The Reign of China’s Only Female Emperor from the View of An Unofficial History - Armstrong Undergraduate Journal of History


The Karmic Retribution of Pei Huaigu:


The Reign of China’s Only Female Emperor from the View of An Unofficial History



University of North Florida



Portrait of Wu Zhao
by unknown painter ca.15th cen.
Some years after principled Censor Pei Huaigu cleared high-minded Buddhist monk, Jingman, of slanderous accusations from fellow Buddhist monks of Deer Spring Temple (Lu quan si), a dream apparition of Jingman repaid the favor by guiding Pei from mortal peril to safety. This singularly curious account from Liu Su’s (fl. 806–820) New Writings of the Great Tang (Da Tang xinyu) may on first glance seem to be just one of many idiosyncratic incidents purported to have taken place under the reign of China’s only female emperor, Wu Zhao (r. 690–705).[1] On closer examination, however, the peculiar footnote proves to be a significant and revealing account that reflects important political, religious, and cultural undercurrents that reverberated through both Wu Zhao’s reign and the wider cultural period of the Tang (618–907). While the incident is preserved in both official and unofficial historical records, the unconventional, privately written rendition by middle Tang scholar, Liu Su, provides a more enriching and inclusive understanding alongside officially commissioned contemporaries. Liu’s unsanctioned version in the New Writings of the Great Tangaccentuates an extreme preoccupation with symbolism during Wu Zhao’s reign, the effects of her peculiar complaint system, the dual importance of Confucian and Buddhist philosophies in Tang society, and the continuing tenuous foreign relations with China’s nomadic neighbors.


Liu Su’s Rendition of Censor Pei and Buddhist Monk Jingman’s Story


During Wu Zhao’s reign, jealous monks at Deer Spring Temple drew a painting of Jingman pulling taut a bow to shoot a woman in a high tower. They presented the incriminating evidence before the imperial gates, and quickly brought the painting to Wu Zhao’s attention. Enraged, she ordered Censor Pei to investigate and ultimately sentence the monk to death.  Pei was a man of principle, however, and he released the monk after a thorough investigation. Wu Zhao upbraided Pei for his leniency, her anger stoked by Li Zhaode, a minister who whined of Pei’s unreliability.  Pei upheld his ruling and delivered a poignant, remonstrative speech that reminded Wu Zhao of her responsibility to maintain a just law. His appeal consequently swayed Wu Zhao, and she released Jingman of the charges brought against him. 


The upright censor later accompanied a courtier, Yan Zhiwei, in arranging a peace-making marriage with the Tujue Turks. The Turkish Khan, Mochuo, persuaded Yan to help invade the Chinese cities of Zhaozhou and Dingzhou by tempting him with the title of Khan of the Southland (nanmian ke han). Pei, who escaped during the chaos of the invasion, pleaded to Heaven (tian yi) for safe deliverance. When all seemed hopeless, the Buddhist monk Jingman appeared to the censor in a dream and pointed the way to safety. “People of the time,” Liu eloquently concludes, “regarded Huaigu’s deliverance as just recompense for his magnanimity as an official.”[2]


The Advantage of Liu Su’s Unofficial Account


While the Old History of the Tang Tang (Jiu Tang shu), the New History of the Tang (Xin Tang shu), and the Comprehensive Mirror in Aid of Governance (Zizhi Tongjian) contain similar descriptions of Pei’s involvement with Jingman and the Turks, these formal writings lack Liu Su’s mention of Jingman’s divine intervention on Pei’s behalf.[3] Such disparity in the records is due to the greater degree of authorial freedom private Tang scholars like Liu enjoyed in comparison to writers of officially commissioned dynastic histories. With the reorganization of the Bureau of Historiography in 629, authorship of official dynastic histories, also known as Standard Histories, shifted from private scholars to court historians. Under a progressively more standardized historiographical process, the dynastic histories became the cumulative product of compilation and editing by committees of official court historians.[4] These historians, as Confucian literati, were expected to write in a morally didactic style, assigning “praise and blame” (baobian) based on Confucian moral standards.  Deviations from accepted tenets were systematically excised through the exhaustive editing process.[5] The private scholar, in comparison, was considerably less fettered.


