Empress Wu: Evil Usurper? Essay

Empress Wu: Evil Usurper? Essay

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The Chinese possessed strong beliefs about astrology, so when it was prophesised that a women ruler would soon ascend the throne word quickly spread throughout the common people. It was predicted that within 30 years this woman known as ‘The Prince of Wu’ would rule over China. Whether or not Empress Wu’s rise to power was due to ‘heaven ordained fate’, she fulfilled the prophecy and became China’s first woman ruler in the 7th century. Historians, scholars and common people alike have long debated Wu’s reign. She is commonly referred to as an evil usurper due to the way she took power. However whether she fully deserves this reputation is to be examined. As the only female Chinese ruler, Wu challenged traditional gender roles and legitimized herself as a leader at a time when women were not meant for such positions. Empress Wu came to power through self-determination and a remarkable gift for politics. Once on the throne, she kept her power by all means necessary, often those means being murder and betrayal. Some of her actions were undoubtedly cruel. However once she was established as an empress conducted a mostly peaceful and prosperous reign. Empress Wu was by definition a usurper of the Chinese throne however not necessarily an evil one. She was manipulative and ruthless yet brilliant and exceptionally gifted. Her rise to power through sheer determination is to be commended despite the harsh tactics she used along the way.


Empress Wu’s rise to power was due to her unwavering determination and ruthless spirit. She first entered the palace as a thirteen year old concubine and from an early age she realized the importance of raising her status. Wu was ‘not just another imperial consort… she was very much a political fig...


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...ina. Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1990.

Bokenkamp, Stephen R. “A Medieval Feminist Critique of the Chinese World Order: The Case of Wu Zhao (r. 690–705).” Religion, 28 no 4, (1998): 383-392, DOI: 10.1006/reli.1998.0147.

Chen, Jo-shui. "Empress Wu and Proto-feminist Sentiments in T'ang China." In Imperial Rulership and Cultural Change in Traditional China, edited by Frederick P. Brandauer and Chün-chieh Huang. 77-116. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994.

Clements, Jonathan. Wu: The Chinese Empress Who Schemed, Seduced and Murdered Her Way to Become a Living God. Stroud: Sutton, 2007.

McMahon, Keith. “Women Rulers in Imperial China.” Nan Nü 15-2 (2013): 179-218.

Twitchett, Denis, and J. Wechsler Howard. "Kao-tsung (reign 649–83) and the Empress Wu: the Inheritor and the Usurper". In The Cambridge History of China. 242-89: Cambridge University Press, 1979.

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