How Many Chinese Empresses Were There? Exploring the Empresses of China’s History

Throughout China's rich and illustrious history, a remarkable and often overlooked aspect is the significant role that empresses played in shaping the dynasties that ruled the vast empire. With over 120 empresses spanning numerous dynasties, their influence can’t be understated. From the legendary Empress Wu Zetian of the Tang Dynasty to the powerful Empress Dowager Cixi of the Qing Dynasty, each empress brought her own unique contributions, be it through political maneuvering, cultural patronage, or military prowess. By exploring the enigmatic lives and legacies of these remarkable women, we can gain a deeper understanding of the complex dynamics and power structures that existed within the imperial courts of ancient China. Join us on a journey to unravel the mysteries of how many Chinese empresses there truly were and delve into the captivating narratives that define their place in history.

How Many Empresses Were in China?

Throughout Chinese history, there have been an impressive number of empresses who’ve left an indelible mark on the countrys rich tapestry. From the legendary Xia dynasty to the last Qing dynasty, over 120 empresses have graced the imperial courts. These remarkable women, often considered symbols of power and influence, have played a vital role in shaping the course of Chinese history.

Starting with the Xia dynasty, one of the earliest recorded dynasties, there were a handful of notable empresses who left an enduring legacy. However, due to the scarcity of historical records from this period, it’s challenging to obtain detailed information on these early empresses. As we move forward into more well-documented dynasties, such as the Han and Tang dynasties, we witness an increasing number of empresses rising to power.

During the Han dynasty, for instance, Empress Dowager Lü Zhi, commonly known as Empress Lü, wielded tremendous influence and ruled alongside multiple emperors. Similarly, in the Tang dynasty, Empress Wu Zetian stands out as one of the most prominent figures in Chinese history. Known for her political astuteness and strength, Empress Wu eventually became the only woman in Chinese history to hold the title of emperor. Her reign marked a period of significant advancements and achievements.

Moving forward, the Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties all witnessed a notable number of empresses who ascended to the throne or played influential roles behind the imperial power. These empresses, such as Empress Liu E of the Song dynasty, Empress Dowager Xiaozhuang of the Qing dynasty, and many others, left a lasting impact on Chinese history through their political maneuverings, patronage of the arts, and contributions to governance.

As fascinating as the lives of these empresses were, it’s important to note that their roles varied in terms of actual power and authority. While some empresses held significant political influence, others were merely wives of emperors and bore the title in name only. Empress Wu Zetians exceptional reign as emperor, for instance, stands as an outlier in a predominantly male-dominated history.

Who was the most powerful woman in Chinese history? Empress Wu Zetian, also known as Wu Zhao or Wu Hou, holds that distinction. Born in 624 AD, Empress Wu rose to power and became the only officially recognized female ruler of China in over two millennia. Her reign, which lasted from 690 to 705 AD, marked a significant period in Chinese history and left a lasting impact on both the political and cultural aspects of the empire.

Who Was the Most Powerful Woman in Chinese History?

Who was the most powerful woman in Chinese history? Empress Wu Zetian 武则天 (624-705AD) is undoubtedly a figure that stands out. Empress Wu was the only officially recognized female ruler of China in more than two millennia. Born into a noble family, she rose to prominence through her intelligence and cunning. She became the concubine of Emperor Taizong and eventually seized power, becoming the ruling empress herself.

During her reign, Empress Wu implemented various reforms that had a lasting impact on Chinese society. She expanded the bureaucracy, strengthened the military, and promoted economic development. Empress Wus rule was characterized by a centralized and efficient government system, which allowed her to consolidate her power and control over the vast empire.

Notably, Empress Wu was known for her ruthlessness and willingness to eliminate anyone who posed a threat to her reign. She used her intelligence and manipulation skills to maintain control, often resorting to political intrigue and even murder to eliminate her enemies.

Empress Wus reign was marked by both prosperity and controversy. While she brought about significant advancements in various fields, including education, literature, and art, her rule was not without criticism. Many historical accounts portray her as a tyrant who suppressed dissent and ruled through fear. However, others argue that her accomplishments far outweigh any negative aspects of her reign.