Dissimilar to the corporate and bureaucratic constraints faced by those compiling the official histories, Liu was not compelled by the court to “maintain the continuity of historical records,” nor was his work exposed to a vigorous review process that enforced adherence to “Confucian standards of scholarship or moral attainment.”[6]  Instead, Liu selectively documented events and people in an anecdotal compilation he thought best conveyed necessary moral-political principles. Staunch Confucian scholars considered this “informal narrative” (xiaoshuo)to be a lesser endeavor (xiaodao) to those that unfailingly followed the canonical classics.


Yet Liu’s unsanctioned collection of jottings allow for a much deeper analysis of Tang society and, in particular, of Wu Zhao’s reign, precisely because it is a private work written closer in spirit to the goings-on of everyday society. Liu’s original authorial voice is better preserved because his work escaped the “editorial intrusion” so characteristic of Tang official histories.[7]  This is especially the case due to his greater proximity to Wu Zhao’s era of rule. The New Writings of the Great Tang was compiled approximately 140 years closer to the incident involving Pei and Jingman than the most immediate Standard History, the Old History of the Tang (c. 945). The greater propinquity of Liu’s rendition to the event, coupled with its attention to sentiments outside Confucian orthodoxy, creates an enriching supplement to the official dynastic histories.


The Religious and Cultural Environment of the Early Tang


Although Liu’s New Writings of the Great Tang (c. 807) was compiled a little more than a century after the incident involving Pei and Jingman, its content still characterizes the Tang’s religiously plural and multicultural environment.[8] This Tang cultural stage upon which Pei and Jingman’s story plays out was indeed unique in Chinese history. The early Tang’s considerably open and unrestrained atmosphere encouraged a fusion of local deities and superstitions with components of indigenous Daoism, Confucianism, and foreign Buddhism. Bustling commercialism attracted merchants from India, Central Asia, and the Western Islamic regions, who brought with them elements of their own cultures in addition to caravans filled with exotic wares for trade.[9]


Possibly most relevant to Pei and Jingman, however, was the role Central Asia’s nomadic peoples played in liberating Tang women. Tang society became less constrained by Confucian standards of decorum as Central Asian (regarded as barbarian or Hu)influences diluted Chinese (Han)culture, and there are many tales of independent wives not content to hide in the inner sphere.[10]  These cultural dynamics cultivated an environment ripe for the blossoming of China’s only female emperor. Wu Zhao advanced through the imperial harem’s ranks from a minor concubine under Emperor Taizong (r. 626–649) to Empress Wu under Emperor Gaozong (r. 649–683).  She ultimately seized the throne outright in 690, establishing her own Zhoudynasty.[11] It is during Wu Zhao’s Zhou, between the years 694 and 698, that Censor Pei carved his name into the histories with the sharp edge of his perspicacious actions.[12]


An Incriminating Painting and Wu Zhao’s Hypersensitivity to Symbolism


The extent to which Wu Zhao reacts to the Buddhist monks’ painting of Jingman clearly depicts her politically precarious situation. As a woman sitting on the throne in an adamantly patriarchal society, Wu Zhao had numerous enemies among the formidable court officials and influential families who opposed her rule. She was thus justifiably obsessed with consolidating her position on the throne.  With even more purposeful creativity than her male predecessors, Wu Zhao harnessed symbols and auspiciously interpreted portents as calculated political tools to secure her position and validate her dynasty. Timely placement of a propitious omen served to both reiterate Heaven’s divine approval of her position and solidify her power.[13] Wu Zhao’s reign eras (nian hao) are most exemplary of this use of symbolism. The occurrences of favorable omens, such as a unicorn’s hoof print or the appearance of a phoenix, were opportunities to inaugurate a new stage in her rule. These reign eras, which served as springboards for her political platforms, promulgated the salubrious state of her empire through her physical health and appearance.[14]


