Wu Zetian, China’s Female Emperor – Part 3/4

After the death of Emperor Taizong, Wu’s first husband, she lived in a Buddhist monastery as a nun and was a faithful follower of Buddhism.

Some scholars claim that she became a Buddhist for political reasons.

In fact, she did have many Buddhist temples built and sculptures of Buddha made.  This cost a great deal.

However, as far as affairs of state were concerned, she made good decisions without hesitation.

She did not allow her Buddhist beliefs to influence her decisions.

For example, she only promoted officials who earned the right to be promoted. There is no evidence of favoritism.


Mandarin with English Subtitles

She also did not rule as a tyrant. Before making decisions, she listened to all views. Today, historians study her ruling style, and the evidence says her political decisions were wise ones.

During the fifty years that Wu ruled the Tang Dynasty, China’s borders expanded north, south and west and she did not lose any of the territory won.

Wu understood that with the people’s support, political stability was guaranteed. When there were tragedies such as floods, the dynasty offered relief so the people recovered.

Although imperial family members attempted to restore the Tang Dynasty, most of the rebellions were suppressed in two or three months.

Officials who were convicted of failing in their duties to the people were punished and often beheaded.

While Wu ruled China, the role of women in Chinese society changed drastically. Women didn’t have to worry about the clothing they wore. Women wrote poetry, rode horses, played Chinese chess, made music and practiced archery as men did.

Even after Wu was forced to retire at eighty, there were officials that called for her to return. The historical records show that the Tang emperors that followed here were not as open as she was.

Return to Wu Zetian, China’s Female Emperor – Part 2 or continue to Part 4

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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6 Responses to Wu Zetian, China’s Female Emperor – Part 3/4

  1. jonolan says:

    Given that the Communists destroyed a lot of historical records and hopelessly corrupted, redacted, and rewrote many others, it’s likely to be impossible to ever get a clear picture of Wu Zetian.

    That problem is further exacerbated in Wu Zetian’s case because Mao’s wife, Lǐ Shūméng turned Wu Zetian into a piece of propoganda in her bid to take over after Mao’s death.

    • What you say about the destruction during the Cultural Revolution (1966 to 1976) is true, but it wasn’t the Communist Party that did that. It was Mao’s Red Guard made of teens that were not members of the Party or the People’s Liberation Army.

      After the failure of the Great Leap Forward that caused millions to die from famines in China, Mao was forced to step down as chairman of the Party. He then wrote his Little Red Book and since he was the hero and considered the George Washington of China for winning the revolution, the schools taught from his book, which would eventually lead to the millions of teens that made up the Red Guard and were responsible for Mao returning to power and launching the Cultural Revolution.

      Mao’s wife and a select few were in charge of guiding that teenage energy and capability for destruction (as we can see from American teens when they get too stirred up—that early rush of hormones can be powerful. Imagine if American teens were told by the Father of the Revolution – George Washington – to destroyed everything that was old and he shut down the schools so they would be free to do it). There were millions in Mao’s Red Guard.

      When Mao returned to power because of the support he had from the Red Guard, the Standing Committee of the Communist Party voted unanimously against what Mao proposed then Mao turned the teenage Red Guard against the leadership of the Party and got rid of them. Some died, some went to prison and a few managed to escape such as Deng Xiaoping, who went south with his family and was protected by a powerful Red Army General. Of course, the Red Guard threw Deng’s son off a multi story building when they couldn’t find Deng. His son survived the fall but ended paralyzed from the neck down and spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

      Deng tried to get the generals to do something, but he was told as long as Mao lived, they would not move. That’s the downside of Piety.

      Many scholars hid ancient texts and even Mao ordered Red Army units, which did not take part in the Cultural Revolution, to protect ancient records, museums and even the Forbidden City (where he lived), which a teenage mob was on the way to burn when Red Army detachments rolled into Beijing under Mao’s orders and surrounded the Palace. Otherwise, the Forbidden City would be gone.

