Wu Zhao: China's Only Woman Emperor By N Harry Rothchild

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Wu Zhao: China's Only woman Emperor by N Harry Rothchild

Wu Zhao: China's Only woman Emperor by N Harry Rothchild

Wu Zhao (624-705), the only female emperor in Chinese history, was a pragmatist, painfully aware that to establish her sovereignty she needed to marshal every tool, (Rothchild 2007)

symbolic or real, at her disposal. She emerged in the right place at the right time. Multi-ethnic, cosmopolitan and open, the early Tang dynasty (618-907) featured a lively commingling of nomadic, Central Asian steppe culture and traditional Confucian mores.

Merchant caravans of laden Bactrian camels filled the Silk Road that linked Tang China to Central Asia and India, traveling to and from Chang'an and Luoyang, the grand twin capitals. Rather than being strictly confined to the inner quarters, women of this era were more visible, riding horses and donning male attire. Islamic mosques, Zoroastrian churches, Daoist abbeys and Buddhist monasteries all welcomed believers. Throngs heralding from all walks of life cheered at polo matches. Markets spilled over with Malayan patchouli, (Rothchild 2007) pepper from India, aromatic woods from Java, and Korean pine seeds, while in street stalls, Persians sold pilaf, figs and pistachios, and Turks hawked sesame buns and nang-bread.

Despite these fertile pre-conditions, the biological fact that Wu Zhao was a woman presented serious problems in her effort to assume the dragon throne. Even in these open times, the Confucian bureaucracy held great political sway just as patriarchal values, (Rothchild 2007) which held to the principle that “the male is venerated and the female is denigrated” (nan zun nu bei ????), still exerted tremendous social influence. Thus, as Grand Dowager and during her first years as Emperor, Wu Zhao meticulously amassed evidence--a vast symbolic repertoire of auspicious portents, apocrypha, carefully crafted state ceremonies, widely propagated texts, and self-aggrandizing titles geared to provide her warrant and ...
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