Books set in Asia, Family dynamics, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Sa-Shan

#637 Empress by Shan Sa

 Empress by Shan Sa Empress by Shan Sa

Wu Zetian, or Heavenlight, was the only female emperor of China. She founded the Tang dynasty. She was the only woman who ever officially ruled China on her own. She was married to an emperor and three of her sons were emperors.

She started out in somewhat humble origins compared to what she would end up with. Her father died when she was young. She went to live with her mother and her mother’s family. Later, she was called into service at the Forbidden city. She would be given the fifth rank under the current emperor and was also one of his concubines.

When he died, she later became a concubine and wife to the former emperor’s son and current emperor. There were claims that she might have killed one of her own daughters in a move to frame the current empress. However it happened, the current empress was dismissed and Heavenlight became the empress. She ruled with her husband for some years before he died, most likely from hypertension.

After his death, a couple of her sons became emperor, but ultimately, she was able to be declared emperor herself. She expanded the Chinese empire, waged war in Korea, and instituted new Chinese social traditions.

After her death, some tried to say she was only an empress instead of an emperor.

What I liked

I didn’t know about Wu Zetian and her rule of China. I had loosely heard that China had some female rulers in the past, but had no idea that she had been so prominent. It’s always interesting to read about another piece of the history of the world, but also to read about powerful women in history. It takes a lot for a woman to have been mentioned so widely in the history of the world. It takes a lot for a woman to be remembered in the history of the world. Wu Zetian was definitely remembered, whether for good or for bad.

What I didn’t like

I am not sympathetic towards Wu Zetian. While this fictional account of her life makes her more relatable, I think she was ultimately a very power-hungry person and she was very ruthless. I guess a woman had to be those things to rise to such power in the day that Wu Zetian did rise to power. I don’t think she would have been a pleasant person to be around. I don’t think I would have been friends with her. I just don’t think she was a nice person.

It’s very impressive what she was able to do, but she wasn’t doing it in the name of other people. She was doing it in the name of power.

Also, the entire book is written from Heavenlight’s point of view. It’s supposed to be her voice and her life. Most of it is quite accurate, but at one point the author, Shan, uses the word siesta to describe an afternoon nap that Heavenlight says she takes. Look here, if we’re being historically accurate, why is the word siesta being used? The Spanish were nowhere near China at this point, nowhere. How in the world would Heavenlight have known the word siesta? The book is written in English, which takes some burden from the author to be historically accurate, but even people who speak English as a primary language don’t go around saying they’re going to take a siesta all the time.

The book was very much a historical piece and very much Heavenlight’s voice, so little things like that don’t make sense. It breaks the continuity.

Also, this is a very long book. You read this book and you’ll be educated and entertained, but it’s going to take a while to read. I kind of feel as if Shan took every name associated with Wu Zetian and tried to squeeze it into the book somehow.


Women rules aren’t always magnanimous.

Weigh In

Do you think it’s insulting to try to call Wu Zetian an empress instead of an emperor posthumously?

Do you imagine that you would like to meet Wu Zetian?


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