China’s Greatest Emperors

November 25, 2010

China’s longest lasting dynasties survived due to one or more great emperors.

After China was unified by Qin Shi Huangdi (221 – 207 BC), there were only five dynasties that survived for long periods — the Han, Tang, Sung, Ming, and Qing Dynasties.

Although China’s civilization survived, the country’s history is rampant with rebellions, palace coups, corruption among palace officials, and insurrections. Between the five longest dynasties, the country usually fell apart into warring states as it did after 1911.

The most successful emperors managed to stabilize the country while managing wisely as the Communist Party has done since 1976.

Emperor Han Wudi (ruled 141 – 87 B.C.) of the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – 219 A.D.) was fifteen when he first sat on the throne.

Wudi is considered one of the greatest emperors in China’s history. He expanded the borders, opened the early Silk Road, developed the economy, and established state monopolies on salt, liquor and rice.

After the Han Dynasty collapsed, China fell apart for almost 400 years before the Tang Dynasty was established (618 -906). The Tang Dynasty was blessed with several powerful emperors.

The first was Emperor Tang Taizong (ruled 627-649).

According to historical records, Wu Zetain, China’s only woman emperor also ruled wisely.

Emperor Tang Zuanzong , Zetain’s grandson, ruled longer than any Tang emperor and the dynasty prospered while he sat on the throne.

After the dynasty fell, there would be short period of about 60 years before the Sung Dynasty reestablished order and unified the country again.

The second emperor of the Sung Dynasty, Sung Taizong (ruled 976 – 997) unified China after defeating the Northern Han Dynasty. The third emperor, Sung Zhenzong (ruled 997-1022) also deserves credit for maintaining stability.

The Sung Dynasty then declined until a revival by Sung Ningzong (ruled 1194 – 1224) After he died, the dynasty limped along until Kublai Khan defeated the last emperor in 1279.

After conquering all of China, Kublai Khan founded the Mongol, Yuan Dynasty (1277-1367). Not long after Kublai died, the dynasty was swept away.

In 1368, a peasant rebellion defeated the Yuan Dynasty and drove the Mongols from China.

The Ming Dynasty (1271 – 1368) is known for rebuilding, strengthening and extending the Great Wall among a list of other accomplishments.

Historical records show that the rule of the third Ming Emperor, Ming Chengzu (ruled 1403 – 1424), was the most prosperous period.

After Chengzu, the dynasty would decline until 1567 when Emperor Ming Muzong reversed the decline.

His son, Emperor Ming Shenzong, also ruled wisely from 1573 to 1620.

After Shenzong’s death, the Ming Dynasty quickly declined and was replaced by the Qing Dynasty in 1644.

The Opium Wars started by England and France and the Taiping Rebellion led by a Christian convert in the 19th century would contribute to the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911.

The Qing Dynasty was fortunate to have three powerful, consecutive emperors: Emperor Kangxi (1661 – 1722), Yongzhen (1722-1735) and Qianlong (1735-1796). For one-hundred-and-thirty-five years, China remained strong and prosperous.

After the corrupt Qing Dynasty was swept aside in 1911 by a rebellion led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen, China fell apart and warlords fought to see who would rule China.

When Sun Yat-sen died, the republic he was building in southern China fell apart when Chiang Kai-shek broke the coalition that Sun Yat-sen had formed between the Nationalist and Communist Parties. Mao’s famous Long March shows how the Communists survived.

Then Japan invaded, and China would be engulfed in war and rebellion until 1945 when World War II ended. After World War II, the rebellion between the Nationalist and Communists ended in victory for the Communists in 1949.

This victory was made possible because the Communists were supported by China’s peasants that hated, despised and distrusted the Nationalist Party, which represented China’s ruling elite.

The Communists gained the support of the peasants by treating the peasants with respect and promising reforms that would end the suffering.

Then Mao’s Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution extended the peasants suffering.

However, since the early 1980s, the Communist Party has been working to fulfill the promises made during the revolution, and the lifestyles of China’s peasants are slowly improving.

There are many impatient voices in the West and a few in China that are not happy with the speed of China’s reforms or how the Party has handled them.

In fact, China has modernized and improved lifestyles in China since the early 1980s at a pace that has never been seen before in recorded history.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. 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.

His third book is Crazy is Normal, a classroom exposé, a memoir. “Lofthouse presents us with grungy classrooms, kids who don’t want to be in school, and the consequences of growing up in a hardscrabble world. While some parents support his efforts, many sabotage them—and isolated administrators make the work of Lofthouse and his peers even more difficult.” – Bruce Reeves.

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

November 11, 2010

As a woman Emperor, Wu Zetian ruled with an iron fist as if she were a man. However, her decisions show she was intelligent but also passionate and tender at times.

There is a collection of fifty-eight of Wu’s poems. Most of her poetry was written for temple ceremonies and some for travel.

She also wrote many books and collected art. Wu edited the Book of Agriculture, which influenced agricultural development during the Tang Dynasty.

In fact, there is evidence that Wu respected decisive men such as her Prime Minister De Renji. She often talked about Li Shimin, her first husband, with respect.

