Consort Wu did not have any children with Emperor Taizong. It was said that on one occasion, when Emperor Taizong's crown prince saw her, he was shocked by her beauty. After Emperor Taizong died in 649, Li Zhi became emperor , and she and the other imperial consorts who did not have children went to Ganye Temple and became Buddhist nuns.
As Emperor Gaozong's concubine
On an anniversary of Emperor Taizong's death, Emperor Gaozong went to Ganye Temple to offer incense, and when he and Consort Wu saw each other, both of them wept -- and were seen by Emperor Gaozong's wife . At that time, Emperor Gaozong did not favor Empress Wang, and much favored his concubine ; further, Empress Wang did not have any children, and Consort Xiao had one son and two daughters . Empress Wang, seeing that Emperor Gaozong was still impressed by Consort Wu's beauty, hoped that the arrival of a new concubine would divert the emperor from Consort Xiao, and therefore secretly told Consort Wu to stop shaving her hair and, at a later point, welcomed her to the palace. Wherever the truth lies, by the early 650s Consort Wu was a concubine of Emperor Gaozong, and she was titled ''Zhaoyi'' , i.e. the highest ranking of the nine concubines of the second rank. Consort Wu soon overtook Consort Xiao in her favor from Emperor Gaozong. In 652, she gave birth to her first child, a son named Li Hong. In 653, she gave birth to another son, . (Later, after she became empress, she would bear two more sons , and one daughter . For the time being, however, neither of these sons were in contention to be Emperor Gaozong's heir, as Emperor Gaozong had, pursuant to requests of officials instigated by Empress Wang and her uncle, the chancellor , created his oldest son Li Zhong, whose mother Consort Liu was of lowly birth and whose gratitude Empress Wang expected. By 654, both Empress Wang and Consort Xiao had lost favor with Emperor Gaozong, and the former romantic rivals joined forces against Consort Wu, but to no avail, and as a sign of his love to Consort Wu, in 654 he conferred posthumous honors on her father Wu Shihuo.
Also in 654, shortly after Consort Wu gave birth to a daughter, the daughter died. Empress Wang was allegedly seen near the child's room by eyewitnesses, and Emperor Gaozong suspected that she killed the child out of jealousy. She was unable to clear herself in Emperor Gaozong's eyes. In anger, Emperor Gaozong considered deposing Empress Wang and replacing her with Consort Wu, but wanted to make sure that the chancellors would support this, and so visited the house of his uncle Zhangsun Wuji, the leader among chancellors, with Consort Wu, awarding him with much treasure, but when he brought up the topic that Empress Wang was sonless , Zhangsun repeatedly found ways to divert the conversation, and subsequent visits by Consort Wu's mother Lady Yang and the official Xu Jingzong, who was allied with Consort Wu, to seek support from Zhangsun were also to no avail.
As Empress Consort
In 656, per advice of Xu Jingzong, Emperor Gaozong deposed Li Zhong to be the Prince of Liang, while creating Li Hong, then carrying the title of Prince of Dai, to be crown prince. but which some historians thought might be slow-poisoning by Empress Wu, and he began to have Empress Wu make rulings on the petitions by the officials. It was said that Empress Wu had quick reactions and understood both literature and history, and therefore was making correct rulings. Thereafter, her authority began to rival Emperor Gaozong's. Thereafter, at imperial meetings, she would sit behind a curtain behind Emperor Gaozong, and they became referred to by the public as the "Two Holy Ones" .
Around the new year 675, Empress Wu submitted 12 suggestions -- the chief of whom were that Laozi , to whom the Tang imperial clan traced its ancestry), should have his work Tao Te Ching be added to the required reading for imperial university students, and that a three-year mourning period should be observed for a mother's death in all cases. Emperor Gaozong praised her for her suggestions and adopted them.
As Empress Dowager
Immediately, Emperor Zhongzong showed signs of disobeying Empress Dowager Wu -- including an insistence on making his father-in-law Wei Xuanzhen ''Shizhong'' and giving a mid-level office to his wet nurse's son -- despite stern opposition by the chancellor Pei Yan, at one point remarking to Pei:
In 686, Empress Dowager Wu offered to return imperial authorities to Emperor Ruizong, but Emperor Ruizong, knowing that she did not truly intend to do so, declined, and she continued to exercise imperial authority. Meanwhile, she created copper mailboxes outside the imperial government to encourage the people of the realm to secretly report on others, as she suspected many officials of opposing her. Under these beliefs of hers, secret police officials, including Suo Yuanli, , and Lai Junchen, began to rise in power and began to carry out systematic false accusations, tortures, and executions of individuals.
