In a country where a female ruler was seen as an abomination, Empress Wu Zetian was the woman that defied all rules of sovereignty. As her path to China’s loftiest position was bloody and gruesome, many have defined her simply as power hungry.
Others go as far as calling her wicked, but what did she really do that was so bad? Read on to find out the details of the rise to power of Empress Wu Zetian and the lengths that she went to hold on to that power.
Empress Wu Zetian Bio
The future Empress was born into a relatively humble background. Her father was a general and when she was old enough she moved to the palace of Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty. Wu Zetian worked in the palace as a low-ranking concubine, what was considered a fifth-tier concubine. She, therefore, operated essentially as a maid and it was in this way that she allegedly gained access to the Emperor while changing his sheets.
It was from there that Wu Zeitan began a long and arduous climb to the top, facing down 28 higher ranking women in order to gain direct access to the emperor and then execute her plans to become Empress.
To know how Empress Wu Zetian rose from palace concubine to Empress, you need to know the following facts about her journey.
5 Facts You Need To Know About The Chinese Sovereign
1. She defied tradition by being a concubine to two successive emperors
Following the death of Emperor Taizong, Wu Zeitan was expected to follow tradition and go with her fellow concubines to live out the rest of her days as a nun in a Buddhist monastery. The basis of the tradition was that it was a disgrace to the memory of the emperor to have someone else touch his former concubines.
Wu Zetian, however, escaped convent life and went back to the palace where she was received and favored by Emperor Gaozong, Emperor Taizong’s son. The two of them had been having an affair prior to the death of Emperor Taizong and so, the development was not at all unexpected.
2. She got rid of the two top women by killing her own child
Wu Zetian had her eye on the Emperor and after his wife, Empress Wang pushed him towards her because of the fear that he was becoming too besotted with a consort named Xiao with whom he had three children, Wu Zetian executed a deadly plan that became both their downfalls. She slowly became the Emperor’s favorite and soon conceived and gave birth to a daughter. The daughter who died at infancy is said to have been strangled by her mother who then put the blame of the child’s death on Empress Wang.
Empress Wang and Consort Xiao were stripped of their titles and thrown into the palace prison. Wu Zeitan was then promoted by the Emperor to Empress status.
3. She went on to kill the two women in the most gruesome manner
History has it that Empress Wu Zetian was not quite done with her former rivals. Just as her husband thought to pardon his former wife, it is said that she had their feet and hands cut off and then had their bodies stuffed in vats of wine where they would proceed to drown slowly.
4. Wu Zetian sacrificed all her sons
Wu Zetian’s infant daughter was not the only child to suffer death or destruction supposedly at her hand. Her eldest son, Li-Hong, died from being poisoned allegedly by his mother. Following his death, she heaped so many accusations of crimes on her second son that he was deposed and exiled from the land.
She was at this point in control of the throne following the death of Emperor Gaozong, but she still proceeded to force her youngest son, who had replaced his brother after his exile, to abdicate the throne. She was then able to proclaim herself as Emperor Zetian.
5. Her second son finally brought her down
Emperor Zetian enjoyed her reign a little and even got some things done including the reformation of taxation and agricultural systems. Her exiled son, who was now married, came out of hiding at a time when the Empress was neglecting her throne to attend to primal needs with a series of lovers. He forced his mother to give up her throne and the Empress whose health had been failing died soon after.
Empress Zetian got a huge stone slab as was customary for monarchs, but rather than fill it with all her accomplishments as also was the custom, it was left purposefully blank.