Introducing Wu Zetian, first and only female Emperor of China — seen here poisoning her infant daughter.
Now, that’s actually a bit of a historical inaccuracy: the generally-accepted truth was that she *strangled* her young daughter, to frame the old queen and get her out of the way. It worked — both the old queen and the old queen’s mother were executed, and haunted her from that point forward. I thought they’d make good comic relief characters in the movie adaptation.
From there, she ascended to be Emperor Gaozong’s predominant consort, and set about eradicating all other claimants to the throne. Early on, her method of choice was a slow-acting poison made from silkworms. As time went on and her influence grew, however, she took to engineering treason charges for her opponents, summoning them to the throne room and making them kill themselves in front of her.
That’s some cold shit.
Once the emperor died, her oldest son ascended to the throne, and proceeded to ignore her. She didn’t take kindly to this, and had him drubbed out of office, and later forced to commit suicide. In his place, she installed her youngest son, whom she basically locked in his room, so she could rule in his stead. Before long, she dropped all pretense of being the queen regent, and formally declared herself the official emperor of China.
Her reign saw the complete rearrangement of dynastic succession, as she systematically wiped out any and all claimants to the throne. In one year alone, she destroyed fifteen family lines, mostly through executions and enforced suicides.
How did she drum up her accusations of treason, you ask? By putting, essentially, anonymous comment boxes sprinkled throughout the palace. When someone pissed her off, she’d have her servant write a tattle-tail letter and place it in a comment box. Within days, they’d be put to the sword — usually their own. This is almost undoubtedly the most hardcore use of an anonymous comment box in history.
She also had an enormous network of spies and a secret police, who further kept any rivals at bay.
If you really got on her bad side, she would enact the “human pig” torture — wherein your arms and legs were cut off, your tongue was removed, and you were force-fed and left to wallow in your own excrement.
Empress Wu did not fuck around.
For people outside of political circles, her reign was peaceful and prosperous. She left the general population be, and opened up the civil examinations to a wider range of people, making for more diversity in the local and regional governments. As long as you didn’t cross her, she was pretty cool.
She never remarried, although she did end up banging a Buddhist monk for a lot of her life, and took two younger fellas as lovers late in life. Hardcore lady.
- The throne room is based off of ones in the Forbidden City, although it’s a bit of a melange of several different rooms.
- Her outfit, as well as that of Emperor Gaozong, are simplified, but fairly accurate.
- The two queen ghosts hovering around her head are also based off of historical representations.
- The baby bottle she has in her hand is also based off of the oldest Chinese baby bottle reference I could find.
- The characters on the baby bottle spell “gold silkworm,” a reference to the type of poison she likely used — a slow-acting poison made from the bodies of silkworms.