Wu Hou

first woman to rule China
Born: c. 625
Birthplace: China

Born into an aristocratic family, Wu Hou, also known as Wu Chao or Wu Zetien, was taught reading, writing, and music. At about age 14, she joined the court of the emperor, Tai Tsung. When she was 27, Tai Tsung died and his son, Kao Tsung, became emperor. After several years, Wu Hou married Kao Tsung, becoming empress. Kao Tsung became paralyzed around 655, probably from a stroke, and for several years Wu Hou ruled in his name, ruthlessly imprisoning or killing all opponents.

When Kao Tsung died, Wu Hou had one of her younger and more compliant sons proclaimed emperor. She ruled through him until 690, when he stepped aside and she was officially named emperor. Wu Hou was an able ruler. She reduced the power of the military and the aristocracy, making government service dependent upon passing exams. While Wu Hou allowed freedom of religion, her regime became a high point of Chinese Buddhism. She patronized the arts and commissioned many Buddhist temples and cave sculptures. She lowered taxes on the peasantry, expanded public works programs, established Buddhist hospitals, and tried to improve the status of women. Wu Hou also annexed Korea.

Died: 705
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