As Empress Regnant
Traditional Chinese order of succession did not allow a woman to ascend the throne, but Wu Zetian was determined to quash the opposition, and the use of the secret police did not subside, but continued, after her taking the throne. However, while her organization of the civil service system was criticized for its laxity of the promotion of officials, Wu Zetian was considered capable of evaluating the performance of the officials once they were in office. The Song Dynasty historian Sima Guang, in his ''Zizhi Tongjian'', commented:
Shortly after Wu Zetian took the throne, she elevated the status of Buddhism to be above Taoism, officially sanctioning the religion by building temples named Dayun Temple in each prefecture belonging to the capital regions of the two capitals Luoyang and Chang'an, and also created nine senior monks dukes. She also enshrined seven generations of Wu ancestors at the imperial ancestral temple, although she also continued to offer sacrifices to the three emperors of Tang . Wu Zetian tried to allay the situation by making peace with Ashina Mochuo at fairly costly terms -- the return of Tujue people who had previously submitted to Zhou and providing Ashina Mochuo with seeds, silk, tools, and iron. In summer 697, Ashina Mochuo launched another attack on Khitan's base of operations, and this time, after his attack, Khitan forces collapsed, and Sun was killed in flight, ending the Khitan threat.
Around 698, Wu Chengsi and another nephew of Wu Zetian's, Wu Sansi the Prince of Liang, were repeatedly making attempts to have officials persuade Wu Zetian to create one of them crown prince -- again citing the reason that an emperor should pass the throne to someone of the same clan. However, Di Renjie, who by now had become a trusted chancellor, was firmly against the idea and instead proposed that Li Zhe be recalled. He was supported in this by fellow chancellors Wang Fangqing and Wang Jishan, as well as Wu Zetian's close advisor Ji Xu, who further persuaded the Zhang brothers to support the idea as well. In spring 698, Wu Zetian agreed and recalled Li Zhe from exile. Soon, Li Dan offered to yield the crown prince position to Li Zhe, and Wu Zetian created Li Zhe crown prince, and soon changed his name back to Li Xiǎn and then Wu Xian.
Despite her old age, however, Wu Zetian continued to be interested in finding talented officials and promoting them, and individuals that she promoted in her old age included, among others, Cui Xuanwei and Zhang Jiazhen., killing Zhang Yizhi and Zhang Changzong, and then had Changsheng Hall , where Wu Zetian was residing, surrounded. They then reported to her that the Zhang brothers had been executed for treason, and then forced her to yield the throne to Li Xian. On February 21, an edict was issued in her name that made Li Xian regent, and on February 22, an edict was issued in her name passing the throne to Li Xian. On February 23, Li Xian formally retook the throne, and the next day, Wu Zetian, under heavy guard, was moved to the subsidiary palace Shangyang Palace , but was nevertheless honored with the title of Empress Regnant Zetian Dasheng . Tang Dynasty was restored, ending Zhou. She died on December 16,
Second Zhou Dynasty
): Jan. 22 - Oct. 21, 695
Tiāncèwànsuì : Oct. 22, 695 - Jan. 19, 696
Wànsuìdēngfēng : Jan. 20 - Apr. 21, 696
Wànsuìtōngtiān : Apr. 22, 696 - Sept. 28, 697
Shéngōng : Sept. 29 - Dec. 19, 697
Shènglì : Dec. 20, 697 - May 26, 700
Jiǔshì : May 27, 700 - Feb. 14, 701
Dàzú : Feb. 15 - Nov. 25, 701
Cháng'ān : Nov. 26, 701 - Jan. 29, 705
Shénlóng : Jan. 30 - Mar. 3, 705
Chancellors during reign
* Cen Changqian
* Wu Chengsi
* Xing Wenwei
* Wu Youning
* Fu Youyi
* Shi Wuzi
* Zong Qinke
* Le Sihui
* Ren Zhigu
* Ge Fuyuan
* Ouyang Tong
* Pei Xingben
* Di Renjie
* Yang Zhirou
* Li Youdao
* Yuan Zhihong
* Cui Shenji
* Cui Yuanzong
* Li Zhaode
* Yao Shu
* Li Yuansu
* Lou Shide
* Wei Juyuan
* Lu Yuanfang
* Doulu Qinwang
* Su Weidao
* Wang Xiaojie
* Wei Shifang
