Lady Zhen (Zhēn shì 甄氏) was the first wife of Wei emperor Cao Pi 曹丕. A kind and beautiful woman. Mother to Cao Rui 曹叡, the Emperor Ming of Wei.


The Lady Zhen was born in 183 A.D.[3] as the daughter of Zhen Yi 甄逸 in Zhongshan commandery, Ji province. Zhen Yi was a man of old official family, and became a magistrate in Runan commandery in Yu province. He married the Lady Zhang of Changshan commandery[4] and gave birth to 3 sons and 5 daughters, with the youngest daughter being the Lady Zhen.

During the Jian'an period, the northern warlord Yuan Shao obtained her for his middle son Yuan Xi.[5] The two married in about 198 A.D.[3] Later, but probably before 200 A.D., Yuan Xi became Inspector of You province.[6] The Lady Zhen, however, remained at Ye city to care for Yuan Xi's mother, the Lady Liu 劉夫人.[7]

Meeting Cao PiEdit

The Lady Zhen was a kind and beautiful woman and was greatly favoured.[8] When Cao Cao massacred Ye in 204 A.D., his son Cao Pi was with him.

Yuan Shao was defeated at the Battle of Guandu in 200 A.D., and died in 202 A.D. After his death, his sons Yuan Tan and Yuan Shang became involved in internecine struggles over their father's vast domain.[9] Cao Cao played the two brothers off against each other and eventually conquered all of the Yuan's territory. In 204 A.D. he attacked Ye city,[9] accompanied by his son Cao Pi.

When the city wall was breached, Lady Liu and Lady Zhen sat together in the main hall of Yuan Shao's residence. Cao Pi entered the residence and saw the two ladies.[5]

Lady Zhen was terrified and put her hand on the lap of her mother-in-law. Lady Liu instinctively held her with her hands. Cao Pi said:

"Lady Liu, what makes her thus? Have your daughter-in-law lift her head."

When the Lady Liu did what she was asked, Cao Pi approached the lady Zhen and looked at her. Seeing that she was of extraordinary beauty, he sang her praises.

Later Cao Cao brought her back as Cao Pi's wife, after he learned how he felt for her.[5]

Meeting Cao Pi - Another theoryEdit

There is a slightly different theory on the first meeting between the Lady Zhen and Cao Pi.

When Cao Cao subjugated Ye city, Cao Pi was first to enter Yuan Shang's compound. Behind the Lady Liu there was a woman with dishevelled hair and a dirty face shedding tears. Cao Pi asked about her and Lady Liu replied:

"This is Xi's wife."

She then turned around to gather the woman's hair and rubbed her face with a kerchief. Her good looks were matchless. When the Lady Liu was finished, she said to the Lady Zhen:

"You don't need to worry about dying now!"

She was taken in marriage and was favoured.[5]

The two theories are a little different, but agree on the main points; Cao Pi enters the compound, finds the Lady Zhen behind the Lady Liu and is stunned by her beauty, later marrying her.[3][5]

In the Qunshu zhiyao Cao Pi himself tells about his stay at the compound:

"When the emperor pacified Ji province and garrisoned Ye, I put up at Shao's mansion. I personally strolled his courtyards, ascended his halls, roamed his pavilions, and lay down in his rooms. The buildings had not yet collapsed and the stairs were intact."

Marriage to Cao PiEdit

Eight months later, she gave birth to Cao Rui -- leading to incessant gossip that Cao Rui was actually biologically Yuan Xi's son, not Cao Pi's, although that appeared to be rather unlikely given that Yuan Xi had been away from Ye city for quite some time before the marriage.

As wife of Cao Pi the Lady Zhen was admired for her kindly nature and for her devotion to her mother-in-law, the Lady Bian.[3] However, a woman named Guo Nüwang used the rumours of Cao Rui being Yuan Xi's son to increase tension between the Lady Zhen and Cao Pi.[10]


On 11 December 220 A.D., Cao Pi ascended the throne as Emperor Wen of Wei and afterwards he was presented with two daughters from the Duke of Shangyang, the former Emperor Xian, in marriage to the Wei ruling house.[11]. He set up his capital in Luoyang, but did not summon the Lady Zhen from Ye to join him.

The two daughters, together with the Lady Guo Nüwang and the Honourable Ladies Li and Yin were all loved and favoured. This increasingly discouraged the Lady Zhen and made her quarrelsome. On 4 August 221 A.D., Cao Pi sent an envoy to order her to commit suicide. She was buried in Ye city.[11]

After the Lady Zhen's death, the Lady Guo, who later became empress,[12] suggested that she should buried with her dishevelled hair covering her face and her mouth filled with chaff - so that even after her death she would be unable to complain.[11]

Later DevelopmentsEdit

After 226 A.D. Guo Nüwang was made Empress-Dowager. In 227 A.D., after Cao Rui had become emperor, the Lady Zhen was granted posthumous title as empress and great favour was shown to her family.[3] Guo Nüwang, his adoptive mother, was made Empress-Dowager, but in 235 A.D. she died under controversial circumstances. Cao Rui had questioned the role she had played in his mother's death and according to some rumours he might have been involved in Empress-Dowager Guo's death in some way. It is said she died of anxiety. When she was buried, she was buried the same way as Lady Zhen; her dishevelled hair covering her face and her mouth filled with chaff.[13]

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  • Zhen Luo is not the real name of Empress Zhen; her real name is not recorded. The name Zhen Luo comes from a poem written by Cao Zhi about the Goddess of the Luo River called "Rhapsody on the Goddess of the Luo River". Some stories say this poem was dedicated to the Lady Zhen and that's where the name Luo comes from. These stories however, are stated improbable by various historians.
  • There are also rumours that Cao Cao wanted the Lady Zhen for himself, but that he came too late and his son Cao Pi had already taken her. These rumours too are improbable.


  1. R.J.Cutter, Empresses and Consorts, page 73.
  2. R.J.Cutter, Empresses and Consorts, page 94.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Rafe de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, Biography of Zhen, the Lady, pages 1117/-8; SGZ 5:159-62
  4. Rafe de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, Biography of Zhen Yi, page 1118; SGZ 5:159.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 R.J. Cutter, The death of Empress Zhen, page 2
  6. Rafe de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, Biography of Yuan Xi, page 1014; SGZ 6
  7. Rafe de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, Biography of Liu, the Lady, page 469; SGZ 5:159
  8. R.J. Cutter, The death of Empress Zhen, page 1
  9. 9.0 9.1 Rafe de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, Biography of Yuan Tan, pages 1012/-3; SGZ 6:201-07
  10. R.J.Cutter tells us that lady Guo slandered lady Zhen, but most details are not known.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 R.J. Cutter, The death of Empress Zhen, page 3
  12. Rafe de Crespigny, A Biographical Dictionary, Biography of Guo [Nüwang], page 279; SGZ 5:164-66
  13. R.J. Cutter, The death of Empress Zhen, page 4


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