Deng Sui was six when she could read the fifteen-chapter Zhou dynasty work by the Grand Astrologer Zhou, which was written in the antiquated and difficult great-seal characters, and by the age of twelve she was familiar with the classics The Book of Songs and The Analects.
She did needlework in the daytime, but at night she continued to study the classics. Her family nicknamed her The Confucian Student.
When she was an Empress she had received lessons on the Confucian classics, astronomy, and mathematics from the female scholar Ban Zhao from the time she entered the palace.
Deng Sui was selected to be in the palace in 95. She became a consort to Emperor He in 96 when she was 15. The following year, at the age of sixteen, she was promoted to Worthy Lady and was moved into the imperial concubines’ quarters.
At that time Emperor He had already created Empress Yin empress. Consort Deng tried to foster a proper relationship with her by being humble. This, however, only drew Empress Yin's jealousy, as Emperor He became impressed with her and considered her one of his favorites. When Emperor He was ill, Empress Yin made the remark that if she became empress dowager, the Dengs would be slaughtered - and upon hearing that remark, Consort Deng considered committing suicide. However, the emperor did soon recover, so Consort Deng and her family escaped a terrible fate.
In 102, Empress Yin and her grandmother, Deng Zhu (鄧朱), were accused of using witchcraft to curse imperial consorts. Emperor He created Consort Deng empress to replace her.
In 104, Emperor He died and Empress Deng placed on the throne his three-month-old infant son Liu Long. Empress Dowager Deng assumed control of the court as regent. To consolidate her power, Empress Dowager Deng ennobled Deng Zhi as Marquis of Cai and promoted him to Chariot and Horse General in charge of government affairs. She also bestowed on her younger brothers Deng Kui, Deng Hong, and Deng Chang the title of Marquis. Among the reforms, Empress Dowager Deng instituted, were amnesty for those imprisoned during Eastern Han and restitution of their civil rights, curtailment of imperial expenses on clothes and food within the palaces, and a halving of state and commandery contributions to the court.
The infant Emperor Shang died of illness eight months after being placed on the throne. Behind closed doors, Empress Dowager Deng and her brother Deng Zhi decided to appoint as his successor Liu Hu, a twelve-year-old nephew of Emperor He. The boy was enthroned in 106 as Emperor An and Empress Dowager Deng continued to wield power as regent. As regent for Emperor An, Empress Dowager Deng was careful in appointing members of her natal family. During Deng Sui’s sixteen-year reign, her relatives never threatened the rule of the imperial family, a testament to her skill and talent. She ruled the country cautiously and attentively.
Empress Dowager Deng died of illness in 121 at the relatively young age of forty-one and was buried with her husband Emperor He with full honors.
Empress Deng was a kind woman who so loved the people that she could not sleep when there was a famine, and she cut the palace budget as a means of providing relief. She was a fair and wise person.
However, as the years went by, Empress Dowager Deng's original humble nature appeared to entirely wear away as she hung onto power, and when some of her relatives and close associates suggested that she transfer the authorities to Emperor An, she became angry at them and would not do so.
Deng Sui was the second wife of Emperor He. She had no children.