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Empress Wu Zetian of China

zh-cn:武则天 zh-tw:武則天

(武則天 pinyin: Wu3 Ze2tian1) (625-705), reigning name Empress Wu (武后 Wu3-hou4), self-named Wu Zhao (武曌 Wu3 Zhao4), from Wenshui (文水, now in Shanxi), is the only reigning female in the history of China.

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.

Although it was short-lived, some historians consider the establishment of this Zhou dynasty the result of better equality between the sexes during the succeeding Tang Dynasty.

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.

Zhou Dynasty (690 CE - 705 CE)

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
Yongchang (永昌 yong3 chang1) 689
Zaichu (載初 zai4 chu1) 690
Tianshou (天授 tian1 shou4) 690-692
Ruyi (如意 ru2 yi4) 692
Changshou (長壽 chang2 shou4) 692-694
Yanzai (延載 yan2 zai4) 694
Zhengsheng (證聖 zheng4 sheng4) 695
Tiancewansui (天冊萬歲 tian1 ce4 wan4 sui4) 695-696
Wansuidengfeng (萬歲登封 wan4 sui4 deng1 feng1) 696
Wansuitongtian (萬歲通天 wan4 sui4 tong1 tian1) 696-697
Shengong (神功 shen2 gong1) 697
Shengli (聖曆 sheng4 li4) 698-700
Jiushi (久視 jiu3 shi4) 700
Dazu (大足 da4 zu2) 701
Chang'an (長安 chang2 an1) 701-705

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