Wu Zetian 武則天
Wu Zetian (624 – 705), alternatively named Wu Zhao, Wu Hou, was a Chinese sovereign who rose from concubinage to become empress of China during the Tang dynasty (618–907). She ruled effectively for nearly 50 years, the last 15 (690–705) in her own name. During her reign, Tang rule was consolidated, and the empire was unified.
Wu Zhao entered the palace of Emperor Taizong (ruled 626–649) in 638, at the age of 14, as a concubine. After his death, she married his son, Emperor Gaozong, who had her brought back to the palace to be his own favourite concubine. She eliminated her female rivals within the palace, and gained the position of empress for herself in 655, eventually bearing Gaozong four sons and one daughter. The emperor, who was weak in character, relied on her entirely, and, for the last 23 years of his life, the empress was the real ruler of China.
She governed the empire with great efficiency, employing able men who felt loyalty to her. In the years between 655 and 675, the Tang empire conquered Korea under military leaders who were picked and promoted by the empress.
Although her motives were to secure her own authority, the consequences of her policies were to be of great historical importance. The transformation of Chinese society in the Tang period from one dominated by a military and political aristocracy to one governed by a scholarly bureaucracy drawn from the gentry was promoted by her policy.
When Gaozong died in 683, he was succeeded by his son Li Xian (the Zhongzong emperor). The new emperor had been married to a woman of the Wei family, who now sought to put herself in the same position of authority as that of Wu Zetian, for Zhongzong was as weak and incompetent as his father. After one month Wu Zetian deposed her son, exiled him, and installed as emperor her second son, Li Dan (the Ruizong emperor), whose authority was purely nominal.
Six years later, in 690, at age 65, the empress usurped the throne itself. Accepted without revolt, she ruled for 15 years. During that period the question of the succession began to assume great urgency. Her own nephews of the Wu family had hoped that, as she had already changed the name of the dynasty to Zhou, she would also displace the Tang heirs of the Li family and leave the throne to one of the Wu nephews. Neither of them nor their sons was popular or unusually capable; on the other hand, Wuhou’s own sons, the two former emperors Zhongzong and Ruizong, had little support and less ability. But, even among her loyal supporters, there was a growing hope that the Tang family of Li would not be discarded. In 698 the empress decided to accede to these views; the exiled Zhongzong was recalled to court and made crown prince.
In the last years of her life, from 699, the empress gave her favour to the Zhang brothers, artistic but depraved courtiers who engaged her affection by elaborate entertainments and skillful flattery. As she gradually fell into ill health, depended increasingly on the care of the Zhang brothers. In February 705 a conspiracy formed among the leading ministers and generals, who seized the palace, executed the Zhang brothers, and compelled the empress to yield power to Zhongzong. She retired to another palace and died there in December of that year.
Films and TV shows about Wu Zetian
1949 Empress Wu Zetian (Hong Kong)
1963 (Hong Kong)
1987 Master Hui Neng (Taiwan)
2010 (Hong Kong)
2011 Secret History of Empress (China, TV series)
2013 (Hong Kong)
2013 The Empress of China (China, TV series)