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Empress Wu Zetian

She was one of the concubines of Emperor Taizong; she was the empress of Emperor Gaozong; she was the mother of Emperor Zhongzong and Emperor Ruizong; she was once a nun in the temple. But her most glorious title was that she was the only female emperor in Chinese history who actually ruled the whole country for almost half a century.

Wu Zetian was born in a rich and noble family. She was taught to play music, write, and read the Chinese classics. By thirteen years of age she was known for her wit, intelligence, and beauty. At the age of 14, Wu Zetian was selected into the imperial court by Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty, thanks to her engaging beauty. But she was not very much in favor with the Emperor. In the imperial harem, she got to know one of the sons of Emperor Taizong-Li Zhi. After the death of Emperor Taizong, Wu Zetian was sent to Ganye Temple to be a nun. When Li Zhi ascended the throne, he recalled her to the imperial court.

As mother of the future emperor of China, she grew in power. She managed to eliminate Kao Tsung's wife, Empress Wang, by accusing her of killing Wu's newborn daughter. Kao Tsung believed Wu, and replaced Empress Wang to marry the up and coming Wu Zetian.

Within five years of their marriage, Emperor Kao Tsung suffered a crippling stroke. The Empress Wu took over the administrative duties of the court, a position equal to the emperor. She created a secret police force to spy on her opposition, and cruelly jailed or killed anyone who stood in her way, including the unfortunate Empress Wang. With the death of Emperor Kao Tsung, Wu managed to outflank her eldest sons and moved her youngest, and much weaker son, into power. She in effect ruled, telling him what to do.

In order to challenge Confucian beliefs against rule by women, Wu began a campaign to elevate the position of women. She had scholars write biographies of famous women, and raised the position of her mother's clan by giving her relatives high political posts. She moved her court away from the seat of traditional male power and tried to establish a new dynasty. She said that the ideal ruler was one who ruled like a mother does over her children.

In 690, Wu's youngest son removed himself from office, and Wu Zetian was declared emperor of China. In spite of her ruthless climb to power, her rule proved to be benign. She found the best people she could to run the government, and treated those she trusted fairly. She reduced the army's size and stopped the influence of aristocratic military men on government by replacing them with scholars. Everyone had to compete for government positions by taking exams, thus setting the practice of government run by scholars. Wu also was fair to peasants, lowering oppressive taxes, raising agricultural production, and strengthening public works.

During her reign, Empress Wu placed Buddhism over Daoism as the favored state religion. She invited the most gifted scholars to China and built Buddhist temples and cave sculptures. Chinese Buddhism achieved its highest development under the reign of Wu Zetian.

As she grew older, Empress Wu lessened the power of her secret police. But she become increasingly superstitious and fearful. Sorcerers and corrupt court favorites flattered her. Finally, in 705, she was pressured to give up the throne in favor of her third son, who was waiting all these years in the wings. Wu Zetian died peacefully at age eighty the same year.,
Author/Editor By : HCT