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Lady Fu Hao was a queen, general and high priestess of the Shang dynasty in Eastern China during the 13th Century BCE.

Fu Hao first became known when she married the Shang king, Wu Ding, and became one of his 60 wives. Fu Hao took advantage of the semi-matriarchal slave society to ascend through the ranks of the royal household, gain a leading position in the Shang army and become Wu Ding’s most favoured wife.

As a warrior Fu Hao gained notoriety for her efforts against the Tu-Fang, who despite having been fierce rivals of the Shang for generations were completely defeated by Fu Hao in a single decisive battle. She went on to become the Shang’s most powerful military leader commanding a force of 13,000 soldiers with several other generals in service to her. She led successive military campaigns against the neighboring kingdoms of the Yi, Qiang and Ba. The last of these involved her leading the earliest recorded ambush in Chinese history.

Like other war chiefs Fu Hao was granted a fiefdom of land from the territories she conquered, from which she derived her own income. She was also an active politician and spiritual leader, acting as an adviser to the king and performing religious rituals as a high priestess. These were unusual roles for a woman at the time and reflected the faith that Wu Ding placed in her.

Following Fu Hao’s death the Shang’s military dominance weakened under attacks by the Gong, causing Wu Ding to make repeated sacrifices and prayers to Fu Hao’s spirit to defend them against invasion. Over the centuries Fu Hao’s accomplishments descended into myth and many historians did not believe that she had really existed until her tomb was uncovered at Yinxu in 1976. The tomb contained detailed records of her life on oracle bone, as well as an arsenal of weapons including battle-axes bearing her personal inscription.

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The Natural History of Dragons

With their enormous size, reptilian shape and threatening teeth and claws, some dragons might easily be taken for cousins of Tyrannosaurus rex. Living dinosaurs did not inspire the dragon idea–they died out long before people were around to observe them. But the fossil remains of extinct animals have sometimes been taken for dragon bones–and helped perpetuate old dragon stories.

  • Long before the development of paleontology, people unearthed fossilized bones in Asia and Europe–and believed they had found the remains of dragons from an earlier age.
  • In traditional Chinese medicine, longgu, or “dragon bones,” are prescribed as a treatment for numerous ailments, from madness to diarrhea and dysentery. Most fragments and powders sold in Chinese pharmacies as dragon bone come from fossil remains of extinct mammals, unearthed from China’s renowned fossil beds.
  • The skull of a woolly rhinoceros (Coelodonta antiquitatis) was once kept in the town hall of Klagenfurt, Austria. It was said to be the remains of a dragon slain before the city was founded around AD 1250.

Learn more about the history of dragons around the world