Wu Zetian: 3 Large Impacts From China’s Only Female Emperor

Born17th of February, 624 AD
Died26th of November, 705 AD
Famous Quote“Remember, when one’s aim is to achieve greatness… everyone is expendable.”
Known ForExpansion of China territory, reducing corruption, restoring economy.
Region Of WorldEast Asia, China
Further ReadingThe Absolute 9 Most Influential Women In History

In the entire history of China there has only been one legitimate female emperor/empress. She ruled China for over 40 years and her name was Wu Zetian or Empress Dowager.

Wu Zetian was a cunning ruler who over the course of her reign solidified her power, reduced corruption in the court, and revitalized the 7th-century Chinese economy. Today historians remember her as one of the best rulers in Chinese history.

Of the many accomplishments of Wu Zetian there are 3 impacts that still influence the world today.

  • Drastically Expanded Chinese Borders And Influence
  • Reformed government service, allowing for stable growth
  • Revitalized the 7th-century Chinese economy

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Without further ado, here are the 3 largest impacts from China’s only female emperor.

Drastically Expanded Chinese Borders And Influence

Expanded Chinese influence

Under Wu Zetian China’s borders expanded far beyond their previous limits.

After she solidified her power within China this 7th-century empress turned her gaze upon the Korean peninsula. From 645-668 AD Wu Zetian and her allies attacked the Korean Kingdom of Goguryeo.

This war is called the Goguryeo-Tang War. On one side you have Wu Zetian and her Korean allies. On the other you have Korean and Yamato Japan.

At first, Wu Zetian was repelled by the Korean force in 662 however in 666 Korean dictator Yeon Gaesomun died and the kingdom of Goguryeo was thrown into turmoil.

This presented Wu Zetian with an opportunity and in 668 she conquered the largest kingdom in Korea.

This drastically expanded Chinese Tang influence across northern Korea. However, Wu Zetian’s husband, emperor Gaozong, was declining in health at this point.

As a result the relations between China and her former Korean allies, the Silla, began to deteriorate rapidly. 2 years after the successful conquest of the kingdom of Goguryeo, Wu Zetian and the Silla Kingdom went to war.

The Silla-Tang war only lasted for 6 years before ending in a truce between the two countries. In the end, the Tang kept their territory in northern Korea while the Silla kept their territory in the south of Korea.

Under Wu Zetian’s rule the borders of China expanded dramatically. The impact of this is still felt today whenever we look at a map of China.

One of the main reasons for China’s size is the successful military campaigns taken under the reign of Wu Zetian.

Reformed Government Service, Allowing For Stable Growth

Reformed government, China

One of the major impacts of Wu Zetian is her reformation of government service during the Tang dynasty.

She was known for taking direct action to promote those who had a natural talent in leadership, writing, and government.

While she was growing her empire she also recognized the need to hire qualified people to administer it. As such Wu Zetian decided to expand the civil service examination to allow for previously excluded people such as commoners.

Further, under direct edicts she would give generous titles and pay raises to those who did their job well. This directly contributed to a loyal and efficient administrative workforce.

One of the reasons Wu Zetian did this was to increase loyalty in border and recently conquered regions. In North China Wu Zetian would increasingly hand out titles and pay raises.

As a result of this, the Tang dynasty of the 7th and 8th centuries became one of the most efficiently managed empires to date.

The impact of this can still be felt today across China. During the Tang dynasty a culture of proto-meritocracy began to develop. Today we can see this culture still existing to some capacity in the provinces of mainland China.

Revitalized The 7th Century Chinese Economy

China 7th-century farming economy

Wu Zetian came to power during a time of increasing stability in China. The centuries before her time were characterized by increasing civil strife and border wars.

However, under Wu Zetian this changed. Under her reign, she altered the agricultural sector of 7th-century China.

Wu Zetian recognized that local rural areas of China were dominated by self-sufficient farmers. In previous generations before her these farmers were coming under increasing threat to lose their land, and thus their way of life.

This naturally would increase civil strife and maybe lead to a rebellion.

Wu Zetian directly stopped this trend. Using the juntian or equal-field system she would figure out who needed land in the rural communes and divide it up appropriately.

This directly benefited the rural farmer in the most isolated parts of China. Their land was secured and they faced little threat of it being seized.

The benefit of this policy for Wu’s empire was that it bolstered the agricultural economy of the Tang dynasty. Further, an effective census bureau meant that these land holding farmers would have to pay more taxes.

Essentially what Wu Zetian did with land distribution was to take land from the elite, thus reducing their power, and redistributing it out across the general population.

This directly increased the amount of tax the Tang dynasty would receive. Further, this caused an economic explosion and growth in overall stability in 7th-century China.

Today we can see the impacts of this economic stability across the rural parts of China. Today the rural section of China is seeing an explosion in economic growth, however the backbone of agriculture still remains.


There you have it; 3 Large Impacts From China’s only Female Emperor, Wu Zetian.

The study of Wu Zetian is a hotly contested topic among scholars today. Several people argue about her legacy and impact. As such she makes a great research subject for potential graduate students.

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