Ancient China Queens

Ancient China was ruled by emperors, who were the kings of the country. Their wives held the title of empress and so were the queens of ancient China.

However, women were inferior to men in ancient China so empresses never ruled on their own. In fact, ever since China began, there has only been one female leader – Empress Wu!

Marriages were arranged between all men and women in ancient China. Emperors often had more than one wife so that they were guaranteed a son to continue the dynasty.

One wife was usually the most important and she was given the title empress.

Although the empress didn’t have as much power as her husband, she was still a powerful woman.

She could manipulate the court and make suggestions to the emperor of how to rule, like cutting taxes, conquering nearby countries or having people executed!

Empress Lu Zhi (241 – 180 BC)

Empress Lu was the consort of Emperor Liu, who started the Han dynasty. She was active in politics, ordering the assassination of two very powerful generals who were threatening Liu’s reign.

Lu was vicious and tightly controlled state affairs, torturing and killing anyone who tried to stop her or got in her way.

Empress Lu Zhi

Empress Wu Zetian (AD 624 – 705)

Empress Wu was the only female emperor of China, ruling in the Tang dynasty. She was ambitious and ruled ancient China through Emperor Gaozong, before taking his place when he died.

Wu conquered land in central and southern Asia and grew Chinese society. However, she was ruthless and assassinated anyone who stood in her way.

She created a secret police force to spy on people and to help her maintain power.

Empress Dowager Xiaozhuang (AD 1613 – 1688)

Xiaozhuang was the mother of Emperor Shunzhi in the Qing dynasty. She rarely meddled in state politics and she was never a wife of an emperor, but she was a good influence on her son.

She made sure the country did not spend too much money and was respected for her wisdom and decision making.

Empress Dowager Xiaozhuang

Empress Dowager Cixi (AD 1835 – 1908)

Cixi was a wife of Emperor Xianfeng and mother of Emperors Tongzhi and Guangxu, of the Qing dynasty.

She had a tight hold on power and practically ruled for the emperors. Cixi did not modernise China, spent a lot of money and listened to advisors who gave terrible advice.

Many people think that Cixi is the reason why China always lost battles against European forces and why the Qing dynasty collapsed.

Empress Dowager Cixi


  • In ancient China, women were inferior to men and so did not rule on their own.
  • Emperors would have more than one wife to guarantee they had a son.
  • The most important wife of the emperor held the title of empress.
  • The empress had the power to influence the emperor and the court, so was a very important person to know.
  • Empress Lu was vicious and assassinated many people who were against her.
  • Empress Wu was the only female emperor of China and was loved by the people.
  • Xiaozhuang was not ambitious but was a good influence on her son, the emperor.
  • Cixi was the last empress of China and is considered the cause of China becoming a republic.


  • Why did an empress never rule herself (except Wu)?
    Women were respected less than men and were not educated or allowed to work.
  • What power did the empress have?
    She could manipulate politicians, spy on people, influence the emperor and negotiate.
  • Why was Wu so popular?
    Wu conquered lots of land and helped peasants to improve their station in life.
  • Why was Cixi so hated?
    Cixi spent a lot of money, took bad advice, did not help the poor people and did not improve technology in China.