Emperor Wu Zhao and Her Pantheon of Devis, Divinities, and Dynastic Mothers

Hardcover | June 16, 2015

byN. Henry Rothschild

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Wu Zhao (624-705), better known as Wu Zetian or Empress Wu, is the only woman to have ruled China as emperor over the course of its 5,000-year history. How did she-in a predominantly patriarchal and androcentric society-ascend the dragon throne? Exploring a mystery that has confounded scholars for centuries, this multifaceted history suggests that China's rich pantheon of female divinities and eminent women played an integral part in the construction of Wu Zhao's sovereignty.

Wu Zhao deftly deployed language, symbol, and ideology to harness the cultural resonance, maternal force, divine energy, and historical weight of Buddhist devis, Confucian exemplars, Daoist immortals, and mythic goddesses, establishing legitimacy within and beyond the confines of Confucian ideology. Tapping into powerful subterranean reservoirs of female power, Wu Zhao built a pantheon of female divinities carefully calibrated to meet her needs at court. Her pageant was promoted in scripted rhetoric, reinforced through poetry, celebrated in theatrical productions, and inscribed on steles.

Rendered with deft political acumen and aesthetic flair, these affiliations significantly enhanced Wu Zhao's authority and cast her as the human vessel through which the pantheon's divine energy flowed. Her strategy is a model of political brilliance and proof that medieval Chinese women enjoyed a more complex social status than previously known.

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From the Publisher

Wu Zhao (624-705), better known as Wu Zetian or Empress Wu, is the only woman to have ruled China as emperor over the course of its 5,000-year history. How did she-in a predominantly patriarchal and androcentric society-ascend the dragon throne? Exploring a mystery that has confounded scholars for centuries, this multifaceted history ...

N. Harry Rothschild is professor of Asian history at the University of North Florida. He specializes in Tang history and the study of women and gender in China and East Asia. He is also the author of Wu Zhao, China's Only Female Emperor.
Format:HardcoverDimensions:384 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.98 inPublished:June 16, 2015Publisher:Columbia University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0231169388

ISBN - 13:9780231169387

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Table of Contents

List of IllustrationsDynasties and Rulers Through the Mid-Tang Wu Zhao's Titles at Different Stages of Her CareerReign Eras from 655 to 705AcknowledgmentsIntroduction: Wu Zhao and Her Pantheon of Female Political AncestorsI. Goddesses of Antiquity1. Wu Zhao as the Late Seventh-Century Avatar of Primordial Goddess Nüwa2. Sanctifying Luoyang: The Luo River Goddess and Wu Zhao3. First Ladies of Sericulture: Wu Zhao and LeizuII. Dynastic Mothers, Exemplary Mothers4. The Mother of Qi and Wu Zhao: Connecting to Antiquity, Elevating Mount Song5. Ur-Mothers Birthing the Zhou Line: Jiang Yuan and Wu Zhao6. Wenmu and Wu Zhao: Two Mothers of Zhou7. Four Exemplary Women in Wu Zhao's Regulations for MinistersIII. Drawing the Numinous Energies of Female Daoist Divinities8. The Queen Mother of the West and Wu Zhao9. The Mother of Laozi and Wu Zhao: From One Grand Dowager to Another10. Rejected from the Pantheon: The Ill-Timed Rise of the Cult of Wei HuacunIV. Buddhist Devis and Goddesses11. Dharma Echoes of Mother Maya in Wu Zhao12. Bodhisattva with a Female Body: Wu Zhao and Devi JingguangConclusionsAppendix: Wu Zhao's Pantheon of Female Political AncestorsGlossary of Chinese Places, Names, and TermsNotesBibliographyIndex

Editorial Reviews

[An] informative and entertaining excursion into the religio-political machinations of perhaps the most (in)famous woman in Chinese history.