Wednesday, March 11, 2009

One of a Kind

I stumbled upon an ancient-looking book at Aunty Page's house during Jo Ann's birthday party. It was yellowed with age and on the cover was a face of a Chinese woman. LADY WU - A TRUE STORY was written. Surely, she must have been a great woman of her time if there was a book written about her.





And true enough, she was. Wu Tsertien was the only female emperor of China and she ruled for half a century. She entered the Tang palace at the age of 14 as a tsairen (a select - of the sixth rank of concubines) to Emperor Taitsung. After his death, she was to become a nun for the rest of her life as did other childless concubines. However, the Empress Wang of Emperor Gowtsung - the son and successor of Taitsung - needed a beautiful concubine to divert Gowtsung's attention from Consort Siowfei. So, she had Lady Wu back as Gowtsung's concubine. But, Lady Wu, like a two-headed snake, managed to defeat both Empress Wang and Siowfei. She had them whipped 100 times and their hands and feet cut off. With their arms and legs crooked behind them, she had them thrown into wine vats where she "let these wenches' bones and marrow melt in drunken ecstacy".

She rose to so much power that in private talks and in official communications, the plural 'Their Majesties' or erh sheng was used instead of the usual His Majesty.

As Gowtsung weakened of illness, Empress Wu gained control over the government. Murder was an everyday occurance for her. To frame Empress Wang, she strangled her first infant daughter. She had poisoned her own sister the Duchess of Han and her niece the Duchess of Wei for they were gaining the favour of the emperor. She killed many of her own biological sons so that she would have a hold on the empire, including the persona's (Shouli, Prince of Bin) father - Prince Shien.

She had two books compiled under her name - On the Proper Conduct of Women at Home (Neitser) and Lives of Model Women. She established the spy system that caused many to perish through false accusations. She established the Zhou Dynasty replacing the Tang Dynasty after Gowtsung died.

She was involved with a Buddhist monk Huaiyi who was bestowed with great honour and also the imperial physician - Dr. Shen Nanchiu. Just as emperors had concubines to satisfy their desires, so did Lady Wu. She was notorious for the harem of paramours known as the Stork Institute.

She was eventually removed from her position and died at a great age of 80.

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