She began as a member of the harem of Emperor Tang Taizong of China and was given the name Wu Mei (武媚 Wu3 Mei4). After his death in 649, she became the favorite of his son, Gaozong. She succeeded in discrediting Gaozong's wife, Queen Wang, by framing her for the killing of her baby (Wu Zetian herself had done the deed) and became empress herself.
After Gaozong suffered a stroke, she began to govern China from behind the scenes through him and subsequent puppet emperors, only assuming power herself in 690, when she declared the Zhou Dynasty (not to be confused with the first Zhou Dynasty).
Her regime was characterized by Machiavellian cleverness and brutal despotism. She gained popular support by advocacy of Buddhism but ruthlessly persecuted her opponents within the royal family and the nobility. Traditional Chinese political theory did not allow a woman to ascend the throne and Empress Wu was determined to squash the opposition and promote loyal officials within the bureaucracy.
At the age of 72 her two lovers, brothers, were disposed of by courtiers. She abdicated, allowing the Tang Dynasty to resume, dying soon afterwards.
Considering the events of her life literary allusions to Empress Wu can carry several connotations: a woman who has inappropriately overstepped her bounds, the hypocrisy of preaching compassion while simultaneously engaging in a pattern of corrupt and vicious behavior, and ruling by pulling strings in the background.
|Convention: use personal name|
|Temple names||Family name and first name||Period of reign||Era name and their according ranges of years|
|Wu Hou (武后 wu3 hou4)||Wu Zetian (武則天 wu3 ze2 tian1)||684-705||Guangzhai (光宅 guang1 zhai2) 684
Chuigong (垂拱 chui2 gong3) 685-688