Mausoleum of Wu Zhao in Xi'an. Source: Zhaoling Museum

While symbolism was used to justify a ruler’s validity, there also lurked the possibility that political adversaries could pervert this very system to undermine a ruler’s position. This was especially true within the first and last few years of a dynasty, when power was still unsolidified or control began to unravel. Wu Zhao’s reaction to the painting of Jingman is thus far from baseless, especially in its possibility to be interpreted as an attack against her body politic. Past experiences with treasonous subjects made her hypersensitive to this fact, and she remained attuned to such symbols in case they represented a political warning. For example, a letter written by a Tang prince in 688 likened Wu Zhao to a cancer that would certainly cause his death if not removed by winter (the proposed date of her inauguration ceremony at the time).[15]  Clearly, the body politic was a widely used metaphor not exclusive to Wu Zhao’s propaganda purposes. Within this context, the painting may have seemed a blatantly treasonous perversion of Wu Zhao’s body-state themed political justifications. If the woman in the high tower is construed as Wu Zhao, Jingman is in extension shooting a seditious arrow into the heart of the Zhou itself.[16]


Yet the woman in the high tower may have been a much more deliberate representation of Wu Zhao. While earlier Chinese art depicted women as static and impassive characters, the early Tang’s multicultural interactions, especially in the kindling of feminine independence, inspired figures that were “clearly distinguished from one another” and were physically responsive to their surroundings.[17] Compared to artists of earlier eras, Tang sculptors and painters improved in their ability to render women with such individual characteristics as differentiated facial features, body shapes, and gestures.[18] Perhaps the Buddhist monks exploited artistic trends of the period by having Jingman aim an arrow at a woman undeniably Wu Zhao in feature and expression, thus devising a stronger sense of personal attack and slandering him to an irreparable degree.


Moreover, the unfortunate monk’s very name may have exacerbated Wu Zhao’s sensitivity to the extent that she called for his prompt execution. Jingman is a Chinese transliteration of Vairocana (Piluzhena), an incarnation of the Celestial Buddha with whom Wu Zhao attempted to politically associate herself roughly twenty years previously.[19]  In the 670s, Wu Zhao helped fund the construction of Fengxian Temple in the Longmen Buddhist caves by donating 20,000 strings of her cosmetics allowance. Many speculate the fifty-foot statue of Vairocana that overlooks Yi River Valley from this site was carved in her image.[20]  By Wu Zhao’s time, Buddhism was well entrenched in Chinese society and enjoyed an immense following.  Due to its universality and its openness to female sovereignty, it proved to be a powerful means of political legitimization. 


Wu Zhao thus styled herself as an avid Buddhist patron and the ideal Buddhist monarch throughout her rule by supporting projects like Fengxian Temple and weaving divine justification of her position into works like the Commentary on the Great Cloud Sutra (690).[21]  Similar to numerous Chinese and Japanese emperors, Wu Zhao associated herself with the Vairocana Buddha, as well as many others from the pantheon of Buddhist divinities, to profess her religious, and thus political, power.[22] In light of her carefully crafted image, she may have worried that rumor of a seditious monk bearing Vairocana’s name would throw doubt on her own associations with the Buddha. Scheming enemies might pounce on such an opportunity to rally behind the “true” Vairocana, or at least fashion Jingman as a petulant earthly manifestation of Buddhist deities’ displeasure with her rule. Wu Zhao was thus quick to silence the danger that was quite rapidly brought to her attention.


The Ease of Indictment during Wu Zhao’s Reign


Liu’s description of the monks’ effortless inculpation of Jingman at the gates of the imperial city highlights a second facet of Wu Zhao’s preoccupation with symbolism and her suspicion of enemies.  The promptness of which Wu Zhao was informed of the painting is a result of her unconventional complaint system in which subjects could appeal directly to the ruler. In the traditional Tang complaint structure, subjects with grievances were required to appeal up a hierarchy of local, regional, and central government officials.[23] In light of this traditional system, the monks’ painting may have never reached Wu Zhao, since an official within the hierarchy would have realized the groundlessness of their accusation before it reached the highest tier.


