Ancient Feminism in China

Britannica Concise Encyclopedia says Feminism is a social movement that seeks equal rights for women.

The dates the Britannica throws out are the Enlightenment, a European intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries and the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, which called for full legal equality with men.

Merriam-Webster’s definition is “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” and “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.”

In fact, for centuries, Western women had been treated as chattel—the property of men.

After watching the video and reading the entry in Britannica and the definition in Merriam-Webster, it’s obvious that feminism was alive and well in China more than a thousand years ago during the Tang Dynasty.

In fact, Emperor Wu Zetian (625 to 705 AD) was a very early feminist that ruled the Tang Dynasty as an emperor and was China’s only woman emperor.

The Tang Dynasty was a time of relative freedom for women. Women did not bind their feet (for a few more centuries) or lead submissive lives.  It was a time in which a number of exceptional women contributed in the areas of culture and politics. Source: Women in World History

Wu Zetian demanded the right of an emperor and kept male concubines. She also challenged Confucian beliefs against rule by women and started a campaign to elevate the position of women.

Learn more about Powerful Chinese Women


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. 

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5 Responses to Ancient Feminism in China

  1. […] time women had relative freedom in China was in the seventh century during the Tang Dynasty when Emperor Wu Zetian, a woman, ruled the […]

  2. […] This post first appeared on November 08, 2010 Rate this: Share this:TwitterMoreEmailPrintDiggStumbleUponRedditLinkedInLike this:LikeBe the first […]

  3. […] time women had relative freedom in China was in the seventh century during the Tang Dynasty when Emperor Wu Zetian, a woman, ruled the […]

    • LR says:

      Looks like Wu Zetian was also a a whore, or a maneater like Catherine the Great of Russia. But even today in China, women who engage in extramarital affairs are also more likely to get killed.

      • LR,

        Who said she engaged in extramarital affairs? Her husband was dead. Extramarital means she would have been married and having sex with someone other than her husband.

        She was married to two emperors–not one.

        When her first husband died, (the father of her second husband who was born of another concubine), she went to live in a monastery as a nun cut off from all men, which was the usual practice for the wives of former emperors–to be retired where they were cut off from men. If a former wife of a dead emperor was caught having sex with other men, she would be executed and possibly tortured first.

        In fact, before that practice went into effect, the wives and concubines of dead emperors were usually buried alive with their husband–hundreds and maybe even thousands of China’s most beautiful women ranging in age from a young woman in her early teens to older woman (all dead because the emperor died first and they were not allowed to be with other men ever).

        Then later, that son of her first husband decided he wanted that step-mother as his wife and empress and called her out of the monastery and married her. She then became her second husband’s confidant that he trusted more than most of the scheming ministers in his court. She was intelligent and trustworthy and her second husband often relied on her advice for his decisions while he ruled China.

        I find it interesting that when a woman of power takes lovers, she is called a whore and a man-eater but when a man of power has many lovers, he’s cool and a player. Wu Zetain ruled China well (according to the record better than most men emperors) and expanded the empire during a time of economic stability, prosperity and peace for most of the Chinese people.

        In fact, all Wu Zetain was doing was acting like a man. After her second husband died, she eventually had herself proclaimed an Emperor and not an Empress (due to the fact that the next man/child in line to be an emperor turned out to be incompetent). She is the only woman in China’s history to be called an Emperor, which is a title reserved for men. Once she was known as the emperor, she collected a harem filled with men instead of women just as Emperors do—that is if we are to believe all the historical claims of how she ruled China and lived her life once she was known as an emperor instead of an empress.

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