Empress Dowager Hu (d. 528), known posthumously as Empress Dowager Ling, was originally one of Emperor Xuanwu's (483–515, r. 499–515) consorts; she gave birth to his only living heir Yuan Xu (510–528). Following Xuanwu's death, Yuan Xu ascended the throne as Emperor Xiaoming, and Hu was honoured as Consort Dowager, and soon Empress Dowager. Because Emperor Xiaoming was still young, she became his regent. To exert her power as the highest ruler of Northern Wei, she addressed herself as Zhen (Chinese: 朕; pinyin: Zhèn), a first-person pronoun reserved for use by the emperor after the Qin dynasty. Officials addressed her as Bixia (Chinese: 陛下; pinyin: Bìxià), an honorific used when addressing the emperor directly.
When Emperor Xiaoming grew up, however, his mother refused to hand authority over to him. She successfully eliminated many of her opponents, including favourites of the emperor. The ancient Chinese historians who wrote the official history of the Northern Wei portrayed her as promiscuous. Both her lifestyle and her ruling style elicited widespread dissatisfaction among officials and from her son. Emperor Xiaoming gathered the people to oppose her and executed her lover
Yuan Yi (元怿) in 520, causing deep hatred from his mother. After several failed attempts to overthrow the empress dowager, Xiaoming secretly ordered General Erzhu Rong to send troops to the capital Luoyang to coerce her into handing over the authority. When she learned about the plot, she discussed strategies with the officials who supported her.
As these events were occurring, on 12 February 528, Consort Pan, one of Emperor Xiaoming's nine concubines, gave birth to a daughter. Empress Dowager Hu falsely declared that the child was a son; she issued an edict the following day, ordering a general pardon and changing the emperor's reign title from Xiaochang (孝昌) to Wutai (武泰).