Ancient Feminism in China

February 6, 2012

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.


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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Note: This post first appeared on November 08, 2010

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.

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