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Wednesday, December 5, 2007

First, my apologies to any reader who has recently visited this blog in search of Henry teh 8, caught up on teh Henry posts, and is now anxiously awaiting a post on Katherine Howard, teh fifth wife of Henry teh 8. I am postponing teh post on her once again, while I reread one of my books. In the meantime, here are all teh posts on Henry’s first four wives.

According to Google Analytics, “Henry teh 8” has been the source of 79 visits in the past seven days. That’s visits, not visitors, so I’m kinda wondering if it’s just Jenn, repeatedly searching for Henry teh 8 to tease me. Come clean now, Jenn! All will be forgiven, you crazy kid!

Anyway, allow me to introduce Wu Zetian (625-705 AD), the only female emperor of China!

Wu will beat a bitch’s ass, then sentence a bitch to die by a thousand tiny cuts.

Though she ruled under the name she chose for herself, Emperor Shensheng (I’ve seen it spelled numerous ways; don’t get up my ass), she was known after her death as Empress Wu, so that’s what I’m going with.

I wasn’t planning to do a Wu post yet, but then I bought Nigel Cawthorne’s biography, Daughter of Heaven: The True Story of the Only Woman to Become Emperor of China. Nigel’s book is very, very special. I was in the airport when I got it, but even in the midst of PTSD (Post TSA Search Dementia) I said to myself, “Self, this is a relatively short book for a biography of a complicated lady like Empress Wu.” That should have been the tip-off. Nigel’s book is a rehash of the same old Wu tales: she was a power-hungry, ruthless, murdering dragon lady who was sexually insatiable till the end of her days. In other words, the kind of gal who is so much fun at happy hour! I love to shoot the shit with ruthless murdering sluts over a few Cosmos! Oh, how we laugh!

The Schaefer Yarn Company names yarns after memorable women!
Wu is top row, center.

I don’t demand a revisionist history if the facts don’t support it, but I don’t like how women rulers get all these nasty adjectives thrown at them just because being a living god sometimes requires you to kill a relative or 20. The men do it all the time without being called bad names. For instance, Nigel casually drops this on page 6: “The second Sui Emperor Yang-ti came to the throne in 604 after assassinating his father and elder brother, la la la.” Okay! I added the “la la la” but the rest is a quote. But Yang-ti’s real crime was starting too many construction projects and straining the economy. No one was crying over dad and big brother. There are too many familial assassination stories spanning the centuries and the globe for me to even begin to list them. I’ll just say that it seems to me that the women rulers wind up with much worse reputations than the men do. Except for Richard III of England. That bitch can’t catch a break.

So what if Richard III killed his nephews?
It was just business. Nothing personal.
Also, they look annoying.

Nigel’s book doesn’t have any footnotes, but an impressive six out of 30 works listed in the “selected bibliography” are about ancient Chinese sex secrets. Any minors, please click here without reading further. You adults can read about Chapter 4, “The Art of the Bedroom,” where we learn quite a lot about what might have happened between Wu and the Emperor T’ai-tsung, whose harem of concubines she joined at the age of 13 (a high honor). These imperial activities might have included (but are not limited to) the four basic positions, 24 variations, two extra positions, 10 indicators, six penile thrusts, eight valleys of the vagina, eight steps for ejaculation control, three peaks, four attainments, five desires and nine essences. I’m bad at math, so it is fortunate that I was not a Chinese concubine in the 7th century. My head was spinning so badly just from reading all those numbers that when I read “…playing the jade flute and drinking at the jade fountain” I thought, “Shizz! You had to learn an instrument before you could take a drink? That sucks!” Then I was all like, “She thought ‘sucks,’ heh heh heh!” and then I was all like, “Oh.”

There were also 26 varieties of water, including melted frost, which sounds kind of delicious to me, or at least much better than the water from a pigs’ trough. But that’s besides the point, because my high school pre-calculus teacher told me I wasn’t going to need math when I became a rock star.

Stay out of my trough, bitches!
Adorable custom-made pig toy available on Etsy.