The "Uncharactered Stele" at Wu Zhao's Mausoleum;
Source: Zhaoling Museum

Wu Zhao’s system, on the other hand, removed the intermediary steps by establishing a direct link between the ruler and the people. As Grand Dowager and regent in 686, she had a petition box made, which originally contained four slots: “one for men to recommend themselves as officials; one where citizens might openly and anonymously criticize court decisions; one to report the supernatural, strange omens, and secret plots; and one to file accusations and grievances.”[24] While ostensibly for her great concern over the condition of her people, the box mainly served the purpose of obtaining information on seditious subjects. Wu Zhao had a strong desire to identify and extirpate enemies, and numerous people were framed on petty accusations and faced severe punishment.  For instance, three hundred kinsmen of the former imperial Tang house, banished during the 684 and 688 uprisings, were slain in 693 after a single claim that the exiles were inciting a rebellion. The petition box’s own designer was severed in two after an anonymous tip alleged his involvement in supplying weapons to Xu Jingye, the leader of the Yangzhou rebellion.[25] Jingman’s jealous contemporaries were certainly familiar with Wu Zhao’s reputation for swift and extreme action against these and hundreds of other ill-fated transgressors. Their indictment was thus employed with the confidence that both her hypersensitivity and the ease of her complaint system betokened certain demise for Jingman.  That is, if not for Censor Pei’s righteous intervention to safeguard treasured Confucian and Buddhist morals.




Liu Su’s Unofficial Blend of Confucian and Buddhist Resonances


Along with the insight offered to the political climate of Wu Zhao’s rule, Liu’s unofficial passage notably incorporates aspects of both Confucianism and Buddhism. While Liu remains true to his scholarly roots by weaving a strong Confucian message into the passage, he also integrates an unexpected Buddhist element absent from the court’s sanctioned renditions. With no requirements for dictation, his unofficial popular history more casually weaves together elements of the Tang’s rich religious atmosphere. This crucial Buddhist essence transforms what would have been merely a standard Confucian narrative into a work that more inclusively frames the story of Pei and Jingman in the pluralistic context of Tang society.


Despite the passage’s Buddhist resonance, Liu’s work retains political critique central to the standard Confucian narrative. The contrast between Censor Pei and Minister Li Zhaode illustrates the proper and improper adherence to the Confucian minister-ruler relationship.  In accordance with Confucian codes of conduct, the virtuous, honorable Pei respected Wu Zhao, but he also did not hesitate to remonstrate when he saw her fail to uphold Confucian principles.  Liu approved of such a reputable official who offered constructive criticism despite the danger it posed. As Pei remonstrated:“Your Majesty, your law should equally affect those both near and distant from you; it ought to be impartial, maintaining a uniformity for all.[26] How is it that you compel this humble minister to execute the innocent, just to uphold your imperial decree?  If Jingman’s character was truly disloyal, how could I have the face to return after exonerating him?  I have upheld the just law and have not given punishments wrongly or in excess.  Therefore, if I am to die, I shall do so without regret.”[27]On the other hand, Liu paints Li as a self-serving official who supported Wu Zhao’s decision despite its obvious irrationality. While in reality a much more complex character who opposed Wu Zhao in several instances, the Li of Liu’s account disregards her failure to follow Confucian ethics in the attempt to promote himself.[28] He acts as a catalyst to her anger, imploring, “Assessor Huaigu is negligent and unreliable.  I beg for your majesty to order a reassessment of this case.”[29] As Liu implies, Li was willing to use the life of an innocent monk to curry imperial favor.


Indeed, idealistic scholars did not solely desire fulfillment of this perfected ruler-minister relationship. Wu Zhao went to great lengths to encourage self-effacing, subservient officials and deter those seeking to ingratiate themselves at the expense of her effective governing. With the help of Liu Yizhi, she compiled a manual, Regulations for Ministers (Chengui), to promote unquestionable loyalty in her court.[30] She devoted an entire fascicle to the principle of absolute loyalty, praising officials willing to remonstrate for the good of the state, despite the dangers that may befall them.  Pei certainly exhibited Wu Zhao’s ideal ministerial behavior, as described in the manual: “When he sees that the ruler is in error, he rebukes the ruler and remonstrates. If the ruler does not utilize his remonstrance, then he uses his own death to carry on his righteous cause. Such behavior can be called the absolute of loyalty.”[31]Wu Zhao venerates ministers like Pei, comparing them to loyal scholars of antiquity who did not “praise the ruler to ingratiate himself…distort facts to make the ruler happy…” or “speciously delight the ruler’s mind just to get in the ruler’s good graces.” She warns that ministers who harbor personal, “petty interests” directly counter her authority, as they are unable to remain loyal to her while engrossed in the pursuit of self-elevation.[32]


