Wu Zetian (c.625–705) was a Chinese sovereign, who ruled officially under the name of her self-proclaimed ‘Zhou Dynasty’, from 690 to 705; however, she had previous imperial positions under both Emperor Taizong and his son Emperor Gaozong of the Tang Dynasty. Wu was a concubine of Emperor Taizong and after his death she married his successor and ninth son, Emperor Gaozong, officially becoming Gaozong’s furen or first consort in 655, although having considerable political power previous to this. After Gaozong was debilitated by a stroke in 660, Wu Zetian ruled as effective sovereign until 705.
Wu Zetian’s period of political and military leadership was important to Chinese history and included a major expansion of the Chinese empire, extending it far beyond its previous territorial limits, deep into Central Asia, and completing the conquest of Korea. Within China, she reformed the civil service entry exams and allowed commoners and gentry to enter them.
She was also very effective in holding on to and extending her power Wu Zetian; winning miltary support through both success in campaigns and through the establishment of self-supporting soldier-farmer colonies; widening her potential pool of supporters through her civil service reforms; manipulating Buddhist, Daoist, and Confucianist practice; ensuring fair land allocations for self-sufficient farmers; and, of course, using an effective network of informants and conducting ruthless purges.
She was successful in handing on the imperial power and one of her grandsons became the famous emperor Xuanzong, who ruled over the golden age of the Tang dynasty.
Whatever the extent of the longterm consequences of her reign, she is mostly famous for being the sole female supreme empress regnant, claiming the title of Huangdi, of a unified Chinese empire. Unsurprisingly she has been the subject of many movies and TV series.