Fu Hao: The Forgotten Warrior Queen of China

It’s undeniable that women are often relegated to the footnotes of history, and the same is true for Chinese history, which is further exacerbated by the Confucian belief that women are inferior to men.That’s why the notable female figures in Chinese history are few and far in between, and the first ones that come to mind are likely Hua Mulan and Wu Zetian. But there are many more women who played a significant role in Chinese history, one of whom is Fu Hao, who has been dubbed the “Forgotten Warrior Queen of China.” 

The reason why Fu Hao is called the Forgotten Queen is because her existence wasn’t known until 1976, when a group of Chinese archeologists were sent to examine if a plot of land could be turned into an agricultural field and ended up uncovering what would later be identified as Fu Hao’s tomb. It was the only unlooted royal tomb in the Shang Dynasty because it wasn’t located in the traditional burial grounds.

Fu Hao (妇好) was one of the 64 wives of King Wu Ding (武丁) of the Shang dynasty. “Fu” is actually a formal address that is roughly equivalent to “Lady” in Western culture, so Fu Hao’s given name is not known. She lived around 1200 BCE, and she held an unusually high status for a woman of her time. 

Firstly, Fu Hao was one of Wu Ding’s three queens, and she was also a powerful general. Oracle Bone inscriptions cited many instances of Fu Hao commanding armies and leading successful military campaigns against hostile neighbor states. During battle, it was believed that she wielded a Great Axe or Yue (钺), which is functionally used for decapitation but symbolically represented her military authority. Aside from being a general, she was also a diplomat, a priestess, and a law enforcer, as she led sacrificial rituals and was also in charge of capturing escaped criminals. On top of that, she was a landowner, and despite her royal status, she lived on her own land and paid tribute to the King like any other citizen.

Even though Fu Hao was only one of Wu Ding’s many wives, it appeared that Wu Ding had genuine love for her. He would often accompany her to battles, and when he was unable to, he would constantly inquire through Oracle Bones on whether Fu Hao arrived safely at her destination or whether she was successful in her military excursions. When Fu Hao went through a period of tumultuous health, Wu Ding was constantly inquiring about Fu Hao’s illnesses through Oracle Bones.  Fu Hao and Wu Ding had a child named Zu Ji (祖己), also known as Xiao Ji (孝己), but despite being his father’s eldest son, he never inherited the title of King and died in exile at age 25. 

When Fu Hao died, Wu Ding built her an opulent tomb in the palace next to his office. She wasn’t buried in the traditional royal crypts because it is believed she died in battle, and burying her there would bring bad luck. This is why her tomb remained undiscovered until 1976. Among the 1600 total objects found in her tomb were 755 jade treasures, 455 bronze objects (130 of which were weapons), 4 Great Axes, remains from 16 human sacrifices, and many more. 

Wu Ding often thought about Fu Hao even after her death and would pray to her spirit before battle. He even conducted ghost marriages between Fu Hao and his ancestors to ensure that Fu Hao had a companion to protect her in the afterlife.

Women are often more than the roles they have been boxed into. Fu Hao was a queen, a warrior, a diplomat, and a priestess, but if it wasn’t for the discovery of her tomb and the Oracle Bone inscriptions, she would probably have been known simply as Wu Ding’s wife.


Watch this video to learn more about Fu Hao:

Additional sources:,day%20Anyang%2C%20in%20Henan%20province.

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