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The Misunderstood Legacy Of China

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Empress Wu Zetian Of Zhou Dynasty Chinese Documentary Culture Tv Shows Topic Ming Country Qing The World Ancient Full Length Documentaries Powerful Women Img

There stands a tall carved stone. It marks the tomb of a woman who rose from lowly concubine to become emperor of China, the only woman to dare claim that title. But China’s female Emperor has gone down in history as a controversial and deeply divisive ruler. To have a woman with such power really threatened the establishment. Not only did Wu Median rock the boat; in some ways, she overturned it.

- It would have been a very dangerous thing to get in the way of Wu Median. Wu Median has been remembered as a callous tyrant who brought calamity to China. Dramatic music But now, extraordinary new discoveries are revealing a very different picture of her reign, from ancient tombstones. I’ve been waiting since this was excavated. I am ecstatic! I honestly wasn’t expecting that.

That is really exciting. Seeing this with your eyes is incredible experience. It’s even more fantastic than I thought it would be. Experts are discovering how one woman managed to rule all the Imperial China. And whether Wu Median really was an evil dictator or one of the most misunderstood leaders in history.

The only female emperor in China’s 2,000 years of Imperial history was named Wu Median, Wu the Celestial. She first entered court in 637 AD as a 13-year-old concubine, part of the harem of mistresses serving emperor Taiping of the Tang dynasty. Tang Taiping had more than 100 concubines. By repute, she was beautiful, she was charming, she was entertaining. She also had a real zest for life.

- When she entered the palace, she quickly gained favor of this emperor and her relationship become closer and with the rise her of her influence at court. Dramatic music And she proved to be politically very, very skillful, and she’s very shrewd. Wu Median became at first concubine to his son, Gazing. Then, in 655, he made her his Empress. But emperor Gazing was a sickly man.

And gradually, Wu became the real power behind the throne. Until, in 690, with her husband dead, Wu Median stepped from the shadows and declared herself Emperor. Yet China’s ancient chroniclers were scathing in their accounts of her rise to power. History tells us a really dark and bleak picture about Empress Wu. baby crying One of the most brutal stories we have is that she killed her own child just to frame the previous Empress and gain station at court.

- Were also told that Wu Zhao had her two rivals legs and arms cut off and then dipped them in a vat of wine and let them slowly bleed to death. So this paints a picture of a devious, manipulating, calculating, self-serving and absolutely ruthless virago hell-bent on power. Were told Wu Median was ruthless in her reign. This is the tomb of Wu Retains second son, Li Xian. He was a threat to his mother.

Li Xian was accused of treason, and he was exiled to the most remote corner of the Chinese Empire, locked in a room and forced to commit suicide by poisoning. So this is a mother killing her own son so that she can hold on to power. According to legend, she was a tyrant whose reign brought disaster to the Empire. Thunder rumbling raining soft music Now, archaeologists are unearthing new evidence that challenges this version of Wu’s story. Speaking in foreign language Professor Zhang Jilin is the world’s leading archaeologist of the Tang era.

speaking in foreign language dramatic traditional music has grown to encompass old Chang an, Wu’s capital. With a population of 12 million, Xian is rapidly expanding. Its also home to professor Hangs conservation facility. Speaking in foreign language Historian Dr. Harry Rothschild has heard about some intriguing recent finds that date to Wu’s rein.

- Whoa. Its amazing seeing all these Tang artifacts. I’ve been studying Wu Zhao, Wu Median, for 17 years, and finally, here we are at Ground Zero. You can sense her everywhere here in Chang an. Light traditional music the musicians traders and nobles buried with the dead to ensure a comfortable afterlife.

But there’s also something unexpected here, a first clue to what Wu’s China was really like. Speaking in foreign language So were looking at an unprecedented boost for the position of women. You’re talking about a female Emperor here, after all, and so that translated directly into greater opportunity and greater freedom for women in the late seventh in early eighth century. Soft music than meets the eye. Ancient chroniclers denigrated her reign.

But many recent tomb discoveries, like the women in men clothing, hint at a rather different story. Bus rumbling intriguing music Professor Tonia Eckford is an expert on Tang era tombs. She’s on her way to see one of the most amazing archaeological finds in all Chinese history. Bright traditional music Its incredible. It’s even more fantastic than I thought it would be.

of ancient China, a long-lost treasure from the Tang era written about in ancient texts, but never seen until now. This priceless headdress is held under lock and key and can only be viewed by special appointment. Tonia believes that is a vital clue to the truth about Wu Retains China. There’s an enormous amount to investigate in this piece. Looking closely, the metal work is filigree, and there’s a lot of granulation.