Empress Wu, unlike me, was a math genius and after T’ai-tsung died, she snagged a concubine job with his son, Emperor Kao-tsung. And unlike someone else, she wisely popped out a boy child. (You know why royal ladies often had to give birth in front of a room full of people, right? Because anyone in her right mind would steal a boy if she could. Therefore, people had to be around to confirm that the child indeed emerged from the royal chimichanga.) Now that she had produced an heir, she could begin her rise to the top. So what if she had to get rid of a few people along the way? One of the inconvenient people was the official wife, Empress Wang (Wang! Heh heh heh). Nigel tells the story that is supposed to show that Wu was pure evil. When Wu had a baby girl she invited Wang over to see the baby. After Wang left, Wu supposedly killed her own child and blamed Wang. With that, Wang was out and Wu was named Empress. Nigel is damn sure this went down. Anne Boleyn’s mythical sixth finger says, “Maybe not. A bunch of jealous dudes could have made that up.”

Nigel is damn sure of a lot of things. He earnestly quotes a conversation two people had about Wu’s sex life, as recorded “later” from what could only be a completely factual and well-researched book called “Secret Chronicles of Kung Ho Chien.” This book, of course, is lost but fragments survive. In one fragment, someone says, “…the Empress rejected any whose jade stalk was ‘all skin and sinew.'” I have several reactions to this:

  • What the hell would she think was in there? Bone? Gold? The important papers that I put in a “safe place” and never saw again?
  • Is it a jade stalk, stem or flute? Make up your minds, ancient Chinese people! I am already confused by the math!
  • I’m amazed that a conversation from a lost book that includes the sentence, “A woman’s cinnabar grotto is lined with a delicate membrane” deserves direct quotes, which means someone said it for sure, we guarantee it, even though this conversation happened in the 7th century. I couldn’t put what I said 30 minutes ago in quotes. I remember four things from my entire life that I could put in quotes. Two of them you might read in a magazine someday soon. The third is, “You’re so pretty.” I just forgot the fourth.

Well! This post is setting some kind of record for length and I haven’t even gotten to the novel I want to talk about! I will have to save that for next week. I will conclude this by sharing a few more of my favorite quotes from Nigel’s own writing. And Nigel, I tease you because I love you.

  • “…played a critical political roll….” (page 8 )
  • “…men broke there own arms and legs…” (page 8 )
  • “…incest was burnt…” (page 76)

UPDATED TO ADD: Check out a post by gorgeous blogger Shuflies on a Wu TV series.

UPDATED AGAIN TO ADD: Here’s part II of my Empress Wu post.

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29 Responses to “Thursday Book Club: Empress Wu, Part I”

  1. Jello on Springs says:

    Oh man, royal families are always so amusing, lol

  2. discothequechic says:

    Henry teh 8th?

    How intriguing!

  3. Blue Floppy Hat says:

    Oh boy, that certainly puts a new spin on baby-stealing..
    And history books without footnotes? Aren’t really history books. Law school and Terry Pratchett between them have made me criminally dependent on footnotes, to the point where I now believe “no footnotes=no credibility if you’re writing non-fiction”.
    And Wendy, you’re an amazing jewelry designer, but sometimes I think your true calling is as a comic writer- this blog is one of the best things I’ve read in the last six months.

  4. Miss Woo says:

    Crikey, long time no go on the internet and you manage make me laugh with your Henry Teh 8 posts again, like, 4 real;)

  5. In Yr Fshn says:

    I think I’ve knitted with Margaret Mead before!
    Small world.

    Anyhow, how did you know? I’ve actually been looking for Henry teh 8 sex tips (that’s what you’ve been hit with, right?) Oooh, what a great future post, Miz B…
    (Could you pretty please send me a catalog?)

  6. Vintage Bunny says:

    Hi Wendy
    She sounds fascinating,esp the sexual appetite part.If a king can be famous for it,whay cant a woman ???
    Thankyou for the education.I love it!

  7. Kian says:

    This has to be the funniest post yet.

    And you can quote me on that.

  8. atelier says:

    When I read stories linked with royal families I always wonder how USA would be with one

  9. G.G. says:

    Fab post Wen-Wen! But yeah, I have to take exception with you on R3. He deserves all he gets. If you haven’t read Alison Weir’s Princes in the Tower, it’s worth putting on the list. Scholarly research into the murder of the princes, but reads like a murder thriller. xoxo

  10. WendyB says:

    Floppy, thank you! If gold continues to increase in price, that might be my only remaining job option.
    Kian, please confirm that this quote is correct, “A man benefits greatly if he frequently changes the women he has sex with. It is best if he can have sex with more than ten women in a single night.” Yeah, that’s what you said. Don’t deny it.
    GG, that’s a good book but I decided to go with the Sunne in Splendour Richard. Besides, those kids really look annoying!

