How did Wu Zetian Take Power

how did wu zetian take power

Wu Zetian, also known as Empress Wu or Wu Zhao, was a remarkable figure in Chinese history who defied social norms and became the only female ruler in the history of imperial China. Her ascent to power was an extraordinary feat, marked by cunning political maneuvering, strategic alliances, and unparalleled ambition. This article will delve into the events and factors that enabled Wu Zetian to seize control and establish herself as the ruler of the Tang Dynasty, leaving an indelible mark on Chinese history.

Early Life and Entrance into the Imperial Court:

Wu Zetian was born in 624 in the Tang Dynasty and entered the imperial court at an early age as a concubine of Emperor Taizong. Her intelligence, beauty, and political acumen quickly caught the emperor’s attention, leading to her rise within the ranks of the imperial harem.

Marriage to Emperor Gaozong:

After Emperor Taizong’s death, Wu Zetian was married to his successor, Emperor Gaozong. Through her marriage, she secured a prominent position within the imperial family and gained influence over court affairs. She used her wit and charm to manipulate the emperor, gradually consolidating her power.

Consolidation of Power:

Wu Zetian faced significant opposition from the Confucian elite, who disapproved of a woman holding political power. However, she skillfully navigated these challenges by employing a series of strategic moves. She cultivated relationships with influential court officials, formed alliances with powerful clans, and eliminated potential rivals through calculated acts.

Political Machinations and the Removal of Rivals:

One of Wu Zetian’s notable tactics was the use of patronage to win the loyalty of officials and military commanders. She rewarded those who supported her and mercilessly punished those who opposed her. She skillfully played factions against each other, ensuring her own safety and authority.

Accusation of Witchcraft and Conspiracy:

Wu Zetian’s path to power was not without obstacles. In 675, she was accused of witchcraft and plotting to overthrow Emperor Gaozong. However, she cleverly defended herself and successfully turned the accusations back on her accusers, further strengthening her position within the court.

Regency and the Ruling Power:

After Emperor Gaozong’s death, Wu Zetian maneuvered her way into a regency position, ruling on behalf of her young sons. Gradually, she marginalized her sons’ power, assuming control of the government and ultimately declaring herself the ruler of the Zhou Dynasty, effectively ending the Tang Dynasty.

Reign as Empress Regnant:

As the first and only female ruler of China, Wu Zetian instituted a series of reforms aimed at consolidating her authority and enhancing the centralization of power. She promoted talented officials based on merit, implemented agrarian reforms, and encouraged education and literacy.

Legacy and Historical Evaluation:

Wu Zetian’s reign was marked by both admiration and controversy. While some viewed her as a ruthless usurper, others recognized her as a skilled administrator who brought stability and prosperity to the empire. Her rule also challenged gender norms, leaving a lasting impact on Chinese society and inspiring future generations of powerful women.


Wu Zetian’s ascent to power in the Tang Dynasty was a testament to her intelligence, political acumen, and determination. Through a series of calculated moves and alliances, she defied societal expectations and became the only female ruler in Chinese history. Her legacy as an influential figure in Chinese history endures, shaping perceptions of power, gender, and leadership.

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