Wu Zhao: The Controversial Female Emperor of China

1. Introduction

Wu Zhao, also known as Empress Wu or Wu Zetian, was the first and only female emperor in the history of China. She was a concubine of Emperor Tang Gaozong, who became emperor after the death of his father, Tang Taizong. She eventually overthrew her husband's regime and proclaimed herself "Emperor" of a new dynasty, the Zhou. In this paper, we will take a look at Wu Zhao's life and her twenty-year reign in order to better understand the complexity of ancient China.

2. Wu Zhao's Life

Wu Zhao was born in 624 CE in Wenshui county, Shanxi province. Her father was a royal official during the Sui dynasty and her mother was from a wealthy family. Not much is known about her early life, but it is said that she was intelligent and beautiful. At the age of thirteen, she was selected to be a concubine of Emperor Tang Gaozong. She bore him two sons, Li Hong and Li Xiǎn ( crown prince).

In 656 CE, Emperor Tang Gaozong became ill and Wu Zhao took control of the empire as regent. When he died in 683 CE, she proclaimed herself "Emperor" and established the Zhou dynasty. Under her reign, China experienced a golden age of prosperity and cultural development. However, her opponents accuse her of being a tyrannical ruler who killed anyone who dared to challenge her power. They also say that she ruined the Tang dynasty by usurping the throne. Regardless of how she is viewed in history, there is no denying that Wu Zhao was a strong and competent leader who had a great impact on China during her lifetime.

3. Wu Zhao's Reign

Wu Zhao's reign lasted for twenty years, from 684 to 705 CE. During this time, she made many reforms that helped to improve the lives of her people. For example, she reformed the tax system so that it was more fair and efficient. She also built many roads and canals to improve transportation in China. In addition, she encouraged scholarship and the arts by commissioning many books and paintings. Under her rule, China flourished economically, culturally, and politically.

However, not everyone was happy with Wu Zhao's reign. Many people thought that she was too power-hungry and that she had ruined the Tang dynasty by usurping the throne. In 705 CE, her enemies finally succeeded in overthrowing her regime and restoring the Tang dynasty to power. Wu Zhao was forced to abdicate the throne and live in exile for the rest of her life. She died in 705 CE at the age of eighty-one.

4. Conclusion

Wu Zhao was a controversial figure in Chinese history. Some people view her as a great leader who improved the lives of her people while others see her as a tyrannical ruler who ruined the Tang dynasty. Regardless of how she is viewed, there is no denying that Wu Zhao had a great impact on China during her lifetime.


Wu Zhao was motivated to become the first and only female emperor of China because she wanted to prove that women could be just as capable as men when it came to ruling a country.

She maintained her power for more than three decades by being a very shrewd politician and by always putting the needs of her people first.

Her reign changed the course of Chinese history by making it clear that women could be powerful rulers in their own right.