Resources For:

Empress Wu Zetian

(625-705 C.E.)


What has been considered the "official" Confucian histories of Wu were written almost three hundred years after her reign and tend to be prejudicial in assessing her political career. There is so little on her during her life, especially accurate and objective information, that it was up to later "historians" who either liked or disliked her to create the "records" which are the basis of much information about Wu. She seems to have been a controversial figure probably both during and after her reign. Discrepancies about her life are not unusual as sources differ greatly about her. The more recent interpretations of her life have been gentler, trying to explain her motives given the times she lived in - and also saying that male emperors were not necessarily less ambitious or ruthless. Wu Zetian may indeed have weakened aspects of the Tang dynasty while strengthening other parts of it.

I got the most out of Diana Paul ,"Empress Wu and the Historians," in Unspoken Worlds: Women's Religious Lives in Non-Western Cultures, Nancy Falk & Rita Gross, eds., Harper & Row, 1980. I also found good information in another book: Betty Millan, Monstrous Regiment: Women Rulers in Men's World, the Kensal Press, London, 1982. The International Dictionary of Women's Biography by Jennifer S. Uglow, Continuum, New York also includes information on Empress Wu.

Cheng An Jiang, Empress of China Wu Ze Tian, Victory Press, Monterey, California, 1998.
This beautifully written and illustrated young adult book presents Wu Zetian in a much more favorable light than most histories. While not ignoring the her unsavory schemes and acts, the decisions she makes are presented in the context of her time and are balanced by descriptions of her positive reforms and accomplishments. (Victory Press has other titles of Chinese heroines.)

There is a new cartoon type book called Wu Zetian: The Mighty Woman Sovereign of China, an Asiapac Publication, 1997, which you can get through China Books and Periodicals, San Francisco. Sources published in China were also used for this biography, but they are difficult to get.

Look at my links page and find the listing for the book "100 Celebrated Chinese Women." The whole book is on the web. Look for "Shangguan Wan'er" - Wu's prime minister. There is information on her and also on Wu in these biographies.

Note: There is an exact copy of this site's Wu Zetian biography on a Geocities Web page reproduced without our permission.

Finding Tang Dynasty Images
There are no images of the Empress Wu Zetian. The painting of the female dancer on the Empress Wu biography page is a Tang dynasty tomb painting, one of many from the period that have been preserved in tombs of the elite. This painting is from a book I got in China, A Collection of China's Tang Dynasty Frescoes, Lingnan Art Publishing House,1994. This fresco is from the tomb of Li Ji, who died in 669 C.E. It is entitled Music and Dance - two maids of honor are playing musical instruments and two dancing girls are accompanying them.

Another pictorial source of some of the amazingly life-like figurines from the Tang era can be found in Women of the Tang Dynasty distributed by China Books, San Francisco. It was published in 1998 by the archeological museum of Xian, China.

The unit Eyes of the Empress: Women in Tang Dynasty will tell you more about Empress Wu Zetian, other women of the period, and daily life in the glorious years of the Tang Dynasty.

Lyn Reese is the author of all the information on this website
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