The historical record shows that she respected men who dared to speak up about issues concerning principles regardless of the risk to his life.


Mandarin with English Subtitles

After her death, her son and heir was removed as emperor due to a plot.

In 710, Wu’s grandson, Li Longji, defeated the enemy that intended to take over the dynasty and returned his father to the throne. Eventually, Longji would become Emperor Tang Xuanzong.

Under Emperor Yuanzong, the Dynasty continued to prosper.

However, when Yuanzong grew old, he neglected his duties and spent too much time with his favorite concubine. The officials became corrupt and this led to the Shi Rebellion, which his son, the next emperor, had to suppress.

Next, the eunuchs began to gain too much power. The next fourteen emperors from 756 to 907 were weak and the Tang Dynasty continued to unravel until it collapsed.

The historical evidence says Wu Zetian should have earned praise for her insights and ambition since she did a better job as Emperor than most of the men that ruled the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907).

Return to Wu Zetian, China’s Female Emperor – Part 3 or start with Part 1

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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.

If you want to subscribe to iLook China, there is a “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar.


Party Women

November 10, 2010

Starting with the I Ching, The Book of Changes, almost five thousand years ago, the central focus of Chinese philosophy has been how to live an ideal life and how best to organize society.

When the Communist Party of China gained power in 1949, previous schools of Chinese philosophy, except Legalism, were denounced as backward and purged during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.

However, their influence on Chinese thought did not vanish since China’s Central Committee continues to plan and organize modernization and changes to China’s five thousand year old culture and society.

Most Chinese believe that true advancement and growth should only happen slowly, at a steady, measured pace, which means to grow but grow slow like a tree while following a well thought out plan to bring about the changes.

Even the United States doesn’t change quickly. 

In fact, it took almost ninety years to free the slaves, and women first sought the right to vote in 1848 at the Seneca Falls Woman’s Rights Convention.

Then seventy-two years later in 1920, American women finally earned the right to vote when the Nineteenth Amendment was adopted by Congress and was ratified by the states becoming a national law.

The last time women had relative freedom in China was in the seventh century during the Tang Dynasty when Emperor Wu Zetian, a woman, ruled the country.

Since 1982, when China ratified its Constitution, women in China have gained more freedom, power and rights than at any other time in China’s history including the Tang Dynasty.

Anyone that does not consider this progress is stupid, blind and deaf.

Critics in the West might point out that under the Communists, no woman has ruled China, but I could say the same of the United States and many other countries.

Today, The most likely woman candidate for Politburo status — and a remote possibility for the Standing Committee — is Lin Yandong, a senior Party official responsible for winning over non-Communists.

In fact, Chinese women’s participation in politics has grown since 1982. There are now 230 or more women provincial and ministerial officials, 670 or more are mayor, which is twice the number of 1995.

“Chinese women leaders have much in common. They generally all have a good education background, being mainly science majors, and solid experience in government. They are of a caliber equal to that of their male counterparts,” an All-China Women’s Federation expert said.

If you hear anyone demanding quick changes in China, be cautions. Moving fast may result in tragedy.  I suggest that China continue to change steadily and slowly like an oak tree. 

Why do so many of China’s critics expect China to move faster than the US did? Is it because they want to see China fail?

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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.

If you want to subscribe to iLook China, there is a “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar.


Wu Zetian, China’s Female Emperor – Part 1/4

November 9, 2010

Emperor Wu Zetian was the only woman in China’s history to be crowned an emperor.

Emperor Wu ranks alongside Cleopatra—the last Pharaoh of Egypt, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen Isabella of Spain, Queen Elizabeth I of England, Catherine the Great and Queen Victoria.

However, In 637 AD at fourteen, Wu did not have the official status of a court concubine. She was a serving girl in the Imperial palace.

The second and third emperors of the Tang Dynasty were her husbands and seventeen of the emperors that ruled after her second husband died were her children and their children. Empress Wu gave birth to four sons and two daughters.


Mandarin with English Subtitles

After her first husband Emperor Taizong died, she became a nun in Ganye Temple where she stayed for several years before being chosen at the age of twenty-seven to be a low ranking wife of Emperor Gaozong, the second Tang emperor’s son.

Historical records say Wu was a stunning beauty and it was this that attracted Gaozong to her, but some scholars say it was her intelligence that won him over.

One year after being married to Gaozong, Wu outperformed the other wives and concubines to become the Empress.

After becoming Empress, she advised Gaozong on many political issues, which benefited the empire. Eventually, she earned the title of “Queen of Heaven”.

When Emperor Gaozong became seriously ill, he named Wu to deal with the affairs of state in his name.

After Gaozong’s death, Wu funded the carving of the 17 meter high (almost 56 feet) Lu Shena Buddha, the largest rock carved Buddha in the Longmen Grotto.

It is believed that the Buddha’s face is modeled after Emperor Wu since she funded the project.

Continue with Wu Zetian, China’s Female Emperor – Part 2 or discover Ancient Feminism in China

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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.

Subscribe to iLook China, there is an E-mail “Subscribtion” in the right-top column.


Ancient Feminism in China

November 8, 2010

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

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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. 

If you want to subscribe to iLook China, there is a “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar.