Women’s Equality Day is an international holiday from the U.S. that is celebrated every August 26. It commemorates the passage of women’s suffrage and reminds us of the hurdles overcame by heroic women who have propelled the women’s movement forward. With this in mind, it also relates to how women in China today enjoy almost the same benefits as their male counterparts which is a total 180 to how the women were treated way back during ancient China. Despite the notorious history of women’s social status in China, the nation still had lots of women who stood out for their influence and contributions. Here are the 10 most prominent women in Chinese history!
1) Daji 妲己
Daji is the favorite concubine of King Zhou, the last king of the Shang Dynasty (16th -11th century BC). She is considered to have been a factor in causing the downfall of the Shang Dynasty. She is described as a nine-tailed fox spirit who owned a female human body in one Chinese novel, Fengshen Yanyi.
2) Xi Shi 西施
Xi Shi was the most beautiful of the well-known Four Beauties in ancient China. It was said that Xi Shi’s beauty would put the flowers to shame. She was even sent by King Goujian of Yue as a spy to destroy Kingdom Wu. Her beauty made Fuchai, King of Wu, forget all about his state affairs, killed his best adviser, and finally caused the downfall of his own kingdom.
3) Lü Zhi 吕雉
Empress Lü Zhi (241 BC – 180 BC) was the empress of Emperor Gaozu, the founder of the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD). Lü Zhi is considered as a ruthless, unfeeling, and cruel empress. She assisted his husband Liu Bang to get to the upper level and finally build the Han Dynasty. However, after her husband’s death, she dominated the political scene until her death in 180 BC. She even planned to replace the name of Liu’s Dynasty to Lü’s Dynasty but failed.
4) Diaochan 貂蝉
Diaochan was also one of the women that are known as the Four Beauties of Ancient China. Diaochan appears in Chinese historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Her beauty made warrior Lü Bu and the warlord Dong Zhuo turn from allies to enemies.
5) Wu Zetian 武则天
There are more than 400 emperors in the history of China and Wu Zetian (624-705) was the only female emperor. She governed the Tang Empire for over half a century. She has four main titles: a nun in the temple, a concubine, an empress, and a mother of the emperor. She was described as cruel and merciless who will reach her goals by any means. Nevertheless, she has made great achievements in uniting the Tang dynasty.
6) Yang Yuhuan 杨玉环
Yang Yuhuan (719 —756), also known as Yang Guifei, was the favorite concubine of Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty. Yang was a typical example of a beauty who caused the downfall of monarchs and nations. Emperor Xuanzhong was indulged in her beauty and did not attend to his court duties and led to An’s rebellion in 755. Yang was considered as the root of troubles by ministers which led to her suicide at Maweipo.
7) Xiao Zhuang 孝庄
Xiao Zhuang (1613-1688) was the empress of Emperor Huang Taiji and is known for her wisdom and political ability who is a widely respected woman in Chinese history.
8) Dowager Cixi 慈禧太后
Empress Dowager Cixi (1835 –1908) is one of the most powerful women in the history of China. She assisted three successive emperors and actually controlled the Qing Dynasty from 1861 to her death in 1908 for 47 years. Cixi’s ruling period was regarded as the weakest period of the Qing Dynasty. So, she has always been considered as a notorious lady in Chinese history.
9) Song Meiling 宋美龄
Song Meiling (1898 –2003), wife of President Chiang Kai-shek, is one of the legendary Three Song Sisters and is also considered as one of the most influential women during the 20th century. She urged the peaceful resolution of the Xi’an incident, organizing the early phase of the Chinese air force in the anti-Japanese war. Her speech to the American Congress in 1943 was a major factor in garnering American support for the war.
10) Jiang Qing 江青
Jiang Qing (1914 – 1991), the last wife of Chairman Mao, is the most influential woman in the People’s Republic of China until her downfall in 1976. Jiang Qing was well known for playing a major role in the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) and for forming the radical political alliance known as the “Gang of Four“.
Source: China Whisper
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