Granulation consists of tiny little beads of gold. The whole crown is like a peacock displaying its tail. There are very, very fine flowers made of mother-of-pearl and pearl. There are even fine bunches of grapes made of Chinese glass. So really what we see here is something cosmopolitan and something rich, something fashionable, full of luxury items not only in the making of it, but also in the imagery involved.

in a grave that was already an exceptional find, a tomb that had never been raided. Mysterious music Inside was a skeleton, and on the skull the beehive hairstyle studded with jewels. The skeleton was of a young woman named Li Chew a minor descendant of the Tang royal family. For 18 months, the team carefully picked out every single jewel and stone, slowly piecing together the headdress to reveal its true glory. But when they used X-ray chromatography to discover where the different jewels and stones came from, they were in for a surprise.

The headdress has carnelian from Uzbekistan, 2,900 miles to the west of Chang an. Garnet from India, 3,000 southwest, amber from Iran, 4,000 miles away, and ivory from Sri Lanka, 4,500 miles from Wu’s capital. The crown gives us clues about Wu Retains society. Life was rich. There was a lot of luxury.

It was a real high point in the arts. What we can see here is the embodiment of all the wealth and all the treasure that the Tang court could attract. Impressive music yet she was buried wearing this priceless headdress, clear evidence of the extraordinary wealth of China at the time. Bright music Her tomb holds one final secret. She was buried with a jade silkworm in her hand, another clue that reveals Wu’s ambitions to make her China the wealthiest empire in the world.

dramatic music In seventh century China, a woman named Wu Median rose from lonely concubine to Empress. With her husband, the Emperor, sick, she ruled the Empire in all but name. Ancient chroniclers dismissed her reign as a time of calamity. But today’s experts think the truth may be very different. In a tomb 50 miles northwest of Wu’s capital city, Chang an, Tonia Eckford is investigating murals that provide strong evidence of Wu’s influence and power.

- Here we can see a mural of foreign ambassadors coming to court. Ambassadors came from far and wide. In this mural we can see a Mongolian, a Korean, and a tonsured monk, perhaps from Rome or Syria. There’s a man from Xinjiang, from Greece, and from Persia. Its interesting because we can see that the ambassadors are in quite subservient positions.

Their hands are clasped before them and seem quite in awe of the situation. Was a respected international leader of her time. I think Wu Median was a consummate politician. She saw advantage in the use of diplomacy rather than warfare, and led a society that was quite open and open to foreigners. Many foreigners at high level beat a path to her door.

dramatic music that there were 25,000 foreigners living in Wu’s Chang an. Many were traders, and more than anything, they were after one Chinese product. Birds whistling Since the fourth millennium BC, China had produced the finest quality silk. By Wu’s era, the demand for Chinese silk had made it as valuable as gold. The ancient trade routes of the Silk Road began in Chang an, spreading east and west, linking China to other nations.

But by the mid-7th century, bandits and robbers threatened to stop trade in its tracks. New discoveries reveal Wu Retains master stroke. She built military outposts far into Central Asia, securing safe passage all along the Silk routes. Intriguing music Harry Rothschild has come to the very start of the Silk Road in Chang an to find the latest archaeological evidence of trade in Wu’s capital. This is incredible.

We’ve been allowed to come right down here into the western market. Were standing right on the edge of the canal looking right across into this square where you had all of these stalls arrayed, where rows of iron mongers and butchers and tanners and silversmiths, goldsmiths, calligraphy brush salesmen would be arrayed, where you could find anything under the sun. If you get down closely here, you can see ruts that have been left in the earth from the carts that went over this bridge. You really feel the ambience of the western market. Intriguing music the east and west markets marked the start of the Silk Road.

In the west market, goods from lands to the west of Chang an were bought and sold. Upbeat traditional music Silk Road trade not only made Wu’s Empire wealthy; it brought so many foreigners to China that her capital became one of the first truly cosmopolitan cities in the world. People from all across the world traveled to China, and many chose to stay. And this multicultural influence can still be felt in present day Xian. We are walking along the Xian street, the Chinese Muslim street on the very heart of old Tang Chang an.

It is bustling, it is vibrant, it is full of energy, as you see by the milling bustle going on behind me now. I think these are sugared figs or dried figs here. These came from along the Silk Road from Persia. This is a kind of wheat kernel candy, and he’s pulling this taffy. Then, afterwards, they’ll take the taffy, and they’ll roll it out with pumpkin seeds or with sesame seeds and then turn it into this hard candy.

The sesame came from Persia and the Middle East along the Silk Road. So this is sort of the fruit of something that was trafficked 1,300 years ago during Wu Retains time. Good? Not bad. It is good. I think in terms of the multiculturalism, the vibrancy, the bustle, the energy, just the constant commercial buzz.