      What you say about the Empress Wu Zetian is also true. This time it was the Communist Party that made sure the history textbooks still in use made her look bad and morally corrupt—even to this day the textbooks used in the schools paint her as a morally corrupt and inept leader.

      I do not know who made the video documentary I used as a source but it appears fair and not tainted by the revisions in China’s history textbooks.

      In fact, there have been two TV series made in China since Mao’s death. One TV series focused on the Empress being a moral wretch and agree with the textbooks, and the other downplays her male harem and focuses on what she accomplished as a leader. Today, many Chinese are split and debate which one is more accurate.

      My father-in-law, who is 80, and his wife have watched both and can’t stand the one that makes We Zetian look bad. They are pro We Zetian.

      However, the destruction that Mao and his wife caused using the teenage Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution cannot be blamed on the Party that rules China today. After Mao died, Deng Xiaoping and his supporters (the ones that survived the purges) took back the country, arrested Mao’s wife and her supporters (the famous Gang of Four) renounced Maoism and ended the Cultural Revolution.

      There are still Maoists in China that firmly believe today’s Party leaders are traitors and those Maoists want to return to the days of the Cultural Revolution.

    • jonolan, it occurred to me that even if the Communists have destroyed, rewritten, corrupted, or redacted some of the history in China to suit what they want to say (which is true to a point), many of the ancient records were not touched and Chinese scholars hid ancient records during the Cultural Revolution to save them—that news has already come out recently.

      Many of those records were already out of China in the UK since the British had looted China for about a century.

      In addition, many Chinese and Western scholars had been going over and translating the ancient records in China for decades before 1949 when the Communists won the revolution against the brutal dictator and US ally Chiang Kai-shek. The Communists weren’t the only brutal Chinese. The Nationalists were just as bad and also lied.

      In fact, Sterling Seagrave, when he wrote Dragon Lady (1992 hardcover – 1993 paperback), found untouched ancient records from the Qing Dynasty in China and in the West while researching his book.

      When Seagrave’s Dragon Lady came out, what he wrote went counter to the revised historical textbooks taught in the schools in China and the Party was so upset that Seagrave’s American passport was put on a no-enter list.

      Even then, this issue of revised history isn’t that simple.

      Much of the history textbooks in China borrowed from what the London Times correspondents in Beijing, China during the late 19th and early 20th century wrote about China, the Qing Dynasty, and the last dowager empress.

      Most of what that turn of the century London Times reporter wrote was lies, which Seagrave revealed through his research meaning that some or many of the lies in Chinese historical textbooks were British lies first and already in British history textbooks, which still haven’t been changed.

      After all, the British needed to lie to justify going to war with China over opium and going to war again during the Boxer Rebellion when the allies looted and destroyed the Summer Palace.

      However, Seagrave had the last laugh. He holds dual citizenship with the US and Australia and he used his Australian passport to continue to visit China and do research.

    • jonolan says:

      True. To be fair, the history of Wu Zetian was clouded by a lot of different peoples. In fact, when I further think about it, I’m fairly sure that the Confucianists (almost rabidly patriarchal) that came after her rewrote her life and history before either the British or the Communists got a hold of it.

      Ah well, I only had learned anything about her due to background and tangential research into the Mongols’ impact of Chinese culture and acceptable gender roles.

      • Thanks. I forgot about the Confucianists. Wu Zetian had many problems with them which explains why she was a devout Buddhist. In fact, it seems amazing that she managed to rule China as an Emperor at all.

      • Regarding your research into “Mongols’ impact of Chinese culture and acceptable gender roles.”

        Sounds fascinating.

        I’ve read how Chinese culture seems to absorb its conquerors — first the Mongols and the Yuan Dynasty then the Manchu and the Qing Dynasty, but I haven’t heard of the impact that took place the other way around and I’m sure that there must have been an influence there.

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