21 Dec 2022


Comparing Ancient Female Rulers: Wu Zetain and Hatshepsut

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History has had some of the most powerful women that their rise to power was unexpected bearing the masculine traditions in their various traditions or situations. The women have defied all odds in such cultures and traditions with some using their feminine beauty and sexuality to win over their place as rulers whereas others used brutality to ensure they gained the high status in their kingdoms. The aim of this paper is to compare Tang Empress Wu Zetain also known as Empress Wu who ruled China around 690-705 AD and Pharaoh Hatshepsut, an Egyptian ruler around 1478-1458 BC. The paper compares their situations in the ascent to power, their methods of ruling, achievements, and resourcefulness.


Empress Wu was the first and only women ever to rule China. Historians claim that she was an autocrat, and brutal in her desire to gain power and keep it to herself. Whereas, others claim that she was an exceptional woman doing jobs handled by men. She rose to power by using her feminine beauty and wits to become the favorite concubine in the court of Emperor Tai Tsung and with her intelligence and beauty, she had her eyes on the emperor’s son Kao Tsung as she knew he would be the next emperor. Following the death of Emperor Tai, Kao became the emperor. At the age of twenty-seven, she became the much loved concubine to the new emperor (Tanner, 2010).

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To increase her power and influence in the kingdom, she sacrificed her newborn daughter by killing her and accusing Kao’s wife Empress Wang, of killing her daughter an act that was successful as Kao believed her and replaced his wife with Empress Wu. The rise to power from a concubine to the emperor’s wife led to Empress Wu killing all her rivals of power, and when Kao suffered a crippling stroke, Empress Wu took over the administrative duties of the court which were a position equivalent to that of an emperor. Under the position, she formed secret police spies that cruelly jailed and killed anyone who was against the empress and following the death of the emperor, empress Wu, was able to move her youngest and weaker son into power by outflanking her eldest sons.

The tactic was aimed at ensuring that she would rule indirectly by making all the decisions for her son. Wu was able to change the Confucian beliefs against the rule of women by elevating women into a high position, for instance, scholars and also adding significance of mother’s clan to the belief that best leaders are those who lead as mothers lead their sons. Her son resigned leaving the emperor’s seat vacant for his mother in 690 AD as Empress Wu Zetian was declared emperor of the Tang Dynasty (Tanner, 2010). History proves that although her rise to power was one of the most brutal, her wisdom and intelligence made her one of the best rulers of the Tang dynasty. She reduced most of the burdensome taxes, reducing the size of the aristocratic military by replacing them with scholars who competed for positions based on intelligence and ability to run the government (Tanner, 2010). She is also credited with enabling more freedom of women and making Buddhism the favored religion in China even today when she chose it over Daoism.

Unlike Empress Wu, Pharaoh Hatshepsut was born in a royal family, and she was the eldest daughter of King Thutmose I, who was known for his army qualities and bravery hence known as the conqueror of the known world. Hatshepsut married her half-brother Thutmose III and had a daughter named Nefruara. Following their father’s illness, he appointed Hatshepsut as his chief aid which she proved effective and her father made her co-ruler of the kingdom. She became queen of Egypt and wife of Thutmose III, but due to the rivalry of power amongst the other siblings and with her husband claiming all the power, she was able to fight her way back to power over her brothers. She gained full power around 1478 BC and ruled for about 33 years making her the longest female ruler of the ancient empires and one of the rulers who challenged the male dominance and won (The Original Black Woman, 2015).

She regarded herself as equal to men thus the name King rather than the Queen is used to refer to her and to gain popularity she claimed that she was conceived from the gods that are the great God Amen, “In a flood of light and perfume,” appeared to her mother and she was conceived. She took titles for instance, “King of the North and South,” Ka-Ma-Ra, the Horus of Gold, Bestower the Years, Conqueror of all Lands, Vivifier of Hearts, Chief Spouse of Amen, and the Mighty One.” (The Original Black Woman, 2015). Her reign was successful in both economic and kingdom expansion. She is known for her huge influence on sharing the wealth among the poor, expanding trade routes and overseeing the building of temples, statues, grand monuments, and pyramids. She also brought back Egyptian glory (The Original Black Woman, 2015).

It is evident from the discussions above, both female rulers ruled in cultures dominated by male chauvinism and did not offer women a chance to rule. They both used had to use force, wits, and intelligence to gain the upper hand over the male dominated cultural settings. Although the level of brutality used by Empress Wu are worse and portray aristocratic behaviors, their leadership qualities and efficiencies are quite similar illustrating that women can also become better leaders unlike the stereotyping used in male-dominated settings. The paper can educate the modern communities to believe that women have the qualities needed to become effective leaders. Moreover, their intelligence and manipulation to gain power are only due to the challenges they face but with easier ways to gain power from the instance, Hatshepsut, she did not use much of the negative acts used by Empress Wu since the rivalry was not as tough as that faced by Wu. But it also proves that women will do an extra mile to achieve their dreams.


Tanner, H. M. (2010). China: A History, Volume I , Hackett Publishing.

The Original Black Woman. (2015). Hatshepsut (c. 1500 B.C.-1458 B.C.): Egypt’s Queen Pharaoh and “The Greatest Woman Ruler of All Times” Retrieved February 24, 2017, from, https://originalblackwoman.wordpress.com/2015/03/19/hatshepsut-c-1500-b-c-1458-b-c-egypts-queen-pharaoh-and-the-greatest-woman-ruler-of-all-times/

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StudyBounty. (2023, September 14). Comparing Ancient Female Rulers: Wu Zetain and Hatshepsut.


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