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its 3000-year history, China had been ruled only once by a woman. Wu Zetian was a controversial empress who gave birth to many legends about her life. Although historians of the time characterized her as a usurper, tyrant, and criminal, during the reign of Emperor Wu, China experienced one of the most flourishing periods.

Before the coming of the Han dynasty, the status of women in China was by no means privileged. They did not have the right to participate in the political activity of the company nor the right to own a property. Also, like everyone else at the time, women were assigned household chores and child-rearing. However, during the Tang Dynasty (618–906), a woman came to power for the first and only time in China’s history. Back then, for women, things had gained some freedom as the terrible tradition of lowering the legs was no longer mandatory.

A noble lady from the Tang Dynasty

Wu Zetian was born into a wealthy family, where she was taught to read, write and sing. She had servants at her disposal, so she was not obliged to do housework. Ever since she was a child, she was supported in education and by her father, Wu was self-taught. At the age of 14, Wu Zetian was taken to the palace and became one of the imperial concubines of Emperor Taizong. There, among other things, she became a secretary, which allowed her to continue her education. After the king’s death, his son Li Zhi, known in history as Gaozong, came to the throne of China.

“Noble Ladies in Tang Dynasty” are a serial of paintings drawn by Zhang Xuan and Zhou Fang, two of the most influential figure painters during the Tang dynasty (618–907), when the paintings of noble ladies became very popular.

How she became an Empress

In the early 650s, Wu Zetian was given the highest rank among the emperor’s concubines Zhaoyi. Gradually, she gained respect at Gaozong’s court, having a strong influence on his government. Eventually, Wu had made the most important decisions about China’s future. Historians characterize her as obsessed with seizing power, with many assuming that she would have killed her own daughter just to commit the crime of the emperor’s wife, Wang.

A portrait of Wu Zetian [Photo/Longmen Grottoes on WeChat]

It seems that Wu’s purpose was, in short, to replace Empress Wang. Through all kinds of tools, in the end, she succeeded. In the summer of 655, Wang and her mother were accused of witchcraft by Wu. The emperor was easily convinced, and following a trial, Liu, Wang’s mother was banished from the courtGaozong broke up with his wife, who was sent to prison with her uncle, one of the emperor’s chancellors. It seems that later, when the Chinese leader wanted to free the two, Wu ordered their killing. In 675, seeing that he was becoming increasingly ill, Emperor Gaozang named Wu her regent. And although the tradition of throne order did not involve a woman by any means, Wu succeeded in becoming China’s first empress in 690.

Her mandate was a fair one. For the occupation of any office in a state institution, heavy examinations were given, the favoritism being not to the favor of the empress. It also lowered the peasants’ taxes, helped them to thrive, and created new jobs for them. During her reign, Wu replaced Taoism with Buddhism as the official religion, the one that experienced its greatest development.

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