Although the passage expresses ideas consistent with Confucian requirements for an ideal minister, Liudistinguishes his New Writings of the Great Tang from official dynastic histories by integrating a distinct Buddhist element into the passage. Jingman’s role in Pei’s deliverance to safety, absent in the official dynastic accounts, fashions a Buddhist lesson on karma (bao).  Karma is the concept that an individual is in an unceasing state of fluidity. As a culmination of all previous actions, each new exploit alters a person’s path in life.[33]  At the moment when all seems hopeless and Pei pleads to the heavens, a monk resembling Jingman reveals himself to Pei in a dream. Stretching out his arm, Jingman’s ghostly visage instructs, “Follow this path.”  Pei awakes and safely returns to report at Wu Zhao’s court.  Liu concludes that Jingman’s ethereal intervention in Pei’s fate was “just recompense” (bao) for the censor’s “magnanimity as an official.”[34]  This “just recompense” can be further interpreted as Buddhist karma.[35]  Within the context of this Buddhist notion, Pei’s benevolence as an official resulted in the dream that delivered him safely to his homeland.


The official versions, on the other hand, are less dramatic. Pei’s rescue is not the result of Buddhist reciprocity, but because a Chinese border patrol recognized Pei before he was killed.[36] Pei’s virtuous actions still result in his rescue, but it is from his earthly reputation as an official rather than his accrual of positive Buddhist karma.  Liu’s rendition, which resonates with both Confucianism and Buddhism, thus more accurately portrays the religious psyche of the populaceduring the Tang.


Wu Zhao’s Tenuous Foreign Relations with the Tujue Turks


Regardless of the method of his rescue, official and unofficial accounts alike include Pei’s involvement in facilitating a marital rapprochement (heqin) with the Turks.[37] For centuries, China’s rulers had been plagued by the encroachment of nomadic neighbors. Wu Zhao, too, struggled with foreign pressures. In 696, her Zhou empire faced concurrent threats from the Tibetans, Khitan, and Turks.[38] When these “barbarian groups” proved too strong for the Chinese dynasty to quell, Chinese rulers often adopted a policy of appeasement.  As the Tujue were a formidable opponent during Wu Zhao’s reign, she opted to follow strategies of placation common among her predecessors. 


As was customary, Wu Zhao first made the Turkish Khan, Mochuo, a general and bequeathed him with an auspicious, albeit meaningless, title in 697. She also agreed to move several thousand households of surrendered Turks back to the steppe and pay annual indemnities, or “economic gifts,” of Chinese silk, silver, farming tools, iron and grain. Unfortunately, these precautions failed to satisfy Mochuo, who volunteered to fight the Khitan for the Zhou dynasty only if awarded with a Li family Chinese prince for his daughter. Censor Pei and Courtier Yan Zhiwei were sent to fulfill this agreement by transporting the Chinese prince to the Turks as part of a marital alliance.[39] Mochuo soon discovered that Wu Zhao had sent her grandnephew, Wu Yanxiu of the Wu family, instead of a son of Li.[40] This breach of agreement gave him a perfect pretense upon which to attack Zhou territory.


The tenuous balance that Chinese rulers attempted to attain with their Hu neighbors is clearly depicted in Liu’s narrative. As the passage shows, traditional policies of appeasement did not always successfully pacify these powerful nomadic leaders. Nomadic groups would continue to embroil trouble on the periphery of the Chinese empire, demanding annual indemnities, princes, and princesses from Chinese rulers.  As most evident with the Khitan’s Liaodynasty (907–1125), the Jurchen’s Jindynasty (1115–1234), and the Mongol’s Yuan dynasty (1271–1368), these Hu groups at times seized portions of or conquered the entirety of the Chinese kingdom.  In retrospect, Wu Zhao remained relatively lucky, as the incursion was ultimately suppressed and the treacherous Yan Zhiwei was put to death by 698.[41]




While on the surface a simple anecdote of Confucian remonstrance and Buddhist recompense, Liu Su’s unofficial tale of Censor Pei and Buddhist monk Jingman paints a comprehensive picture of Tang society and Wu Zhao’s reign. The ease of Jingman’s inculpation poignantly underscores Wu Zhao’s preoccupation with symbolism and her elaborate attempts to debase possible threats. The dual-influence of Confucianism and Buddhism in Tang society is exhibited through Pei’s remonstrance and his reciprocal bond with Jingman. The extent of China’s turbulent relations with its Hu neighbors is exemplified in Wu Zhao’s failed attempts to placate Mochuo, despite her offerings of titles, indemnities, and a Chinese prince. It is evident that substantial insight may be gleaned from the pages of Liu’s work, despite its categorization as a xiaoshuo.  It serves as a lesson that even informal works deemed “petty” by classical scholars deserve their due recognition. Failure to recognize Liu’s account of Pei and Jingman results in a markedly less nuanced understanding of Wu Zhao’s unprecedented rule in China.