You have a great sense of what was going on during the time. Intriguing traditional music Empress Wu Median was in effective control of the whole Chinese Empire. Trade had brought wealth and luxury, evident from the valuable artifacts that have been found. And Wu wanted to flaunt this to the rest of the world. To do this, she planned the expansion of the Imperial Palace on a scale never seen before.

When archaeologists first uncovered the foundations, they were amazed by what they found. This is one of the huge gated entrances rebuilt to scale on those very foundations. This is Dancing Gate, the southern gate of Dating Palace. Just looking up at it is conjures a sense of awe. For me, it’s a statement.

It provides a sense of Imperial grandeur. It makes anyone stand before the gate feel a sense of their own smallness and insignificance. Was the largest in the world. Completed in just three years, the scale of the complex outshone anything anyone had ever seen. Look at the size of Dating Palace.

This is twice as big as old Pompeii. Its five times bigger than the Forbidden City of the Ming and Qing Dynasty Emperors. Its 22 times the size of the Acropolis. Solemn music The scope, the grandeur, it’s absolutely staggering. You can read about it, but you don’t really appreciate that magnitude until you step out on this balcony, and you look out at this vista.

There are archery grounds. There are polo grounds, cockfighting arenas, places for drama troops to practice, and that’s just the beginning. There are three or four more palaces beyond that. Emissaries coming from foreign countries would come in with their jaws dropping with just a starry-eyed wonder, and they would feel like they were looking at a celestial world, a paradise on Earth. I do think it was about imposing her power with the majesty and size of Dating Palace.

in more than just its extreme size. Chang an, when it was first designed, was the model of perfect Imperial symmetry. The old Imperial Palace was in the north central position within the Tang capital Chang an. This new Dating Palace was outside the city walls altogether. It’s very unusual to build a palace outside this usual model of imperial symmetry.

There’s one good reason. For 12 years, Wu Zhao had languished in the old imperial palace. For her, this was a chance to get a new start, to distance herself from her lowly and obscure past as a fifth-rank talent. Here, where you have this stunning new imperial grandeur, was an opportunity to sort of reinvent herself. Gentle music made China a global superpower.

Contrary to how the legends were written, she was at the center of a web of trade, wealth and political influence that stretched from Japan to the Mediterranean. Spirited music intense music cars honking In the seventh century, Wu Retains capital city, Chang an, was in a class of its own Chang an, during Wu Retains time, would have been an absolutely massive city. There’s supposed to be almost a million people living within the city walls and another million outside, which just outclasses anything else in the world at that time. Gentle music thinks he knows one reason for Wu Retains remarkable success. She would win the support of the common people through the reinvigorated religion that was sweeping China.

Buddhism. Wu Median realized patronizing Buddhism was a great way to please the people. And what better way than building new temples and pagodas? So one of the main ones she built was this one right behind this, the Great Wild Goose Pagoda. Impressive music was originally built in 652. This is particularly awesome.

housing sacred Buddhist writings. But just 50 years after it was built, it was destroyed in an earthquake. Soft music Wu, who had been brought up in the Buddhist faith, spending time in a nunnery, decided to rebuild the pagoda but on a much bigger scale. Jonathan suspects that this new building was a record breaker and that Wu surpassed herself in her desire to make her mark in her peoples’ faith. And he thinks he can prove it.

- I would really like to find out how tall this building was when Wu Median rebuilt it. Because it be fascinating if she’s decided to build it significantly bigger for a reason. One, two, three, four, five. Wu Retains pagoda was partially damaged by a second earthquake. So Jonathan has to work out how high her structure would have been with the missing floors.

- 58. Onwards and upwards. One, two. Okay, so there’s 40 steps to that one. And that put us on the fourth floor now.

35, 36, 37, 38. One, two, three, four. In previous floors, we’ve gone from 43 to 40 to 38 to 37. So if the next floor is either 37 or 36, we should make an accurate calculation. Exhales 34, 35, 36, 37.

This is good. Were still decreasing, so this is good. We might be able to do something. Last one. 31, 32.