* Yang Zaisi
* Du Jingjian
* Zhou Yunyuan
* Sun Yuanheng
* Wang Fangqing
* Li Daoguang
* Wang Jishan
* Zong Chuke
* Wu Sansi
* Yao Chong
* Li Jiao
* Ji Xu
* Wei Yuanzhong
* Zhang Xi
* Wei Anshi
* Li Huaiyuan
* Gu Cong
* Li Jiongxiu
* Zhu Jingze
* Tang Xiujing
* Wei Sili
* Cui Xuanwei
* Zhang Jianzhi
* Fang Rong
* Wei Chengqing
* Yuan Shuji
** Wu Shihuo , Duke Ding of Ying, later further successively posthumously honored as the Duke of Zhou, the Prince of Taiyuan, Emperor Zongxiaotai, and Emperor Xiaominggao
** Lady Yang , Wu Shihuo's second wife, honored as the Lady of Rong, Lady of Zuan, Lady of Wei, and finally Lady Zhonglie of Lu, later further successively posthumously honored with titles corresponding to Wu Shihuo's
** Emperor Gaozong of Tang
* Major known lovers
** Huaiyi, né Feng Xiaobao , the Duke of Liang then the Duke of E
** Shen Nanqiu , imperial physician
** Zhang Yizhi, the Duke of Heng
** Zhang Changzong, the Duke of Ye
** Li Hong , originally the Prince of Dai , later the Crown Prince , posthumously honored Emperor Xiaojing with the temple name Yizong
** , name changed to Li De 672, changed back to Li Xián 674), originally the Prince of Lu , later the Prince of Pei , later the Prince of Yong , later the Crown Prince , later demoted to commoner rank , posthumously initially honored the Prince of Yong, later honored Crown Prince Zhanghuai
** Li Xiǎn , name changed to Li Zhe 677, changed back to Li Xiǎn 698, changed to Wu Xian 700, changed back to Li Xian 705, initially the Prince of Zhou , later the Prince of Ying , later the Crown Prince , later Emperor Zhongzong of Tang , later demoted to Prince of Luling , later the Crown Prince , later emperor again
** Li Dan , né Li Xulun , name changed to Li Lun 669, changed again to Li Dan 678, changed again to Wu Lun 690, changed again to Wu Dan 698, changed back to Li Dan 705, originally the Prince of Yin , later the Prince of Yu , later the Prince of Ji , later the Prince of Xiang , later the Prince of Yu , later Emperor Ruizong of Tang , later demoted to Crown Prince , later demoted to Prince of Xiang , later emperor again
** Unnamed princess
** Princess Taiping
Titles carried, in chronological order
* ''Cairen'' 637-649
* ''Zhaoyi'' 650?-655
* Empress 655-683
** Also known as ''Tianhou'' 674-683
* Empress dowager 683-690
** Also known as ''Shengmu Shenhuang'' 688-690
* Emperor 690-705
** ''Shengshen Huangdi'' 690-693
** ''Jinlun Shengshen Huangdi'' 693-694
** ''Yuegu Jinlun Shengshen Huangdi'' 694-695
** ''Jinlun Shengshen Huangdi'' 695
** ''Tiance Jinlun Dasheng Huangdi'' 695-705
** ''Zetian Dasheng Huangdi'' 705
* Posthumous empress titles
** ''Zetian Dasheng Huanghou'' 705-710
** ''Tianhou'' 710
** ''Dasheng Tianhou'' 710-712
** ''Tianhou Shengdi'' 712
** ''Shenghou'' 712-716
** ''Zetian Huanghou'' 716-749
** ''Zetian Shunsheng Huanghou''
* Empress Wu Zetian in Fiction and in History: Female Defiance in Confucian China by Dora Shu-fang Dien explores the life of Empress Wu Zetian and the ways women found to participate in public life, despite the societal constraints of dynastic China.
* Wu: The Chinese Empress Who Schemed, Seduced and Murdered Her Way to Become a Living God by Jonathan Clements.
* The noted French author Shan Sa, born in Beijing, wrote a biographical novel called "Impératrice" based on Empress Wu's life. It has been translated into English as "Empress" and Japanese as ''Jotei: Waga na wa Sokuten Bukō'' .
* A fictionalized Wu Zetian appears in Eleanor Cooney & Daniel Alteri's mystery novel "Deception: A Novel of Mystery and Madness in Ancient China"
*Lady Wu, written by Lin Yutang, combines thoroughly researched historical data and storytelling to weave a sensually vicious portrayal of the woman who would be Emperor.
* A fiction novel, titled ''The Walking Boy'', by Lydia Kwa was published in 2005 by Key Porter Books, Canada.
Notes and references
* ''Book of Tang'', vol. 6.
* ''New Book of Tang'', vols. 4, 76.
* ''Zizhi Tongjian'', vols. , , , , , , , , , , .