About the author

Kelly Carlton is a junior History major and Mandarin Chinese minor at the University of North Florida. Her study interest is medieval Chinese history, with a specific emphasis on the Tang dynasty (618–907).


Recommended citation

Kelly Carlton, “The Karmic Retribution of Pei Huaigu: The Reign of China’s Only Female Emperor from the View of An Unofficial History,” Armstrong Undergraduate Journal of History 3, no. 1 (Jan. 2013).





[1]Perhaps better known as Wu Zetian or Empress Wu (Wu hou) in the majority of secondary scholarship, I refer to Wu Zhao by her self-given name adopted in 689.  Along with the name Empress Wu, the posthumous title of Wu Zetian diminishes the extent to which Wu Zhao held power as a female emperor.  The use of Wu Zetian and Empress Wu allowed traditional scholars to subordinate her position to one of a mere empress dowager, a position more acceptable for a woman in power because she offered guidance “behind the screen” to a male emperor on the throne. The name Wu Zhao instead acknowledges the powerful position she held during her rule as emperor in her own right.  For more information on the self-stylized name, Wu Zhao, see N. Harry Rothschild’s Wu Zhao: China’s Only Woman Emperor (New York: Pearson Education, Inc., 2008), xv-xvi, 1–10.

[2]Liu Su??, Da Tang xinyu ????(Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1997), 4.58–59.

[3]For official accounts of Pei Huaigu, see Liu Xu’s Jiu Tang shu (Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju, 1992), 185.4807-4808; Ouyang Xiu’s Xin Tang shu (Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju, 1992), 197.5625–5626; and Sima Guang’s Zizhi Tongjian (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1995), 205.6494.

[4]Court histories underwent a series of stages of composition.  Historians from the Bureau of Historiography pulled from various official sources, including the Court Diary, Administrative Record, Daily Calendar, Veritable Records, and the National History.  At each stage, new material from the court and bureaucratic records was added, edited, and condensed with material from the previous stage.  For more information on the process of compiling official history, see Denis Twitchett’s The Writing of Official History Under the T’ang (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 12–20, 33–34. 

[5]Endymion Wilkinson, Chinese History: A Manual, rev. ed. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), 489–491, 501–506.

[6]Nanxiu Qian’s Spirit and Self in Medieval China: The Shih-shuo hsin-yü and Its Legacy (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2001), 1–3, 201–206.

[7]In the article, “Mothers and the Well-being of State in Tang China,” Josephine Chiu-Duke expounds upon this observation, arguing that theTaiping guangji compilation of anecdotes and stories provides a more inclusive understanding of Tang culture and society by portraying women unrepresented in official sources.  Anecdotes and unofficial works thus illuminate popular beliefs and customs that, because they may not have served state interests, were not included in official historical accounts.  The importance of such anecdotal works should also be applied to Liu Su’s account of Pei and Jingman in the New Writings of the Great Tang. Josephine Chiu-Duke, “Mothers and the Well-being of State in Tang China,” Nan Nü 8, no. 1 (2006): 77–79.

[8]Kang-I Sun Chang and Stephen Owen, eds., The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 1:346.

[9]Charles Benn, Daily Life in Traditional China: the Tang Dynasty (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002), 40–43, 53–58, 59–64.

[10]A traditional Chinese duality influenced by Confucian and Daoist concepts, the wainei relationship described the proper spheres for men and women.  Men inhabited the wai, or public outer sphere, with the responsibility of governing the state in adherence to appropriate ritual.  Moral, virtuous women confined themselves to the nei, or domestic inner sphere, and remained aloof from political affairs.  This practice was more strictly enforced in the later Song and Ming dynasties with the introduction of footbinding and government-sponsored steles commemorating chaste widows.  For more information on women and gender in China, see The Chalice and the Blade in Chinese Culture: Gender Relations and Social Models, ed. Min Jiayin and Gao Shiyu (Beijing: China Social Sciences Publication House, 1995), 290–293, 299–303.