Ultimately, Empress Wu Zetian remains a fascinating and controversial figure in Chinese history. Her rise to power and dominance as the only female ruler in ancient China continues to captivate historians and provide insight into the complexities of gender and power dynamics in Chinese society.

The Early Life and Upbringing of Empress Wu Zetian

  • Empress Wu Zetian was born in 624 AD during the Tang Dynasty in China.
  • Her birth name was Wu Mei, and she was born into a noble family.
  • As a young girl, Wu received an education in literature, music, and the arts.
  • She was known for her intelligence and beauty, which caught the attention of Emperor Taizong.
  • At the age of 14, Wu became a concubine to Emperor Taizong and was given the title of Zhaoyi, meaning “the one who brings brightness.”
  • During her time as a concubine, Wu gained the emperor’s favor and eventually became his favorite.
  • After Emperor Taizong’s death, Wu was sent to a Buddhist temple to become a nun, as was traditional for imperial concubines.
  • However, she quickly gained the attention of his son, Emperor Gaozong, and was brought back to the palace.
  • Wu Zetian used her influence as the emperor’s favorite to gain political power.
  • She started by introducing reforms and becoming involved in state affairs, eventually taking the title of Empress in 655 AD.
  • Empress Wu Zetian was the only female emperor in the history of China.
  • Her reign was marked by both accomplishments and controversies.
  • She implemented various political and social reforms, such as a merit-based system for government officials.
  • Wu Zetian was also known for her support of Buddhism and the arts.
  • However, her rule was also characterized by ruthless tactics, including purges and the elimination of political rivals.
  • After ruling for over 15 years, Wu Zetian abdicated the throne in 705 AD and passed away in 710 AD at the age of 81.

Source: Those Famous Women in Chinese History

Empress Dowager Cixi, born Yehe Nara Xingzhen, was a powerful figure who held immense control over the Chinese government during the late Qing dynasty. Her reign spanned almost five decades and she played a significant role in shaping the court and policies of China’s last imperial dynasty.

Who Was the Most Powerful Empress in China?

Empress Dowager Cixi was arguably the most powerful empress in Chinese history. Born in 1835, she belonged to the distinguished Yehe Nara clan and rose to power as a concubine and later regent. From 1861 until her death in 1908, she effectively controlled the Chinese government and held sway over the court and policies of Chinas last imperial dynasty, the Qing.

During her lengthy rule, Empress Dowager Cixi enacted numerous reforms and modernization efforts, particularly in areas such as education, industry, and military. She aimed to strengthen China and maintain it’s position as a world power. Cixis influence extended not only within the walls of the Forbidden City but also to the diplomatic realm, where she often made critical decisions regarding foreign affairs.

Cixis legacy, however, remains controversial. While she’s credited with implementing essential reforms and preserving the Qing Dynasty for several decades, some view her as a symbol of corruption and stagnation. Her personal extravagance and lavish lifestyle have been criticized, particularly in the midst of widespread poverty and social unrest.

Her reign left a lasting impact on the country, shaping it’s destiny during a pivotal period of modernization and change.

The Political Climate in China During Empress Dowager Cixi’s Reign

  • Empress Dowager Cixi’s reign in China witnessed significant political changes.
  • She effectively controlled the country from behind the scenes, even after the emperor’s death.
  • During her reign, China faced numerous challenges and reforms.
  • Cixi’s rule saw the resistance against foreign imperialism and the Boxer Rebellion.
  • She supported modernization efforts and promoted education reforms.
  • Her policies focused on maintaining Qing dynasty’s power while adapting to new realities.
  • However, corruption and political instability remained persistent issues.
  • Empress Dowager Cixi’s reign came to an end with the Xinhai Revolution in 1911.

During her reign, Princess Wu admirably challenged the traditional norms of her time by maintaining male concubines, a practice rarely associated with women in power. Fostering an office dedicated to orchestrating their presence, she disrupted societal expectations and proved her determination to shape her own destiny. However, as age caught up with her, the rise of the Zhang brothers within her court would inevitably lead to a dark chapter marred by their abuse of authority and the immense suffering that ensued.

