Ancient Chinese feudal queens were powerful figures, not just concubines, they often came from prestigious clan backgrounds to serve as political support. Additionally, they were usually more attractive than the average person.
However, there are exceptions to every rule, and the unique black queen in ancient Chinese feudal history below is one such exception. She was originally just a servant girl, a foreigner, from a non-influential family, and her appearance was so plain that she never thought she could get a husband in her lifetime.
Unknown lineage, sold into the palace as a weaver servant
That queen was Empress Li Lang Dung, the wife of Eastern Tăn Tran Viện Emperor Sư Mã Độc (320-372), the 8th emperor of the Eastern Tăn dynasty (317-420). According to historical records, Li Lang Dung, with her tall figure, dark skin, and curly hair, proved she was not a Chinese person. According to some books, she came from a distant land, born in the Lâm Ấp tribe, a tribe that once lived in India, the Middle East, and southern Africa. This tribe was heavily influenced by Chinese culture and religion, so from ancient times, there was interaction and probably that’s why Li Lang Dung came to China from an early age.
For some reason, from an early age, Li Lang Dung was sold to the Tăn Mã Dục palace to become a weaver servant, with unknown lineage. From the early days in the palace, she was always looked down upon by the other concubines because her appearance was completely different from the then standard of beauty of the Chinese people. Li Lang Dung was very annoyed, sad, with no family, no relatives, and was disrespected. She even referred to as “Côn Lôn servant”.
Life changed, new status due to the words of an astrologer
At that time, before becoming emperor, Độc Tăn Mã was just the Coi Kê Vương. He had three sons but they all died at a young age, and other concubines tried but Mã Độc Tăn still had no children. Worried about this, Mã Độc Tăn even doubted his own “manhood”, when there were so many concubines but he couldn’t find a son to continue the family line. In the end, in a deadlock, he sought out fortune tellers to predict his destiny.
The fortune tellers said that Mã Độc Tăn should summon all the concubines to see their fortunes, then they would know who to make the queen. Hearing this, Mã Độc Tăn immediately summoned them all to gather in front of the palace. However, after several times of observing, the fortune tellers all shook their heads and said that no one had the ability to give birth to a son anymore. Sad for his own “bad luck” horoscope, Mã Độc Tăn tried again by expanding the search range and called all the palace women.
The palace women saw this as a rare opportunity to change their lives, and they all dressed up, made themselves look fresh and beautiful for the fortune tellers to see, including Li Lang Dung. However, unlike the other palace women who dreamed of wealth and prosperity, she only came because she couldn’t resist the owner’s orders, not expecting anything in return. Because indeed, with her appearance, and the plain and simple rural look, how could she become the wife of a great general?
On the contrary, surprisingly, as soon as she arrived, the fortune tellers looked at her and pointed at her, saying in unison, “It’s her”. From then on, with just one bold act of expanding the search range, with just one word from the fortune tellers, the once ugly servant girl Li Lang Dung officially stepped up to a higher position. She was honored by Mã Độc Tăn as his concubine after that encounter.
Ignoring rumors about her status, she gave birth to two princes and a princess
This event was considered a shock in China at that time because no one thought an ugly servant girl like Li Lang Dung could surpass hundreds of other beautiful women in the Mã Độc Tăn palace to become a concubine. On the other hand, based on some beliefs at that time, when becoming a concubine of a king, one at least had to have enough beauty and know how to take care of the family. Meanwhile, Mã Độc Tăn was tall, handsome, strong, and the epitome of many young girls. Indeed, this is probably the most famous “mismatched couple” in Chinese feudal history.
Yet, disregarding the gossip and ridicule of others, not long after, she dreamt of two dragons kneeling before her, which she believed to be an auspicious sign. In 362, Li Lang Dung gave birth to Prince Mã Điệu and in 364, she gave birth to her second son, named Mã Đạo Tử, and later gave birth to a daughter named Dương Lady. From then on, her position in the palace was highly regarded.
The perfect ending of a queen with a strange fate
In 371, Mã Độc Tăn ascended the throne at the age of 51, taking the title of Emperor Giản Văn, and Li Lang Dung was appointed as the concubine Thục. Mã Độc Tăn didn’t officially make anyone his empress, so Li Lang Dung became the de facto empress of the harem. Two years later, Mã Độc Tăn passed away. Afterward, her oldest son, Mã Điệu, ascended to the throne at the age of 10, and Li Lang Dung, the concubine Thục, was immediately promoted to Empress Thái.
For twenty years, Mã Điệu listened to his younger brother, Mã Đạo Tử, and officially declared his mother as Empress Thái. After that, Mã Điệu passed away, and his son, Tư Mã Đức Tông, succeeded him, making Li Lang Dung his grandmother, the Empress Thái.
In 400, at the age of 51, Li Lang Dung was posthumously honored as Empress Văn Hoàng and buried at Mục Bình Lăng, ending the life of the unique foreign queen in ancient Chinese feudal history. However, to this day, her position and role during this period still remain controversial in the historical community.
Because many theories have been put forth that Li Lang Dung was not just someone with special skin color, special and lucky fate, but she was also a mother, a true pinnacle of the world. Some theories suggest that although she was born a weaver servant, she had an extremely intelligent nature. During her lifetime, her two sons did not get along, and with a mother’s heart and clever actions, she intervened in the power struggle between her own two biological sons, avoiding a “family fight,” bringing Eastern Tăn to a period of prosperity.