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.

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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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Note: This post first appeared on November 08, 2010

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Xi’an (Chang’ an) – China’s Ancient Capital – Part 3/5

October 23, 2011

From the Qin to the Tang Dynasty, 62 emperors ruled China from Chang’ an (Xi’an). The China Daily says in and around Xi’an, there are about 500 burial mounds where the remains of emperors and aristocrats rest.

The largest tombs mark the passing of Emperors Qin Shi Huangdi (259 – 210 BC), Tang Gaozong (628 – 683 AD), and his wife Empress Tang Wu Zetian (624 – 705 AD).

When we left Neville Gishford‘s documentary, China’s Most Honourable City, in Part 2, Chang’ an was the capital of the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD) with a population of over a million — six times the size of ancient Rome.

The Daming Palace, where the Tang Emperors ruled China, was 800 years older and nearly five times larger than Beijing’s Forbidden City. This huge palace was built in one year.

However, it wasn’t the Daming Palace that made Chang’ an (Xi’an) powerful. Long before Manhattan, Hong Kong, Paris and Dubai, Chang’ an was where the world came to shop.

Over a thousand years ago, the wealth of the West poured into China (and it is happening again) and arrived at Chang’ an over the Silk Road.

But wealth wasn’t the only thing China gained. Major religions also arrived in China at this time.

Islam was barely a century old, when Silk Road traders brought this religion to Chang’ an. In another post, A Road to the Hajj from China, I wrote, “The ancient city of Xi’an in Shaanxi province is home to about 60,000 ethnic Chinese Muslims.”

Xi’an claims it has a Muslim history going back thirteen hundred years when Islam was first introduced to China in 650 AD.

In fact, the oldest mosque in China was built in 685-762 AD in Chang’ an during the reign of Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty.

Continued on October 20, 2011, in Xi’an (Chang’ an) – China’s Ancient Capital – Part 4 or return to Part 2

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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.

To subscribe to “iLook China”, sign up for an E-mail Subscription at the top right-hand side of this page and then follow directions.


Wu Zetian, China’s only Female Emperor — a “Very Early” Feminist (Viewed as Single Page)

September 21, 2011

After writing the post about Detective Dee, I decided to combine the four-part series of Emperor Wu Zetian (624 – 705 AD), who was the only woman in China’s history to be an emperor.

Her rise and reign has been criticized harshly by Confucian historians but after the 1950s has been viewed in a better light.

Emperor Zetian 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, Zetian 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 Zetian gave birth to four sons and two daughters.

After her first husband Emperor Taizong died, she became a nun in Ganye (Buddhist) 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 Zetian was a stunning beauty and that because of this Emperor Gaozong was attracted to her, but some scholars say it was her intelligence that won him over.

One year after being married to Gaozong, Zetian 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 Zetian to deal with the affairs of state in his name. He died in 683 AD, and Zetian’s third son Lixian became emperor.

However, a month later, Zetian, as the Empress Dowager, removed Lixian from power. Then she turned to her fourth son, but at first, he refused and then eventually accepted the title and became known as Emperor Tang Ruizong.

Zetian believed her sons were weak, so she continued to control the affairs of state as the Dowager Empress.

After Gaozong’s death, she 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 Zetian, since she funded the project.

Although there are rumors and gossip that Zetian had many lovers, it is obvious from her age when Emperor Gaozong died that the stories are exaggerations encouraged by her political enemies and the imaginations of future scholars of history texts and authors of fiction, such as the Detective Dee movie.


Mandarin

After eight years of ruling the empire without officially being the Emperor, Zetian made a shocking decision. In 690 AD, she changed the Tang Dynasty into the Zhou Dynasty and declared herself an Emperor when she was age sixty-seven.

While Zetian ruled the Tang Dynasty, the economy, culture, social and political affairs prospered. She was also a talented military leader who reformed the army. After the reforms, without leaving her palace, she managed military conflicts with rival states and defeated them.

Under her leadership, the empire expanded and grew stronger.

Near her death in 704 AD, Zetian returned the throne to her third son Lixian, who became Emperor again.

Some scholars claim that she became a Buddhist for political reasons, but she had many Buddhist temples built and sculptures of Buddha made, and these projects were expensive.

However, as far as affairs of state were concerned, she did not allow her Buddhist beliefs to influence her decisions. For example, she promoted officials that earned the right through merit. There is no evidence of favoritism. In fact, officials convicted of failing in their duties to the people were punished and often beheaded.


Mandarin

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

During the fifty years that Zetian ruled the Tang Dynasty as Dowager Empress and then as an Emperor, China’s borders expanded north, south and west and she did not lose any of the territory gained.

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

Although imperial family members of the Tang Dynasty staged revolutions, most of the rebellions were suppressed in a few months.

While Zetian ruled China, the role of women in society changed drastically and due to her, feminism existed in China more than 1,300 years ago. Women didn’t have to worry about the clothing they wore. They were free to explore the arts such as writing poetry. Women rode horses, played Chinese chess, wrote and played music and practiced archery as men did.

Even after Zetian was forced to retire at age eighty, there were officials that called for her return. The historical records show that the Tang emperors that followed her were not as wise or trusting as she was.

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

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

In fact, there is evidence that Zetian respected decisive men such as her Prime Minister De Renji (represented by the fictional Detective Dee in the recent epic Chinese movie), and she often talked about Li Shimin, her first husband, with respect.

