Empress Shen Wuhua

Empress Shen Wuhua

Empress Shen Wuhua (沈婺華), later Buddhist nun name Guanyin (觀音), was an empress of the Chinese dynasty Chen Dynasty. Her husband was Chen Shubao, the last emperor of the dynasty.

Shen Wuhua's father Shen Junli (沈君理) was a junior official during the reign of Chen's founder Emperor Wu, and Emperor Wu, impressed by his abilities, gave Shen Junli his daughter the Princess Kuaiji as his wife, and Shen Wuhua was born of the Princess Kuaiji, but her birth year is lost to history. He subsequently served under Emperor Wu's nephews Emperor Wen and Emperor Xuan. When the Princess died, Shen Wuhua mourned her greatly, and was praised for her filial piety. In 569, she married Chen Shubao, who was then his father Emperor Xuan's crown prince, as his wife and crown princess. (Her age at the time, as noted above, is not known; he was 16.) They did not have any sons together, and when his concubine Consort Sun died in childbirth in 573 while giving birth to his first son Chen Yin, she took Chen Yin and raised him as her own son. Her father Shen Junli died later that year, and she again mourned greatly.

In 582, Emperor Xuan died, and Chen Shubao, after surviving a failed coup attempt by his brother Chen Shuling (陳叔陵) the Prince of Shixing and cousin Chen Bogu (陳伯固) the Prince of Xin'an, albeit with substantial injuries, took the throne. He created her empress and Chen Yin crown prince. However, as he did not favor her, she was not allowed to attend to him during his injuries -- only Consort Zhang Lihua, his favorite concubine, was allowed to.

Empress Shen was said to be solemn and had few desires, spending much of her time studying Confucian classics, history, and Buddhist sutras, as well as practicing calligraphy. She did not participate much in Chen Shubao's feasting, and he did not favor her, instead greatly favoring his Consort Zhang, who effectively took over the governance of the palace. Empress Shen had few complaints about that, however, and she lived a frugal life, limiting her staff to about 100 people and not using elaborate decorations, often submitting suggestions to Chen Shubao. In 588, believing in accusations that Chen Yin despised him for not favoring Empress Shen, Chen Shubao deposed him and replaced Chen Yin with Consort Chen's son Chen Shen. He also considered deposing Empress Shen and replacing her with Consort Chang, but had not had chance to carry this out when Sui Dynasty forces captured the capital Jiankang in 589, seizing him and ending Chen, unifying China.

Consort Zhang was executed by the Sui general Gao Jiong, but Chen Shubao was spared and taken to the Sui capital Chang'an to be treated as an honored guest of Emperor Wen of Sui. Empress Shen followed Chen Shubao to Chang'an. She wrote deeply mournful texts to commemorate him when he died in 604. Earlier that year, Emperor Wen had died as well and was succeeded by his son Emperor Yang of Sui, who, during his reign, undertook 11 journeys through various parts of the empire and often had Empress Shen accompany his train. She was with his train in Jiangdu (江都, in modern Yangzhou, Jiangsu) in 618, when he was killed in a coup led by the general Yuwen Huaji. After Emperor Yang's death, Empress Shen crossed the Yangtze river south to the city Piling (毗陵, in modern Changzhou, Jiangsu), where she became a Buddhist nun with the name Guanyin -- same as the Chinese name for the Buddhist deity Avalokiteśvara. She died early in the reign of Emperor Taizong of Tang (626-649), but the exact year is not known.

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