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Wu Ze Tian (武则天)

Chinese. Name of the only woman in the history of China to assume the title of Empress Regnant (Huang Di), ruling China between AD 690 and 705, after she rose to power through cunning deceit and murder. A talented woman, ruthless in her endeavors to seize power, she is believed to even have poisoned her oldest son and killed her infant daughter in the process, while she exiled yet another son. She was first recruited into the palace as an imperial concubine during the reign of Emperor Tai Zong, after whose death she became a nun, though she later returned as an imperial concubine to Emperor Gao Zong. Now a rival of Empress Wang, she set out to gain the affection of the Emperor and framed the Empress in the killing of her infant daughter. Empress Wang was subsequently executed, and Wu Ze Tian was made Empress. From AD 665 to 683, she co-reigned with her husband, but after the latter's death in 683 AD, she became the de factor ruler through her sons. However, to secure even more power, the following year she disposed a third son, Emperor Zhong Zong, whom she dethroned in favour of her youngest son Emperor Rui Zong, but in 690 AD she had him yield the throne to herself, thus becoming Empress Regnant and founding her own dynasty, known as the Second Zhou Dynasty (周) and which briefly interrupted the Tang Dynasty (唐朝). In order to consolidate her power and prevent a revolt from other Tang Dynasty princes, she relied on cruel punishment and had numerous political enemies murdered. During her reign she elevated the status of Buddhism over Taoism, and encouraged agriculture. In 705, while Wu Ze Tian was seriously ill, the then prime minister led the court in support of the restoration of Emperor Zhong Zong. Empress Wu Ze Tian died in the same year and was buried in Qianling with her husband Gao Zong.