Which Chinese Princess Had Male Concubines?

One Chinese princess who was known for her unconventional practices when it came to her imperial concubines was Empress Wu. Throughout her reign, she maintained a group of young and handsome male imperial concubines, something quite unusual during that time. In fact, she even established an office solely dedicated to managing and organizing these male concubines.

As Empress Wu grew older and faced health issues, two of her favored male concubines, known as the Zhang brothers, progressively gained immense power and influence within the imperial court. Sadly, this newfound power led them to commit various unimaginable crimes. Their actions tainted the legacy of the male concubines at court, as they carried out their heinous acts under the Empresss patronage.

The existence of male concubines in the imperial court reflected a complex power dynamic often overlooked in discussions surrounding Chinese history.

By exploring the empresses of China and their unique relationships with their concubines, one can gain a more nuanced understanding of the intricacies of Chinese imperial politics and culture.

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After successfully plotting the downfall of Empress Wang, Wu Zetian seized the opportunity to ascend to the throne and became Empress. This strategic move marked the beginning of her remarkable rise to power in ancient China.

How Did Empress Wu Zetian Become Empress?

Empress Wu Zetians journey to becoming the empress of China was a complex and strategic one. Her path was paved with cunning manipulation and careful planning. The catalyst for her ascent to power was a tragedy that struck her family – the untimely death of her daughter. Seizing this opportunity, Wu hatched a devious plan against Empress Wang, a woman who’d failed to bear any sons for the emperor and was therefore not favored.

In her scheme, Wu concocted a story in which she accused Empress Wang of killing her own daughter out of jealousy. With her persuasive tactics, Wu successfully convinced the emperor of the truth behind her accusations. As a result, Empress Wang was swiftly and unexpectedly arrested, creating a power vacuum in the royal court.

Sensing the perfect moment to strike and eager to capitalize on her opponents downfall, Wu seized the opportunity to position herself as the rightful empress. The emperor, now convinced of her loyalty and righteousness, decided to promote Wu to the esteemed title of Empress. With this sudden turn of events, Wu Zetian had risen from the shadows to become the most powerful woman in all of China.

This significant promotion marked the beginning of Wus reign as the empress of the Tang Dynasty. From this position of power, she’d go on to exercise her authority and influence over the empire for decades to come. Wus rise to empress was not only a testament to her strategic prowess but also a reflection of the political landscape of the time, where power was often gained through cunning, manipulation, and the exploitation of personal tragedies.

While she may have found success through questionable means, her reign left a lasting impact on the history of China. Through her political acumen and determination, she transformed herself from a grieving mother into a formidable empress, solidifying her place in the annals of Chinas imperial legacy.

Wu Zetian’s Reign as Empress: What Were Her Accomplishments and Lasting Impacts?

  • Established herself as the first and only female emperor in Chinese history
  • Implemented political and administrative reforms to improve governance
  • Promoted Buddhism and built many temples and monasteries
  • Expanded China’s territory through military campaigns
  • Established a centralized system of government
  • Improved the status of women in society
  • Commissioned numerous cultural and literary works
  • Enhanced the position of the imperial family
  • Strengthened trade and diplomatic relations with neighboring countries


In the vast tapestry of Chinese history, the prominence and influence of powerful women can’t be understated. From the legendary Empress Wu Zetian to the enigmatic Empress Cixi, the dynasties of China have witnessed the rise and fall of over 120 empresses. Each dynasty had it’s own unique set of rules and customs, shaping the roles and responsibilities of these remarkable women. These empresses navigated through political intrigue, balanced familial obligations, and left indelible imprints on the course of Chinese history. From their early days of relative obscurity to reigning as the pinnacle of power, these empresses stood as symbols of strength, intelligence, and resilience. Through their triumphs and tribulations, they defied societal norms and shattered glass ceilings, leaving behind a legacy that continues to inspire and captivate. The story of the Chinese empresses transcends time, revealing the complexities and nuances of a society defined by tradition, ambition, and the pursuit of power.

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