Who was Wu Zetian? Was she a brilliant leader, a woman in a man’s shoes, or a cruel power seeker? Make up your own mind after you learn about her early life, rise to power, and her time on the throne.
Wu Zetian was born as Wu Zhao in 624 A.D. into a rich family in Shanxi Province, China. She was taught reading, writing, and music in her youth. Since she was beautiful and intelligent, 14 year old Wu Zhao became an imperial concubine (lesser wife) of Emperor Taizong. But in 649 A.D. Emperor Taizong died, and young Wu, at the time a fifth rank concubine, and nick- named Mei-Niang, was sent to a nunnery.
But the ambitious Wu Zetian would not stay in the nunnery for long. The new emperor (Gaozong) set his eyes on her and visited her often. In a short time she was back in the palace, this time a second rank concubine. But Zhao wasn’t happy with what she had. Thus she strangled her own daughter, to frame the empress and the head concubine for murder. The emperor believed her because he thought she wouldn’t kill her own flesh and blood. Bloodthirsty little Mei-Niang (only about 29 at the time) had the hands and feet of the ex-empress and the ex-head concubine cut off and put them in a well to drown. She applied the method to any one else in her way, including 2 of her own sons. Her lucky break came when in 650 A.D. her husband Emperor Gaozong had a stroke, and Wu took over. She introduced new ideas in farming and labor saving techniques as well as tax reduction and social reforms. In six years Gaozong died, and her third son Zhongzong became emperor. Tiring of him, she dethroned Zhongzong, and placed Ruizong, her weakest son, on the throne. But even this wasn’t enough for Wu Zetian; she wanted to be emperor in name and power. So in 690 A.D. Wu Zhao completely took over.
Despite her mean edge, Wu Zetian made a great ruler. She was Wu Zetian, the only female in Chinese history to rule as emperor. For example she allowed only intelligent people to become government officials, letting any one who could pass a test apply. She also made sure that no one could get a job unless they really deserved it. Increasing productivity and directing the creation of framing manuals made Wu popular with the common man.
Sadly this great woman died in 705 A.D. at age 80, with nothing but a plain memorial steeple to honor her. Perhaps that was for the best, because Wu Zetian wanted her actions to speak for themselves.
Image courtesy of: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wu_Zetian
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By Cindy & Megan, fourth grade, 2006