After her death in 705 AD, her third son, Lixian, was removed as emperor due to a plot.

In 710 AD, Zetian’s grandson, Li Longji, defeated a rebellion that intended to take over the dynasty and returned his father to the throne. Eventually, Longji would become Emperor Tang Xuanzong, and under his rule the Dynasty prospered again.

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

After that, the eunuchs gained too much power, and the next fourteen emperors from 756 to 907 AD were weak leading to the eventual collapse of the Tang Dynasty.

The historical evidence says Emperor Wu Zetian, as an ancient feminist, should have earned praise since she did a better job as Emperor than most of the men that ruled the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD) did.

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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 lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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“Detective Dee” Movie Review and other Thoughts

September 20, 2011

The first time I learned of the Emperor Wu Zetian, who was a woman, was when I wrote a four part series of her starting with Wu Zetian, China’s Female Emperor – Part 1, October 9, 2010.

In fact, while researching Emperor Wu, I learned that under her rule, the economy, culture, social and political affairs prospered. She was also a talented military leader who reformed the army. After the reforms, without leaving her palace, she managed victorious military conflicts with rival states.

If you decide to see the movie, you will discover that the film depicts her as a brutal, scheming tyrant. Historically, China’s historians often demonize powerful women. In reality, the facts say that she was no worse than most male emperors were and was more talented, open-minded in addition to being an early feminist.

The last time I attended the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at UCLA, I had an opportunity to talk to a film agent that said Hollywood wasn’t making epic blockbusters anymore because they cost too much.

Consider that the 2004 Alexander the Great cost $155 million to produce and the gross box office was about $164 million and in 2007, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End cost $300 million to produce.

However, according to Box Office Mojo, the budget for Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame was $13 million. Maybe all films should be made in China.

The film was based on the Chinese folk hero Di Renjie, popularized in the West by a series of detective novels written by Robert Van Gulik (1910 – 1967), who called him “Judge Dee“.

When I went to see the film, I discovered that it was an action mystery of epic proportions with classic palace intrigue that rivaled a Hollywood epic, which today would cost twenty times the estimated budget I mentioned earlier.


Tsui Hark Director of “Detective Dee” interviewed by Film Steve 3

I enjoyed the film and walked away thinking that anyone interested in a glimpse of how powerful China was thirteen hundred years ago, this lavish spectacle provides a hint of that former time.

The mystery that Dee solves is the spontaneous combustion of two high-ranking court officials that exploded in flame when exposed to sunlight.  Do not expect the ending to be the stereotypical Western conclusion.

These ‘murders’ take place before the coronation of Wu Zetian as China’s first female emperor.  Detective Dee, the films hero, is based on a real person but there is a lot of fiction and fantasy mixed into this epic film.

The real Detective Dee was originally Duke Wenhui of Liang, an official of the Tang Dynasty and of Emperor Wu Zetian’s Zhou Dynasty. He was one of the most celebrated officials of Wu Zetian’s reign.

Discover another classic/epic Chinese movie in Farewell My Concubine

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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.

To subscribe to “iLook China”, sign up for an E-mail Subscription at the top right-hand side of this page and then follow directions.


New Year’s Recap

January 1, 2011

There’s much about China that I did not know when we started this journey on January 28, 2010. 

We visited China’s early dynasties (the Xia, Shang and Zhou) before Qin Shi Huangdi became the first emperor and unified China.

Then we visited the Han, Tang, Sung, Ming and Qing Dynasties while learning of the chaos and anarchy between the dynasties.

We met Confucius and Wu Zetian, China’s only woman emperor during the Tang Dynasty.

We discovered China’s music, art and opera while meeting one of China’s national treasures, Mao Wei-Tao.

Learning about the 19th century Opium Wars started by the British and French opened my eyes to evils I had not known of.

What shocked me most was how the West forced China to allow Christian missionaries into China along with opium.

One reader challenged me in a comment saying that couldn’t be true then didn’t respond when I provided links to the evidence that missionaries and opium were included in the same treaty, which forced the emperor to accept against his will.

Then I sat spellbound as I joined Mao and the Communists on the Long March where more than 80,000 started out and about 6,000 survived — the only choice was to fight or die.

Along the way, I learned that Sun Yat-sen was the father of China’s republic and how Chiang Kai-shek started the Civil War in 1925 when he ordered his army to slaughter the Chinese Communists.

I didn’t know that the Communist and Nationalist Parties were the two political parties of China’s first republic and how it was the US supported Nationalists that fired the first shot that shattered Sun Yat-sen’s dream for China.

After the Communists won the Civil War in 1949, I saw the suffering and death from Mao’s mistakes during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution that ended in 1976.

Then we learned how Deng Xiaoping saved China from the Revolutionary Maoists and launched the Capitalist Revolution, which led to the Tiananmen Square incident then China’s Sexual Revolution.

And there was my continued attempt to explain China’s Collective Culture. One comment basically said, “Yea, sure!” as if there were no such thing as cultural differences such as this.

We also were introduced to other Blogs about China such as the China Law Blog.

Of course, with more than a thousand posts in a year, what I have mentioned here is but a small part of the 2010 journey of 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.

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 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.


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

November 10, 2010

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

View as Single Page

______________

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.

To subscribe to “iLook China”, sign up for an E-mail Subscription at the top right-hand side of this page and then follow directions.