The Princess Who Might Have Ruled China

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The Princess Who Might Have Ruled China

The Princess Who Might Have Ruled China

In December 2019, the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology announced the discovery of a large Tang dynasty (618-907) tomb on the grounds of a planned “Airport New City,” not far from the provincial capital of Xi’an. An intact memorial tablet revealed the tomb as the resting place of Xue Shao, the first husband of the powerful Princess Taiping.To get more news about last empress of china wanrong, you can visit shine news official website.

The discovery caused a nationwide stir, in part due to a relatively recent upsurge in popular sympathy for the Princess. The daughter of Empress Wu Zetian — the only woman ever to rule China in her own name — Princess Taiping was a formidable politician, but most Chinese know her story only from sudsy TV dramas like the critically acclaimed “Palace of Desire” from 2000. That show portrayed Princess Taiping as a tragic figure — a woman blinded by passion — and devoted significant airtime to the poignant love story between her and Xue. It’s fair to say that without this TV series, the discovery of Xue’s tomb would not have generated quite so much interest.

The image of Princess Taiping as a besotted lover would have raised eyebrows as recently as a century ago. For more than a millennium, she was consistently described as a ruthless, ambitious woman who sought to gain power through political intrigue. Traditional Chinese historiography emphasized the supposed similarities between her and her mother: The 11th century “New Book of Tang” stated “The Empress Wu often said that Princess Taiping, with her masculine features and penchant for intrigue, was like her.” Sima Guang, author of the 11th century “Comprehensive Mirror in Aid of Governance,” wrote: “The Taiping Princess had a sensitive grasp of political strategy that led her mother to view her as an equal. As a result, she received a love that Wu Zetian’s other children didn’t.”
These descriptions, written a few centuries after the Princess’ death, raise a question that has fascinated her modern fans: Why, if Princess Taiping enjoyed her mother’s favor, was she never under consideration to succeed Wu Zetian on the throne? The answer may lie in the newly discovered tomb of her first husband and the circumstances surrounding Xue’s burial.

Xue’s funeral took place on Feb. 9, 706 A.D., some 17 years after his death. Braving the bitter winds of the northwest Chinese winter, two young men dressed in mourning garb — sons of Xue and Princess Taiping — led a large procession of carriages to the Xue ancestral cemetery in Xianyang County, north of the Tang capital, for a state funeral.
Princess Taiping was not present at the ceremony, as by that point she had remarried, but Xue’s memorial tablet and other recently discovered historical sources suggest they had shared a happy union beset by external turmoil. In eight years of marriage, Princess Taiping gave birth to two sons and two daughters, all of whom lived into adulthood. But the world around the couple was falling apart. After her father, Emperor Gaozong, passed away in 683, the Princess’ mother, Wu Zetian, carried out a violent purge of her political enemies at the imperial court, including many members of the imperial family. A year after the birth of Princess Taiping’s youngest daughter, in 688, Xue Shao was arrested on suspicion of planning a rebellion. According to historical accounts, he starved to death in prison the following year.

This tragic turn of events irrevocably altered Princess Taiping’s fate, and her mother quickly married her off to a relative bearing Wu’s family name. Remarkably, Princess Taiping’s twenty-year marriage to Wu Youji seems to have been as harmonious and drama-free as her first — though without the same level of mutual affection. Throughout her second marriage, the princess courted a number of male lovers, often to the great scandal of the court, and even recommended those whose services she’d particularly enjoyed to her mother.