Empress Wu

Wu Zeitan was born on 17 February 624 during the Tang dynasty. Her family were wealthy nobility, meaning Wu got a good education.

Her father was a very important politician, so Wu learnt a lot about politics and how government worked, as well as how to read and write. This made her ambitious.

Wu moved into the Imperial Palace when she was 14 years old. She was one of Emperor Taizong’s consorts until he died in 649.

The government tried to force her out of the palace, but instead she began to court the new emperor. Emperor Gaozong liked her so much that he kept her at the palace as a consort again.

Rise to Power

Women in ancient China were considered inferior to men and were not well educated. Wu was lucky to have a good education.

She used it to influence the emperor and get a position of power. The emperor’s wife, Empress Wang, was jealous of Wu so Wu convinced the emperor that Wang had killed her daughter.

The emperor had Wang arrested and so Wu became empress.When Emperor Gaozong died, Wu’s son became emperor.

Wu made him step down soon after and she became the first female emperor of China. Wu declared the start of the Zhou dynasty but the Tang dynasty returned after her death.

Blank Tablet

Being Emperor

Empress Wu was a very good ruler who was loved by the people. However, women were less respected than men in ancient China and many thought that a woman was not suitable to be emperor.

Wu created a spy force to track who was loyal to her and who wanted to get rid of her. Anybody who was against her was killed.

Confucianism was a set of ideas that many followed in ancient China. These ideas said that women should stay at home and look after the family – women could not hold power.

To get around this, Wu named Buddhism as the state religion because Buddhism would let her hold power and would make the people happy.

Wu was ambitious and clever. She brought a lot of wealth and trade to China by conquering some of Korea countries to the west of China.

She also lowered taxes, built new infrastructure and developed better ways of farming. Wu also gave people important jobs based on their intelligence and not their family standing.

Common people felt they could improve their situation under her and so loved her.

Empress Wu died on 16 December 705, aged 81, in Luoyang province. She was succeeded by her son Emperor Zhongzong. Three of her sons ruled as emperor through the Tang dynasty.

Empress Wu


  • Wu was born to an important political family so got an excellent education.
  • At 14, Wu became an Emperor Taizong’s consort in the Imperial Palace.
  • Wu became Emperor Gaozong’s consort when Taizong died.
  • Wu was crowned empress after her son stepped down as emperor.
  • People thought a woman should not be emperor so tried to kill her.
  • Buddhism was made the state religion as it allowed women to hold power, but Confucianism didn’t.
  • Wu lowered taxes, improved farming and expanded China’s land.
  • Common people were big supporters of Wu, but the nobility was not.
  • Wu was the only ruler in the Zhou dynasty – before and after were the Tang dynasty.

Wu Zetian


  • How did Wu become empress and Emperor Gaozong’s wife?
    Wu convinced the emperor that Empress Wang had killed her daughter.
  • How did Wu keep hold of her position as emperor?
    Wu used the secret police to spy on her enemies and the government.
  • Why did the peasants love Wu?
    Wu lowered taxes, built new roads and made farming and trade easier for people.
  • What did Wu think about people’s jobs?
    Wu believed you should hire people based on their talent and intellect, not on who their family are.