  11. -S says:

    sounds interesting!

  12. jdbsusanna says:

    I love that you did a Chinese empress for the book club! And that you did Wu Zetian and not Cixi (although she’s got some very, uh, interesting (probably not true) sex stories conntected to her too)

  13. WendyB says:

    Not to ruin the suspense but…Cixi will definitely get a post. I love me some Cixi (even though she was never an emperor).

  14. Linda says:

    haha I agree wih the first post, they are incredibly interesting!

    I remember learning about her in world history two years ago, and now that you mention her, she seems even more intriguing…

    must go check out books on Empress Wu at B&N ASAP

  15. jennine says:

    you are a whimsical wonder!
    excellent post m’dear

  16. The Clothes Horse says:

    Women get such a bad rep! Also, have you ever noticed that most of the names one calls males to be insulting relate to them being like women? A weak man is called a part of a woman’s anatomy, or has no balls (like a woman)…
    Anyway, delightful post as usual. Chapel probation means students have to watch tapes of old chapels, they sign up for classes last, aren’t allowed to study abroad, etc. It’s just a nuisance.

  17. Patent Shoes && Rants says:

    Yes but your fish feet were better!

    Do you like my fish feet?


    I just found them, I actually had to look around at your blog to find what fish feet were. They are indeed interesting.


  18. Candice says:

    the books you read are so interesting.

  19. Valley Girl says:

    LOL @ “kill a relative or two”!!!

  20. roller coaster teacher says:

    Wow – I’m so glad I didn’t miss this scholarly work of ancient Chinese history!

  21. glamour girly says:

    very interesting. i love Cosmos, but not really with murdering sluts…

  22. Liquid says:

    Hello WendyB!

    I wanted to thank you for stopping by my blog and leaving your comments. It is a pleasure to meet you and I will be back here often. Great work and reading here.


  23. WendyB says:

    Glamour Girly: how about slutty murderers?

  24. Merisi says:

    Could it be that footnotes have been banned from airplanes? Just wondering … ,_)
    As regards the “imperial activities”, I imagine a menu numbered like those in Chinese restaurants. Otherwise, how keep abreast of them all? Has the famous number seventy (minus we know how many) its origin in that ancient menu booklet?
    Love the quotes, btw. 🙂

  25. Kian says:

    OH yes you have quoted me precisely. Don’t forget I need a footnote to accompany that. Or maybe just a foot massage. Those are good too.

  26. Moira says:

    Didn’t know you were doing Asian Queens. May I recommend Queen Min of Korea. She was an orphan girl married into the royal family who went on to become a powerful Queen of late 19th century Korea. Here is a mish-mashy Wikipedia entry about her…


    There has been a Korean mini-series and a musical about her, but no difinitive biography. But, yes, I have a script about her. If you would like to read it for your next Thursday book club, I would be happy to email it to you in a PDF — I’m serious.
    It’s an amazing story like Cinderella meets Elizabeth meets Braveheart!

    I remember you saying you loved Korea. I got to go there to do research and I fell in love with the country too.

    Also, thanks for the mention in the dog post today. And thanks for making me spit up my coffeee when I read about Faith and Heather in the same sentence. You’re bad.

  27. WendyB says:

    Moira, I’m very obsessed with Queen Min and her tragic end. As you point out, there’s pretty much nothing to read about her. I was going to mention her when I finish the jewelry I’m naming for her! I would love to read the script. You can send it to me at wbjewelry at hotmail dot com.

  28. Moira says:

    will do : )

  29. shuflies says:

    Have you seen this YouTube clip?
    My parents watched it when I was around 5 or so and I’ve always had that song stuck in my head. The only syllables I could remember, however, were Wu Ze Tian, but I had no idea who they referred to until I read this post. I haven’t heard this song in years and years.

    The lyrics are in a fancier Chinese than I’m capable of handling right now, but what I can make out, basically it goes on about how she was lonely and no one knew about the secrets of her heart, and then she grew into a queen with two faces, one that she presented to the public and one that she didn’t. I hope I got that right! I figured you’d get a kick out of the clip.