Let’s do the math, people gentle music muttering of the steps per story. With the missing three floors, the true height of Wu’s pagoda was close to a staggering 300 feet high. Impressive music Which would have made it not only the tallest brick pagoda in Asia but possibly one of the tallest buildings in the world at that time. Impressive orchestral music It would have been like nothing else that anyone had seen before. In the cityscape now, it still looks impressive, but in those days it would have soared above absolutely everything else in the city.

as a statement targeted directly at her people. There’s so many things she stands to gain from building a massive pagoda in such a visual space like this. The majority of the population of Chang an at this time are Buddhists, and they will see that she’s supporting Buddhism, she’s supporting their religion. Gentle traditional music of new Buddhist temples in every town in her empire, creating allies among the common people of China. And she didn’t stop there.

dramatic music 250 miles east of Chang an, in Henan Province, are the Long men Grotto Caves. Historian Lu Yang thinks they may be key to understanding Wu’s power. This is a sacred place for Buddhist religion, and pilgrims have been coming here for centuries. But I have been told there is a connection that link Empress Wu directly to that faith. Impressive music to carve small caves into this sacred hillside.

There are over 1,400, housing over 100,000 Buddha figures. The smallest is just an inch tall. The biggest is an imposing 57 feet high, commissioned by Wu Median herself. And it has a story to tell. Impressive music Wow.

Isn’t this impressive? What a view. It is gigantic. The official name of this Buddha is Verona, which is the radiant Buddha of a great sun. This is basically a universal Buddha, symbolized the power and dominance of this religion. At the heart of Buddhism in the eyes of her people.

To do this, its possible she took one audacious step and ordered the statue to be carved in her own image. Actually is modeled after her face. She wants to make this a statement of her power. This will give her more credibility, because this is the age of Buddhism, and there’s a massive follower of this particular religion. And by creating this temple, she basically put herself on the center stage of not just religious action, but also the society in general.

solemn music Seeing this with your own eyes is incredible experience. This is so impressive to me, and I think she got what she wanted. Impressive music suggests that Wu Median was a skillful tactician who knew how to use religion to promote her own status and keep her empire happy. Traffic rumbling And up river from the giant Buddha, a series of very recent archaeological discoveries reveal another of the secrets of her success. This is spectacular.

Professor Kwangju and his team have been excavating giant granaries designed for storing rice. Speaking in foreign language Inscriptions enable the team to date each granary precisely. Speaking in foreign language Wu Median ordered rice from eastern China to be brought here by canal, stockpiled in these vast grain stores, then redistributed in times of need. Speaking in foreign language During the early seventh century, China suffered prolonged droughts, leading to famines. But under Wu Median, improvements to the rice stores design were to prove invaluable.

speaking in foreign language Well, the massive scale of this granary really testify the power and the capability of Empress Wu’s regime, and she is a very capable ruler. The grain kept here can last for many years. So this is not just contributed to the stability of her regime but also for the future of Tang dynasty as well. Dramatic music was an efficient administrator who ensured her people and her soldiers were always fed. Intriguing music But despite her successes, as a woman she could never rely on the support of the aristocratic establishment.

She required allies. So, in a radical break with tradition, Wu allowed commoners to join in the administration of her government. She encouraged women to be entrepreneurs and permitted Chinese women to divorce and marry freely for the first time. But in a moment of breathtaking audacity, she even appointed a female prime minister by the name of Shanghai Water. Harry has been told of evidence professor Hangs team have found in recent excavations of the Prime Ministers tomb, suggesting her life had a controversial final chapter.

- This is Shanghai Waters epitaph. I’ve been waiting since September 2013, when this was excavated, for a chance to actually see this in person, and its finally happening today, so I am ecstatic. Speaking in foreign language This says she had 47 springs and autumns at the time of her death. Speaking in foreign language found the prime ministers tomb, it had been purposely destroyed. And this destruction is key to understanding why the bleak picture of Wu Median has been passed on through the centuries.

speaking in foreign language This was thorough, malicious and intentional destruction that had been done to the tomb. Speaking in foreign language by order of Empress Wei Run, Wu Retains successor. Harry believes there is a direct link between this destruction and the chronicles the tell of Wu’s evil and incompetence. Now that I know that Shanghai Waters grave was dismantled, this is part of an intentional process, an intentional destruction of vestiges of female power during the late seventh and early eighth century, the Confucian patriarchy striking back and re-establishing normative power. Dramatic orchestral music to become the first female emperor ever to rule the Chinese Empire.

But her opponents were determined to unseat her. She had annihilated many, many of her enemies. But where there’s power, there are always rivals, and there’s always a contest. Then the ancient writers led us to believe, it has also emerged that some tales of her callousness were not just propaganda. Art historian Dr.

Jenny Liu has discovered new texts in the tomb of Wu’s great-granddaughter, Princess Songhai, that suggests even blood knew no mercy. I’ve studied other princess epitaph as well. And this is a passage here which I’ve never seen. You have the character for anger. Okay anger at the.

at the two boys. And their secret medicine. So this passage tells you what happened to Princess Songhai. These are characters that are usually used for the miscarriage or the loss of a child. And it is the Zhang brothers secret medicine or poison that made her miscarriage, leading to her death.

