china dynasty

The Chinese Emperor Xiaowu of the Eastern Jin Dynasty was murdered by his favorite concubine, Consort Zhang. She had been his favorite for a while, but (horror) was almost thirty years old! One evening, slightly drunk, Emperor Xiaowu jokingly said  "Based on your age, you should yield your position. I want someone younger.“ Consort Zhang had him killed the same night.


December 16th 705: Empress Wu Zetian dies

On this day in 705, Wu Zetian, the only sovereign empress of China, died aged 81. Born during the Tang dynasty, she entered the court of Emperor Taizong as a concubine when she was 14 years old. After Taizong’s death, the new emperor Gaozong defied custom and chose the well-educated Wu to remain as his favourite concubine. She rose to become Gaozong’s empress in 655, after eliminating the current empress by allegedly killing her own child and framing the empress. The new empress quickly silenced the elder statesmen who opposed her position on the grounds that she did not hail from the established aristocracy, with critics exiled and, often, executed. Emperor Gaozong was a sickly man, and frequently entrusted affairs of state to Wu, who managed imperial business essentially single-handedly. Wu was a capable leader, known for her sound management, her decisiveness, and her ruthlessness; these attributes won her the respect, and fear, of the Chinese imperial court. Her greatest accomplishments included agricultural and education reform, stabilisation of the imperial bureaucracy, and imperial expansion. Upon Gaozong’s death in 683, his son by Wu ascended to the throne, but, concerned by the machinations of his ambitious wife, Wu had him exiled and installed her other son as emperor. In 690, when she was 65 years old, the empress claimed the throne for herself, and ruled as a sovereign empress for 15 years. The question of succession led Wu to designate her exiled son as heir, rather than choosing a member of her own family, thus ensuring the continuation of the Tang dynasty. In 705, senior officials conspired to compel the aging Wu to yield power to her son. She accepted their demands and retired from the throne, dying in December of that year. Despite decades of condemnation as a vicious usurper, the achievements of Empress Wu Zetian, who defied the gender conventions of her day, are increasingly being acknowledged.

Ancient Chinese knotted dragon pendant in jade, dated towards the end of the Warring States period in the 3rd century BCE. More specifically, the pendant dates to the Eastern Zhou dynasty, which lasted until 249 BCE. The pendant is currently located in the Met.

Sexism in Bronze Age China left signs of malnourishment etched on women's skeletons

Upheaval in farming methods in the Bronze Age Eastern Zhou Dynasty meant that life took a major turn for the worse for women’s social status and health, a new study has find. Neolithic China during the Yangshao period (5000-2900 BCE) wasn’t such a bad time for women, at least compared with men.

In agricultural communities along the Yellow River, women could eat the same amounts of animal products and were, roughly speaking, equally well-nourished.

But by the time of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (771-221 BCE), all that had changed. Women had less access to valuable high-protein animal products, and their skeletons have revealed marked stress and increasing height disparities with men, reflecting malnourishment, according to a paper published in the journal PNAS. Read more.

An empress by any other name

Empress Cixi was originally Concubine Yi. When she and the dowager empress Zhen successfully staged a coup to overthrow the regents of the 5-year-old Emperor Tongzhi (Concubine Yi’s son), both women took new names to mark the event. The Dowager Empress Zhen became “Ci'an” meaning “kindly and serene.” Concubine Yi became “Cixi” meaning “kindly and joyous.” This would remain her name until her death, forty-seven year later.