Wu Zetian

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Wu Zetian, China's only-known empress

Wu Zetian (Chinese: 武则天 624-705) is an outstanding politician and the only Empress in Chinese history.

She was the daughter of a timber trader. She became a palace maid at the age of 14. While in the imperial palace, she learned to engage in politics, and became empress of Li Zhi, Tang Emperor Gaozong in 655.

After the death of Emperor Gaozong, she chose, one after another, two inept princes as puppet emperors in order to control power. In 690, she mounted the throne and changed the dynastic title to "Zhou."

Under her 15-year rule, she continued to follow her husband's policies. She empowered her staff to take initiatives, attached great importance to agricultural production and improved relations with China's neighbors. But she appointed ruthless officials to suppress those who opposed her.

In 705, Emperor Zhongzong Li Xian took the throne and restored the Tang Dynasty.

Other female politicians have controlled the affairs of state in China, for example the Dowager Empress Cixi in the late Qing Dynasty, but only Wu Zetian was officially enthroned.