Biography (COB): Empress Bian

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Empress BianEmpress Bian
卞皇后

Comprehensive Officer Biography
Author Notes in Green
Authored by Qu Hui

Place of Birth: Baiting in Qi
Served: Served: Liu Yao
Lifespan: AD 160–230
Titles: Queen, Queen Dowager, Empress Dowager, Celebrious of the Martial Emperor, Grand Empress Dowager
Family: Bian Yuan (father), Bian Bing (brother), Cao Cao (husband), Cao Pi, Cao Zhang, Cao Zhi, Cao Xiong (sons)

Empress Bian (the Celebrious of the Martial Emperor) of Kaiyang in Langye was the third wife of Cao Cao and the mother of Emperor Wen, and his brothers Zhong, Zhi and Xiong. She originally was in a brothel, but at age twenty, Cao Cao took her as a concubine. When Cao Cao moved to Luoyang, she traveled with him. When he fled Luoyang (I) and Yuan Shu began spreading rumors of his death, his associates wanted to leave the city. The empress stopped them from leaving (II), and when Cao heard of this, he praised her.

I: He fled the city after Dong Zhuo, a warlord from Longxi, took control of the city, disposed the emperor, Liu Bian, and placed Liu Xie on the throne. Cao then formed an army and participated in an alliance against Dong.
II: The empress said: “Lord Cao’s fate as yet cannot be known. If you go home today and tomorrow he is alive, how could you look him in the eye again? And if calamity should happen to befall us, what misery is there in dying together?”

At the beginning of the Jian’an period, Cao Cao set aside his first wife, Lady Ding (III) and made Bian his next wife. She raised all of his children whose mothers had died. When Emperor Wen was named heir apparent, the left and right attendants congratulated her, and said she should open her coffers and bestow rewards. She firmly refused to, and the chief attendant told Cao Cao of this exchange. Cao was greatly pleased (IV).

III: Cao Cao had two wives before Empress Bian. The first, Lady Ding, had no issue. The second, Lady Liu, had Cao Ang, Cao Shuo and Princess Qinghe. Lady Liu died young, and Lady Ding raised Ang. After Ang fell during the battle with Zhang Xiu, Ding would say, “Having taken my son and killed him, you don’t think of him anymore!” She would then weep uncontrollably. Cao Cao found this exasperating and sent her back to her family.

Early on, Lady Ding had little regard for Empress Bian and her sons. When Bian became the next wife, she held no grudge against Ding. When Cao Cao was away on campaigns, she would receive Ding privately, and have Ding take the seat of honor while she sat in the seat below.

IV: The left and right attendants said, “Since the general (Emperor Wen) has been made heir apparent, everyone in the empire is overjoyed. You should open your coffers and bestow rewards.” She rebuked them, saying, “The king named [Cao] Pi successor because he is the eldest. I should count myself lucky that I did not make the mistake of failing to teach and guide him. Why should I also bestow gifts?” Upon hearing this, Cao Cao said of her, “Not showing your anger and maintaining your dignity when glad are surely the most difficult of accomplishments.”

In 220 she was made queen. In 221, Cao Cao died and Cao Pi assumed the royal throne. When he assumed the imperial throne as Emperor Wen, he honored her as empress dowager. When Pi’s son Rui ascended, she was honored as grand empress dowager. In 230, Rui honored her father as Attentive Marquis, while her grandfather and grandmother were also honored with titles. Later in the year, Empress Bian passed away. In July, she was buried with Cao Cao at Gaoling.

Copyright © 2008 Qu Hui
A biography assembled using the following sources: