Stumbling Toward Enlightenment

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Remember the Ladies: Wu Chao

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Wu Zetian (17 February 624– 16 December 705), personal name Wu Zhao, often referred to as Tian Hou during Tang Dynasty and Empress Consort Wu in later times, was the only woman in the history of China to assume the title of Empress Regnant. As de facto ruler of China first through her husband and her sons from 665 to 690, not unprecedented in Chinese history, she then broke all precedents when she founded her own dynasty in 690, the Zhou (interrupting the Tang Dynasty), and ruled personally under the name Sacred and Divine Empress Regnant and variations thereof from 690 to 705. Her rise and reign has been criticized harshly by Confucian historians but has been viewed under a different light after the 1950s. [Wikipedia]


She was of relatively humble birth, but legendary for her beauty, which won her a place in the emperor’s harem when she was 12. She had a chance to replace the empress in 655, and she grabbed it, quickly eliminating all her enemies. She was soon attending all of the Emperor’s council meetings, discreetly shielded behind a curtain. She had herself awarded the title “Divine Empress,” and in 675 the Emperor, Kao Tsung, abdicated in her favor. She ruled for nine years before he died, and then installed puppet emperors until her retirement at the age of 80. She was ruthless, but ruled wisely, encouraging the arts, maintaining peace, stimulating trade and basing government appointments on merit rather than on birth. [Remember the Ladies, Kirsten Olsen]

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