Faculty Mentor

N. Harry Rothschild, PhD, Professor

Faculty Mentor Department

Department of History


In 685, at a pivotal juncture in her ascendancy, empress dowager-regent Wu Zhao, with help from her extra-bureaucratic aides, the Scholars of the Northern Gate, created a political manual for court officials, Regulations for Ministers (Chen Gui 臣軌). Recognizing the anomalous nature of her political authority, Wu Zhao and her co-authors rooted this signature work in Chinese tradition. She borrowed ideas from a work written by her first husband and predecessor, Tang Taizong 太宗 (r. 626-49), Plan For an Emperor (Di fan 帝範), like the metaphor that ruler and officials were part of a shared, interdependent “common body.” In addition, Regulations drew heavily upon the twin pillars of Confucianism, filial piety and loyalty, in a rhetorical manner that promoted greater loyalty to the ruler (herself). However, her adroit use of tradition was a ploy to subvert tradition. Due to her gender, Regulations stretched conventions to accommodate her political agenda––to become emperor––which subverted the unspoken rule that barred women from claiming the crown. In this respect and others, like timing and target audience, Wu Zhao's Regulations, although borrowing from cultural norms, stands independent from prior texts like Taizong’s Plan for an Emperor.

Included in

Asian History Commons