Monday, October 1, 2007

Wu Chao

Empress of China
Wu Chao was a young Chinese woman who, at the age of 14, became a 5th-grade concubine to the Chinese Emperor. The Emperor's heir fell in love the Wu Chao, and after the death of the Emperor, he rescued her from a convent (where all the late Emperor's concubines were supposed to end their days). Wu Chao was installed by the Emperor as his 2nd-grade concubine. She bore the Emperor a son but became such a threat to the Emperor's son-less wife and his favourite concubine (who had borne a son) that these two women conspired against Wu Chao.

But Wu Chao turned the tables on them - she succeeded in getting these two women imprisoned and later murdered. Aged 31, Wu Chao achieved, by manoeuvre and bribes, the position of Empress, whereupon she promptly had the late concubine's son sent away. The Emperor, mentally inferior to his intelligent wife, sufferd a paralytic illness (660) and for the next 45 years she was virtual ruler of all China, ruthlessly removing or executing all who threatened her. But Wu Chao had other achievments - she raised the intellectual level of the bureaucracy, was patron of literature, introduced freedom of religion (for all religions), and via a plan of her own devising, conquered and annexed Korea.

Following the death of the Emperor (663), Wu Chao spend the next seven years in complex political wrangling before she was proclaimed Emperor Wu Hau Huang-ti. On ascending the imperial throne, Wu Chao greatly increased her patronage of the arts, built temples, founded Buddhist hospitals and dipensaries; she ensured that the mentally ill were provided, and created a lay organization to administer the sick through state hospitals (701). Wu Chao also reformed and strengthened the government by loosening the control of the old aristoratic families. Women in China enjoyed greater freedom throughout the 50 year reign of Wu Chao, and her rule over the vast Chinese Empire paved the way for the supreme T'ang Dynasty, famed for it's culture.

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 1998
Women of History
)

2 comments:

Febechi said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Chelsea said...

Thanks so much for writing this! It's really helpful for my Gender Roles in China research project.

Blog on!