This refers to Wu Median, because it’s very possible that she was the instigator of the poison. The Zhang brothers were very close to her, and they did her bidding, and she was known to have pitted people against each other in court, and she would cause one to poison or kill the other. And she did this with officials, and now it seems maybe she did it with her relations, her kin. Why does she want the princess dead? She was bearing the child of two of the strongest clans in contention for the throne, and it might be possible that she did not want this child to be born, no matter the gender. It would have been a very dangerous thing to get in the way of Wu Median.

somber music had successfully fought off all rivals to hold on to power. But the fight had been bloody. Wu Median became incredibly ruthless. She had hundreds of members of the ruling family executed. The violence and reign of terror, you could say, was extreme.

gentle vocal music But she was not without a conscience. She was very troubled by what shed done. Wu wanted forgiveness of her sins. She wrote a confession and had it engraved onto a golden tablet and had that tablet taken to a holy place to perform a sacred ritual. Impressive music So here we are on Mount Song It’s the central of the five sacred peaks of ancient China.

And it became a very important place in Wu Retains later life. In the year 700, Wu Median came to this mountain. She had a golden tablet made on which she inscribes her sins, which was then cast down the mountain as a form of absolution. What that gold tablet said, because nearly 1,300 later, a farmer found it lying in the earth on the mountain slopes. Its description was short but its message profound.

- It said. The ruler Wu Zhao admires the true doubt with its long-lived immortal spirits. Her servant has been commissioned to go reverently to the pinnacle of the central peak of Mount Song and cast the golden tally that might expiate her sinful nature. Gentle music What you can tell by the fact she’s throwing away this tablet in such a visible fashion is that she’s really trying to demonstrate to other people that she was repentant. It’s a very visible, ceremonial thing. Its saying, I have sinned, and I wish to be absolved of these sins. And whether she actually believed that was the case or not I think is less important than the impression it would create to other people.

gentle music had become fraught with scheming and rebellion among the male nobility at her court. She becomes a bigger target. Soft music in the foothills of Mount Song that Wu retreated to in her last years. It’s awesome. I’ve wanted to come here for a long time.

laughs This is quite special. This is the Tongue Pagoda. It’s significant in Wu Retains life, because she used to come here to worship. Soft music Its 1,500 years old. Not only is it still standing, it still looks pretty good.

impressive music Wu Median would have come probably into this very building, because this is the original structure from 1,500 years ago. I’ve never seen anything like this before. This is a phenomenal building. You can feel why Wu Median would want to come here. Chang an at this time is politically very difficult, and she wants to come here to just escape all that.

It’s a place of safety and refuge. Soft music Wu Median had shattered Confucian tradition, rising from a lowly concubine to become the only female Emperor of China. She had achieved much. She made China a better place for women, the Empire wealthy, peaceful, her capital city vibrant and cosmopolitan, and her population fed and free to practice their religions. But the male establishment was closing in, and the she-emperor was too old to fight back.

When Wu Retains rule came to an end, she was 80. In fact, she wasn’t usurped. She abdicated. So she was still maintaining her own sense of control. Somber music She lived for a few more months, and she went quietly.

Her time had come. Emotional traditional music This is Qianlong, the Tang dynasty mausoleum complex, her final resting place. She’s buried in a secret chamber deep inside the mountain, alongside the Emperor she succeeded, her husband, Gazing. We’re on the spiritual path, walking toward Wu Retains tomb. Its impressive, its daunting, its powerful.

The area that it covers is almost the same as the Dating Palace, so it’s a huge area. Is protected by Imperial bodyguards and sculptures to ward off evil spirits. Beside the gateway entrance are two sets of foreign emissaries, lined up to pay homage. Being here is a really awesome experience Its so impressive. Wu Median may have held power for more than half a century, but in this place, really, her spirit and her sense of majesty and authority and power has lived on for many centuries.

soft music honoring Wu Retains resting place. By her decree, it was left blank, inviting historians to write of her achievements. And they did so, distorting her story for centuries. But having discovered more about her life, what would today’s experts now carve upon the stone? I would write something along the lines of she was woman who did what she had to stay in power. She was a great leader.

She had a lot of political acumen. But most of all I’d say she was the woman that proved that, in a men world, you didn’t need a man to lead it. The one word that I would put is just maverick, because of the way that she went about gaining power. I’d write nothing. For her entire idiosyncratic, unprecedented political career defied labels, and for 1,300 years, she’s defied historical verdict.

I think that the blankness of the steely is a perfect monument. Impressive music dramatic traditional music.

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