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The Tang Dynasty’s Rule Essay


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The Tang Dynasty’s Rule Essay

The Tang Dynasty’s extensive rule spanned from 618CE to 907 CE and remains the most notable imperial reign in ancient Chinese past. This period saw China’s prosperity and overall standards of living improve significantly to the extent that the feminine gender progressed onwards to the higher echelons of power. Two notable female leaders rose to prominence albeit by sinister means setting forth a legacy concerning the gender that continues to dominate cultural perceptions concerning women and leadership positions. During that time, thriving commerce from the Silk Trade opened up China to the international market allowing for fashion and womanly appeal to take up position in the country’s political affairs. Though there were some positive influences resulting from Empress Wu Zetian and the subsequent puppet rule of Consort Yang Guifei, the overly negative attributes remain cornerstones of how Chinese society generally associates female leadership.

According to Doran (2016) one attains an understanding of the attitudes among the Chinese people concerning power and gender. The powerful women in this dynasty especially Empress Wu seem to have been carefully blotted out from historical analogies that condemn as well as delegitimize them based on various forms of transgression. For instance, crimes identified with the feminine nature such as sexual misconduct and corruption allowed for these rulers to be associated with conspicuous consumption that led to their cosmic rejection. Doran (2016) looks to Japanese historical contexts to get more accurate impressions of Emperor Wu on Chinese society during the Tang dynasty. From such texts, she appears to have been an overly evil woman (Dolan 2016). For instance, she is expressed as having personally engaged in the death of a maternal infant daughter as well as those of various rivals. Historical literature also points out dysfunctional relations with her grown up sons.

Chinese traditions acknowledge the positive aspects of feminine rulers especially in the pre-Tang era (Doran 2016). For instance, positive heroines are described as exhibiting natural womanly qualities like chastity, understanding their ritual place in leadership and modesty. Doran underscores the unfortunate fact that rulers such as Wu Zhao and Wei may have made attempts to align with honored notions of virtuous empresses though later generations opted to remember otherwise. Therefore, they are attached to traditions that illustrate feminine power holders as a destructive breed of leaders. Exhibited as the insatiable women, these rulers assume a material, sexual, and symbolic prerogative. Empress Wu remains one of the most prominent women figures who controlled cultural and political arena during her reign. Doran (2016) utilizes Southern Song sources of 1127 to 1279 to reinforce information and show how Empress Wu controlled political aspects during the Tang dynasty.

Economic prosperity played a major role in the rise of feminine leaders into positions of high office. According to BuYun (2017) the Tang dynasty represented a time when the feminine form, beauty, and place in society were respected. Yang Guifei as the favored and beloved mistress of Emperor Xuanzong is described as the most beautiful being in pre-modern China. Also considered as China’s Golden Age, the Tang dynasty offered its people a dignified quality of life stemming from the country’s ability to capitalize on international commerce. It is evident that the author acknowledges the constant pressures women must contend with ensuring their appearances and bodies ascribed to the prevailing notion of beauty in society (BuYun 2017). One of the most critical elements which were essentially set out by men included the capacity to dress appropriately. Others include large expressive eyes, elegant gait on tiny feet, slender waist, white teeth and red lips, intricately shaped eyebrows, and hair coiled at the top to serve as an illusion for greater height.

BuYun (2017) notes that upper class women gave a lot of attention to the way they looked which was exemplified with the application of makeup. This was done extravagantly and in an elaborate manner. Progress brought about by the Silk Trade and the ensuing political stability allowed for economic developments that appraised statuses of the middle class as well as the elite. The main reason that Emperor Xuanzong became spell bound with Yang Guifei was that tranquility and prosperity allowed for more focus on the politics of the feminine form and the gendered self. Fashion progressed to make the woman’s body into a status object for display to others in society. It was in this regard that Consort Yang Guifei rose to prominence in the Emperor’s court to the extent of determining the country’s affairs and allowing nepotism to thrive during the Tang dynasty.

McMahon (2013) offers a basis for analyzing the continuities and transformations occurring among women close to imperial rulers. It avails generalizations of Chinese attitudes concerning women, polygamy, and sex from as early as the Han Dynasty which spanned from 206BCE to about 220 CE. Male rulers were essentially polygamous though there was a widely accepted stipulation where a main wife existed and ranked over all consorts and concubines. The main reason for such a belief system served to guarantee distinguishable male descendants for the maintenance of the ruling family’s patriarchal lineage. This implies that the purported soap opera like lives the ancient Chinese emperors lived were not only socially accepted but culturally ingrained. McMahon offers insights into the expected behaviors of the emperor’s women as well as that of the ruler given his responsibility to caring for many children and wives without a blatant display of favor to anyone.

In conclusion, as this paper has provided, traditionally biased perceptions towards women in modern China bears it origins in its ancient past. The feminine gender usurped the opportunity to exhibit leadership qualities through Empress Wu Zetian and Consort Yang Guifei. The two managed to control the political arena for quite some time. However, they tended to act on compassion rather than reason which allowed for corruptions to reign in many forms. Murder was used as a means to retain power while sexual misconduct in their private lives eroded the trust of the people even when economic prosperity was sufficient. Politics of the feminine form eventually led to destruction of the dynasty underscoring why women are still considered as support systems for successful men rather than potential leaders in modern day China.


Chen, BuYun. “Material Girls: Silk and Self-Fashioning in Tang China (618–907).” Fashion Theory 21, no. 1 (2017): 5-33.

Doran, Rebecca. Introduction to Transgressive Typologies: Constructions of Gender and Power in Early Tang China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2016.

McMahon, Keith. Women Shall Not Rule: Imperial Wives and Concubines in China from Han to Liao. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2013.