5. ^ M. Loewe, 53.