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Wu Zetian and Hatshepsut, Ancient Female Rulers Essay

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Updated: Jun 20th, 2021

Wu Zetian was the Empress of China, who ruled during the late Tang Dynasty. She was born in 624 and started her political career as a concubine of Emperor Taizong. Later Wu Zetian became Empress Consort with her son Emperor Gaozong (Marriott 15). The Pharaoh Hatshepsut was born in 1507 BC and was the fifth Pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt. This paper aims to compare the reign of these two significant female rulers.

Wu Zetian was chosen for comparison as she was the only recognized Empress regnant of China. Her reign lasted from 660, when her son Gaozong died from a stroke, until her death in 705 (Marriott 15). Wu Zetian was an experienced politician and strategist; under her rule, China expanded its borders through the annexation of the Korean Peninsula and conquest of four Tibetan provinces. And Hatshepsut was the only female “king” of Egypt, as she called herself (The Dynasties of Ancient Egypt 63). She ascended the throne in 1478, as the daughter of Thutmose I, and a wife of the 2-year-old Thutmose II, and ruled until her death in 1458 BC. Hatshepsut revived Egypt’s traditional trade routes and made a significant contribution to Egyptian culture.

Although the Empress and the Pharaoh lived and ruled at different times and in different countries, they have a lot in common. Firstly, an interest in construction: Wu Zetian built many temples to revive the Buddhist tradition in China (Jülch, 15). The most distinguished examples are the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda and Dayun Temples. And Hatshepsut initiated more than a hundred constructions and established the Egyptian Valley of the Kings. The most famous are the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut near Deir el-Bahri, Karnak Temple in Thebes, and numerous temples in Nubia (The Dynasties of Ancient Egypt 63).

Also, both rulers contributed to the development of art; a collection of poems and books with tips on government management were written on behalf of Wu Zetian. These are Biographies of Notable Women, Guidelines for Imperial Subjects, New Teachings for Official Staff Members (Marriott 16). And Hatshepsut ordered to create a lot of sculptures that today can be found in museums all over the world.

There are also distinctive features regarding the Wu Zetian and Pharaoh Hatshepsut government. While Wu Zetian was more involved in war issues, Hatshepsut, living in peaceful times, is famous for reviving Egypt’s traditional trade routes by sending expeditions to the lands of Punta, Byblos, and the Sinai Peninsula. From the country of Punta, live myrrh trees were brought into Egypt, which Pharaoh planted in her Mortuary Temple, and incense which Hatshepsut used as eyeliner (The Dynasties of Ancient Egypt 64). Nonetheless, Pharaoh did not have a revolutionary influence on the state’s internal social structure, which Wu Zetian had.

The Empress managed to supersede the old ruling elite from the wealthiest northwestern province of China with a new elite from the northern regions (Marriott 16). Wu Zetian selected the most talented officials among those who passed the traditional independent examination for knowledge and practical application of Confucius teaching. Besides, Wu Zetian, unlike Hatshepsut, did a lot to meet the needs of ordinary people, thus enlisting their support.

There are also differences in the assessment of the Empress’ and Pharaoh’s government. Many sculptures and images of Hatshepsut were destroyed after her death, during the reign of her nephew Thutmose III and his son Amenhotep II (Bullivant, 34). But subsequent kings honored the Hatshepsut so much that they preferred to be buried in the Valley of the Kings area to join her greatness (Horning 6). And Wu Zetian was widely condemned by critics who spread rumors about her bloodthirstiness and perversity. She was rehabilitated as a wise and fair ruler only in the 1950s through the efforts of Mao Tse Dong’s wife.

Chinese and Egyptian cultures differ from each other in a great way. Mainly, the struggle for the throne was not common in Egypt, unlike the Chinese Empire, as well as executions. It is because the Egyptian pharaohs practiced dynastic marriages between brothers and sisters. Also, in the Egyptian state, power was concentrated mainly in the hands of the Pharaoh. The court did not dispute it since the Egyptian pharaohs were considered gods, and their authority was undeniable (The Dynasties of Ancient Egypt 62). Another difference is the greater emphasis on trade relations in the Middle East, in contrast to the Chinese Empire, whose history is a series of endless wars with the neighboring countries.

To summarize, the Wu Zetian and Hatshepsut eras are very different from modern ones. Firstly, the monarchical form of government was common for the states of the past centuries. The advantages of the monarchist style are that the long-term rulers had the opportunity to carry out significant reforms. These were socio-political reforms, in the case of Wu Zetian, and enrichment of cultural heritage, in the case of Hatshepsut. Besides, the Hatshepsut reign was characterized by a more mystical and religious worldview, even compared to Wu Zetian’s government. Notably, some civilizations have disappeared since then, like the country of Punta, or changed their borders and reduced in size like the Tibetan empire.

Works Cited

Bullivant, Ashley Ann. How Do You Define A King? A Study of Kingship Leading Up To, During, and Immediately Following The Reign of Hatshepsut. Dissertation, State University of New York at Binghamton, 2019.

Horning, Nicole. Ancient Egypt: The Land of Pyramids and Pharaohs. Greenhaven Publishing LLC, 2017.

Jülch, Thomas. The” Zhenzheng lun” by Xuanyi: A Buddhist Apologetic Scripture of Tang China. Routledge, 2018.

Marriott, Emma. Long Live the Queens: Mighty, Magnificent, and Bloody Marvelous Monarchs History’s Forgotten. HarperCollins, 2019.

The Dynasties of Ancient Egypt: The History and Legacy of the Pharaohs from the Beginning of Egyptian Civilization to the Rise of Rome. Charles Rivers Editors, 2017.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Wu Zetian and Hatshepsut, Ancient Female Rulers." June 20, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/wu-zetian-and-hatshepsut-ancient-female-rulers/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Wu Zetian and Hatshepsut, Ancient Female Rulers'. 20 June.

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