Empress Wu Zetain

Miss Conduct: A True Crime Podcast

Jun 8 2022 • 50 mins

Wu Zetian is known as China’s only recorded female Emperor.

She founded the Zhao dynasty, smack in the middle of the prestigious Tang dynasty, which was filled with powerful male rulers.

Wu was initially a highly educated consort of Emperor Taizong. She went on to become the wife of the next emperor, Gaozong.

Her path towards being a consort (or "concubine", as it was termed back then), was curated for her. But her path to being a ruler was cursed with bloodshed, poisonings, corruption, kidnappings, casual executions, summary executions, false accusations of witchcraft, putting in place puppet kings, and of course, drowning people in wine.

And this was at a time when Confucian ideology formed the crux was Chinese society, which viewed women as meek, obedient, and best to run a household.

Wu said to no all of that.

Between 665 AD and 705 AD, Wu ruled China with an iron fist.

She killed her enemies one by one, including other wives and consorts of the emperor. She did not trust the aristocracy, because they were hell-bent on kicking her off the throne.

Instead, all her policies aimed at appeasing the common folks -- setting up agriculture and trade opportunities, fortifying the borders of the country, and allowing commoners to participate in the civil services.

In the past, she was seen as a ruthless ruler who did not care for her people, her political allies, or her family. However, today history treats her as benevolent, smart, engaging, and politically savvy. And of course, a great ruler.

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