[11]Rothschild, Wu Zhao: China’s Only Woman Emperor, 4.

[12]Although the exact date of Pei Huaigu’s encounter with Jingman is unknown, sources suggest that it took place during Wu Zhao’s Zhou dynasty, most likely between 694 and 698.  Liu Xu’s Jiu Tang shu and Ouyang Xiu’s Xin

Tang shuboth date Pei Huaigu’s promotion to Investigating Censor in the Protracted Longevity (Changshou) reign era (692–694) of Wu Zhao’s Zhou dynasty.  The Jiu Tang shu and Xin Tang shu also chronologically record Pei’s involvement in the marriage alliance with the Tujue Turks (698) as happening after the Jingman incident.  Sima Guang’s Zizhi Tongjian, on the other hand, states that Pei was already a censor during the Heaven Bestowed (Tianshou) reign era (690–691) that marked the establishment of Wu Zhao’s Zhou dynasty.  However, this same passage of the Zizhi Tongjian includes further information that Pei pacified southern barbarians on 28 June 694 (liu yue, guichou ??, ??), an event all three histories purported to have happened before Pei’s involvement with Jingman. Thus, it may be speculated that Pei’s encounter with Jingman occurred within a four-year window between June 694 and 698. Jiu Tang shu,185.4807–4808; Xin Tang shu, 197.5625–5626; Zizhi Tongjian, 205.6494.

[13]Rothschild, Wu Zhao: China’s Only Woman Emperor, 37–52.

[14]The Protracted Longevity (Changshou) reign era, enacted in 692, was most exemplary of this body-state parallel.  Evoking a Daoist sense of immortality and rejuvenation, the Protracted Longevity reign era commemorated her growth of new teeth as a reminder that she – and through her the state – remained vigorous and mighty.  For more information on Wu Zhao’s use of body politic, see N. Harry Rothschild’s “An Inquiry into Reign Era Changes under Wu Zhao, China’s Only Female Emperor,” Early Medieval China 12 (2006): 135–142.

[15]Rothschild, Wu Zhao: China’s Only Woman Emperor, 117. 

[16]Indeed, Jingman’s fellow monks present the painting as evidence of “plotting great sedition” and “depravity,” two offenses listed under the “Ten Abominations” (shi e) in Article 6 of the Tang Code. In the Jiu Tang shu, the monks accuse Jingman of “great sedition” and “depravity” (dani budao). The Xin Tang shu contains a similar charge of “hexing the ruler” with black magic and “depravity” (zhuzu budao), with zhuzu being a form of grand sedition.  Jiu Tang shu, 185.4807-4808; Xin Tang shu, 197.5625–5626. For more information on the “Ten Abominations,” see Wallace Johnson’s The T’ang Code (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979), 17. See also Geoffrey MacCormack’s Traditional Chinese Penal Law (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1990), 178–181.

[17]Patricia E. Karetzky, “The Representation of Women in Medieval China: Recent Archaeological Evidence,” T’ang Studies 17 (1999): 227–229.

[18]This advancement in artistry was quite rapid, as figures unearthed in tombs dated to Li Yuan’s (r. 618–626) reign were still fashioned with static, inflexible features known as the “iron-wire” style.  In comparison, a mural of two dancing girls in a tomb from the 660s, when Wu Zhao co-ruled with her husband, Li Zhi (r. 649–683), contrasts round-faced, broad-nosed features with an ovate face and tapered nose.  For more information on the representation of women in medieval art, see Patricia E. Karetzky’s “The Representation of Women in Medieval China: Recent Archaeological Evidence,” T’ang Studies 17 (1999): 227–230.

[19]Fo Guang Da Cidian (Beijing: Beijing Library Publishing, 2000), 7:6270.

[20]Rothschild, Wu Zhao: China’s Only Woman Emperor, 139–140. 

[21]Ibid., 140–150. See also Stanley Weinstein’s Buddhism Under the T’ang (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 37–47.

