Women Every Woman Needs to Know: Wu Zetian

Image from chinesetimeschool.com

 

Wu Zetian—as the only female emperor in Chinese history, she is definitely a woman every woman needs to know. Born in 625 AD, Wu Zetian became a lady of many talents. She was skilled in writing, music, and had a great knowledge of classical Chinese literature. Despite her times of turbulence, she went on to lead the Tang dynasty through a period of peace and an explosive expansion of cultural diversity and scholarship. Like many rulers and politicians, her rise to power had its bleak moments:

She began as a concubine to her Emperor, gave birth to his sons, then turned him against his own wife. She married him and from there she asserted her role as his Empress. However, after five years of marriage the Emperor endured a crippling stroke that left Wu Zetian to handle the administrative duties of the court. She was essentially the Emperor, not just an Empress, but she didn’t know how to cope with it at the time.

She became insecure and created a secret police that eliminated those who opposed her rule. She was yet another poster child of a woman’s scorn and even with her secret police and power in the court, she was not comfortable enough to assert the Emperor’s position in her own name. When her Emperor died, she passed the title down to her youngest son and became his personal adviser. She stringed her son up like a puppet and found yet another indirect way to rule.

But women should not know her solely for the wickedness of her youth. She should be acknowledged for her leadership skills and her good will towards the women of China. Women should know about how she mellowed with age and how she successfully ruled an entire country despite the odds stacked against her gender.

She wanted to challenge the Confucian beliefs that said that a woman with the ability to rule is an unnatural one. I’d like to think that Wu Zetian believed in the power of the woman, especially the power of women in politics. She campaigned to raise the social status of the ladies of China and removed her court from the traditional ideal of male superiority in government. She made scholars write biographies about famous women and established a new dynasty revolving around the relative freedom of the female.

She once said that the ideal ruler was one who ruled like a mother over her children.

Her son removed himself from office, allowing Wu Zetian to cut her puppet strings and assume the role of the Emperor of China. Despite the foul play of her younger years, Wu Zetian proved herself a great leader by promoting peace and intellect throughout her nation. She replaced a government full of militaristic aristocrats with scholars who won their offices through impartial exams. For peasants she lowered oppressive taxes, which spurred an increase in agricultural production and public works.

This ruthless concubine became a woman of wisdom and merit. This woman pushed her way to the top of her government in a time that was supposed to crush women with oppression.

She did this in a dynastic monarchy from 690 AD, yet in a democratic government from 2013, American women are barely represented in top-tier positions.

Funny right?

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