Wu Chao was born in 624 in China. Where at is unknown. In her early years she was called Wu Zetian. Wu Zetian lived during the medieval period of Chinese history, when people were strongly influenced by Confucian ideology. Women were generally held in low esteem, and there was considerable opposition to their participation in public affairs. In such a political climate, the struggle and unique success of We Zetian must be seen as remarkable. Her gifts were evident at any early age. She was 14 years old when here reputation for beauty reached the Emperor Tai Zong, and she was summoned to live in his palace. Although she began life in the palace as a low ranking concubine, Wu Zetian managed to attract the attention of Emperor Tai Zong, who was 26 years older than her. In admirations of her beauty and cleverness, he gave her the name Wu Mei, meaning charming female. In 646, Tang Zong was in his early 50’s when he fell seriously ill. His ninth son and formally appointed heir was Li Zhi who kept close to his father’s bedside. It was then that the young prince grew deeply attracted to Wu Zetian.
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In June, Li Zhi succeeded his father to the throne, the third emperor of the Tan Dynast, known historically as Tang Goa Zong. Most of his father’s concubines left the palace. Wu Zetian shaved her head and entered a Buddhist temple as a nun. Goa Zong found a woman names Wang to be his empress. Several months later when he visited the temple where Wu Zetian was, their romance resumed. Wu Zetian was now 28 years old. In 651 she entered the palace for the second time. She cleverly cultivated her relationships with the empress as well as other concubines, and shared gifts and favors granted to her by the emperor with others in his service. In return, the servants became her spies, keeping her informed about the empress and other concubines. The empress in the meant time was still childless, and Wu Zetian’s influence over the Emperor grew enormously. In China, it was a serious political move to consider replacing an empress. In 654, Wu Zetian gave birth to a daughter, whom the Emperor was said to love very much. One day after the empress has been playing with the baby, Wu Zetian secretly strangled her daughter in the cradle. Once the death was discovered, servants informed the emperor that the empress had been playing with the child, and the death of it became Goa Zong’s excuse for making Wu Zetian empress.
In her new role as empress, Wu Zetian soon demonstrated remarkable ability as well as being very ruthless. She initiated transfers of statesmen who opposed her, including the emperors own uncle. She tormented the former empress and is believed to have been responsible for her death. As Goa Zong showed increasing signs of weakness, Wu Zetian found ways of extending her power throughout the whole empire. Now know as Empress Wu, she took charge of affairs of state both large and small, and she became involved into the formulation of all new policies. In 674, for the first time ever in Chinese History, Empress Wu instituted the titles of Heavenly Empress and Heavenly Emperor for herself and her husband. That same year, she further demonstrated her political power with her proposal of a 12-point program of reform. The provisions encouraged agricultural production, reduced taxes and labor services, and decreased military operation, provide wide opportunities for criticisms and reform of the government, provided long-serving officials, and increased officials salaries, thereby winning support from everyone.
The following year, the eldest son of Gao Zong and Empress Wu, the heir, Li Hong, died suddenly. Since he had been in total disagreement with the empress, it was believed that his mother, Empress Wu had him murdered. In 680, Wu Zetian’s second son, the new heir, Li Xian, was charged with preparing a coup and was banished to a remote area. In late 683, Emperor Goa Zong died, making way for Li Xean, the third son of Goa Zong and Wu Zetian. He was 23 years old and his royal name was Tang Zhong Zong. Unfortunately, the new emperor was weak and even more incompetent than his father, so the Empress stayed in power. After that, Li Xean promoted his father-in-law to Emperor but was dethroned by Wu Zetian soon after. His younger brother Li Dan, known as Rui Zong, replaced him. This reckless intervention in so many state affairs eventually evoked strong opposition and an armed rebellion against her started in 686. The rebellion collapsed about three months later. Wu Zetian wanted to rule as Emperor in her own name so she drew together her supporters in a campaign devoted to winning widespread popularity. She helped the poor and ferreted out corrupt officials and fraudulent merchants for punishment.
In autumn of 690, after she had received three successive petitions requesting her to ascend the imperial throne, the Tang Dynasty was declared replaced by the Zhao Dynasty. Wu Zetian named herself Wu Zhao, the first and only female emperor in Chinese history. She continued her rule for 15 more years. Attentive to those who excelled in examinations, she prompted many talented men to key post and gave strong backing to the honest and upright officials in her government. Population grew form3.8 million households to 6.15 million, and her troops won signal victories in the war against Turk, Tu-bu, and Khitan. Finally, weakened by age, Wu Zhao could no longer control crimes committed by trusted followers. In February of 705, her chief chancellor, Zhang Jian-zhi led a palace coup to reinstate the deposed Zhong Zong (Li Xean). Hundreds of solders invaded the palace where Wu Zhao had been confined to her bed for weeks. The Empress got up to listen to the request to return the throne back to her son. She agreed and returned to bed. She died in November the same year. She had controlled China for half a century and was the first and only female emperor.
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