[22]Paul Williams, Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations (London: Routledge, 1989), 135–140.  For information on Wu Zhao’s use of art to associate herself with Buddhist deities, see also Patricia Karetzky’s “Wu Zetian and Buddhist Art of the Tang Dynasty,” T’ang Studies 20-21 (2002-03): 113–150.

[23]Qiang Fang, “Hot Potatoes: Chinese Complaint Systems from Early Times to the Late Qing (1898),”The Journal of Asian Studies 68, no. 4 (November 2009): 1111.

[24]Rothschild, Wu Zhao: China’s Only Woman Emperor, 126–127.

[25]Ibid., 125–131. 

[26]Although a speech adamantly professing Confucian principles, it is interesting to note that Liu’s choice of “uniformity for all” (zhi yi) possesses a Daoist essence of “seizing oneness” or “upholding the one.”  Liu Xu and Ouyang Xiu, however, preferred the more neutral term of hua yi in their respective works that avoids this Daoist reference. Perhaps Liu invokes a sense of Daoism in addition to Buddhism, further distinguishing his passage from court sanctioned historical works. Da Tang xinyu, 4.58-59; Jiu Tang shu, 185.4807-4808; Xin Tang shu, 197.5625–5626. 

[27]Da Tang xinyu, 4.58–59.

[28]Despite the role Li Zhaode plays in Liu Su’s passage, the minister was in fact a stalwart Tang loyalist who was at odds with Wu Zhao numerous times.  For example, Li provided pointed remonstrance to Wu Zhao in 691 when she considered naming her nephew, Wu Chengsi, her heir.  In another incident, Li questioned the validity of an auspicious omen Wu Zhao was attempting to propagate. Rothschild’s Wu Zhao: China’s Only Woman Emperor, 182.

[29]Pei Huaigu is referred to as Investigating Censor (jiancha yushi) in the Jiu Tangshu, Xin Tangshu, and the Zizhi Tongjian.  While Liu Su also gives Pei the title of censor (yushi) in the Da Tang xinyu, he records Li Zhaode as calling Pei an assessor or magistrate (tuishi). Jiu Tang shu, 185.4807-4808; Xin Tang shu, 197.5625-5626; Zizhi Tongjian, 205.6494;Da Tang xinyu, 4.58–59.

[30]Rothschild, Wu Zhao: China’s Only Woman Emperor, 16.

[31]Wu Zhao ??and Liu Yizhi, Chengui(Taibei: Shangwu, 1936), 41.

[32]Ibid., 13–14.

[33]Zenry? Tsukamoto, A History of Early Chinese Buddhism: From Its Introduction to the Death of Hui-yuän, trans. Leon Hurvitz (New York: Kodansha, 1985), 175.

[34]Da Tang xinyu, 4.58–59.

[35]In addition to “just recompense,” the Chinese notion of Buddhist karma can also be translated as “moral retribution.”  The idea of “moral retribution” became a popular principle of Chinese religious belief and practice and served a fundamental lesson in a certain style of tale (ling yan, ying yan, or ling ying ??)attesting to the reality of divine justice in one’s next life.  For more information on medieval Chinese stories of moral retribution, see Robert H. Sharf’s Coming to Terms with Chinese Buddhism: A Reading of the Treasure Store Treatise, (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2002), 93–97.

[36]Jiu Tang shu, 185.4807-4808; Xin Tang shu, 197.5625-5626; Zizhi Tongjian,206.6531.

[37]Pan Yihong, Son of Heaven and the Heavenly Qaghan: Sui-Tang China and its Neighbors (Bellingham, WA: Western Washington University Press, 1997), 28–29.

[38]Rothschild, Wu Zhao: China’s Only Woman Emperor, 164.

[39]Pei is credited with the submission of the less dangerous southern barbarians (man), who, according to the Zizhi Tongjian, revolted against the Zhou on 28 June 694 (liu yue, gui chou).  This success provided him with the standing in court to be chosen to accompany Yan Zhiwei in negotiations with the Turks. Jiu Tang shu, 185.4807-4808; Xin Tang shu, 197.5625–5626; Zizhi Tongjian, 205.6494.

[40]For more information on Mochuo’s requests and his dissatisfaction with the marriage alliance, see Pan Yihong’s Son of Heaven and the Heavenly Qaghan, 266–269.

[41]Rothschild, Wu Zhao: China’s Only Woman Emperor, 164.

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