An Emperor Dethroned by His Mother
Emperor Zhongzong of Tang had two stints in power, with his first brief reign coming to an end in 684 when his mother, Wu Zetian, kicked him off the throne. Wu Zetian went on to unofficially run the country, and eventually became the sole officially recognized empress in China’s imperial rule. A strong, intelligent, and ruthless woman, she had an affair with Emperor Taizong’s son and eventual successor, and eliminated opponents and potential threats to steadily grow her power. She framed the emperor’s first wife for the death of her own infant daughter, and ultimately proclaimed herself empress regnant, ruling until she was overthrown in 705.
Zhongzong was reinstated as emperor in 705, but he died just five years later. Wu’s tale of rise to power and how she held onto it could have taught Machiavelli some new tricks. Born into a wealthy family, her father encouraged her to develop her mind and she grew up well-versed in literature, music, history, politics, and governmental affairs. Her beauty and brains served her well, and she eventually became Emperor Gaozong’s official consort, with her power steadily growing as she eliminated opponents. She became empress dowager and regent after Gaozong’s death, and ruled the empire in the name of her son before overthrowing him and proclaiming herself empress regnant.