Throughout the entire Chinese history, only one woman has ever been at the helm of leadership – seating on the imperial throne. This mysterious, no-nonsense woman is Wu Zetian.
Zetian was in charge of the much acclaimed Tang Dynasty from 690 C.E. until 705 C.E. when she died.
The following is a look into the life of this infamous emperor and the kind of legacy she left on Earth.
Early life and Rise to Power
Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s wife Soong Ching-ling referred to Emperor Wu Zetian as an excellent political woman. She had a number of titles under her name including the empress of Emperor Gaozong, the concubine of Emperor Taizong, the nun in the temple, Emperor Ruizong and Emperor Ruizong.
But the fact that she was the only female emperor made the emperor Wu Zetian title more glorious.
Born in 624 in Wenshui County, Wu Zetian was raised by her father Wu Shihuo who was one of the meritorious chancellors of the Tang Dynasty. At her young age, she was exposed to tens of books and also got well educated by her father.
Due to her beauty and intelligence, Wu Zetian was picked to be Emperor Taizong’s Cai Ren (a kind of Tang concubine). She was academically gifted and even got the favor of Emperor Taizong who allowed her to work as a secretary. This gave Wu a deeper understanding of the state.
During her service as a secretary, Wu got the attention of prince Li Zhi the later Emperor Gaozong.
Emperor Taizong died and subsequently led to Wu being sent back to the temple as a nun.
Upon assuming power, Emperor Gaozong still had a deeper interest in Wu. She was later on recalled back to the palace where she was given the title Zhao Yi (a kind of Tang concubine). The two continued with an affair they had been involved in before the death of Emperor Taizong. But Empress Wang and concubine Xiao Shufei were at that time ever fighting to get the emperor’s favor.
Wu’s new title, Zhao Yi, wasn’t enough for her. She needed more than that.
The law required that Wu be at the temple serving as a nun but instead she was given the position of the first concubine. This infuriated Gaozong’s wife, Lady Wang, and his former first concubine, Xiao Shufei. Some historians state that the conspired against her while others believe Wu personally dealt with them.
Wu gave birth to two children, both girls and thus none of them threatened ady Wang who had no children and Lady Xiao who had a son and two daughters. Furthermore, the emperor had already decided on his heir, settling on his chancellor Liu Shi was Lady Wang’s uncle.
With all that settled, the two women were still envious due to the attention Wu received. When Wu gave birth to another daughter, she died immediately after birth and blamed the death on Lady Wang. She also accused Lady Wang and her mother for being witchcrafts. The two alongside Lady Xiao were chased out of the palace. Similarly, chancellor Liu was demoted and that meant that neither he nor his son could ascend to the throne.
Wu was alleviated as the first wife and empress of China. She also got the assurance that her sons would become the next rulers after the death of her husband.
In public, Wu was a shy, respectable wife to the emperor but in privacy she was the real power. She managed to eliminate her opponents using deception. Her account was that Lady Wang killed her daughter but it was all a lie. Historians have come to agree that Wu was the murderer and she killed her child to frame Lady Wang.
This is one infamous story that is often told regarding Wu’s life but there is no way of proving she actually killed the child. Most historians writing about Wu use the same narrative passed down by the pioneers. But it’s worth noting that the historians had sinister motives of not praising a woman who took over a position “presumed to be for a man.”
The historians always portray Wu as ruthless, conniving, scheming, and bloodthirsty.
In the early 8th century, Zetian fell ill, and shortly before her death in 705 C.E.