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
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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