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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Welcome back to the increasingly erratic Thursday Book Club! In my last real Book Club post, I discussed Empress Wu, the only woman in the history of China to be called “emperor” during her lifetime. Since then, I’ve done a couple of fake Book Club post about Christopher Walken’s ass and books I bought while drunk.

This is the perfect time to do a follow-up post on Empress Wu, because the rap group Wu-Tang Clan is playing New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom this very night. Tickets are still available. Sadly, there is an eight-ticket limit per person. If you are a Chinese emperor who has a very large harem, you might not be able to buy tickets for all of your concubines under one credit card. Also, Chinese emperor, I regret to tell you that even though the Clan is named after a location in China famed for its martial arts, there are no actual Chinese people in the group.

No Chinese dudes here.
Just a bunch of guys who like
kung-fu movies.

The Wu-Tang guys always have good names. Chinese emperors made up their names too, but no one ever came up with Emperor Ol’ Dirty Bastard. ODB was one of the founding Wu-Tang members; he died of an overdose in 2004, two days before he turned 36. That’s not old at all. He was more of a Young Dirty Bastard. Maybe that’s why his other aliases included Big Baby Jesus. Anyway, other original members of the group included RZA (“rizza”), GZA (“jizza”), Method Man and Masta Killa. If you want to find out what your Wu-Tang name is, go to the WuName Generator, enter your name and click “Wu am I?” I am “Sullen Choirboy.”

“Ol’ Dirty Bastard” was kind of a misnomer


Anyway, if you put all those Wu-Tang rappers together, they wouldn’t be half as tough as Empress Wu. Empress, a novel by Shan Sa, does a good job of conveying Wu’s kill-or-be-killed attitude. It includes one of the most famous stories about her. When the Emperor Taizong had a mean, wild horse that no one could tame, Wu, one of the lower-ranking concubines, offered to do it. All she needed was a whip, a hammer and a dagger. “First, I shall give him a lesson with the whip,” she said. “If he disobeys me, I shall blow him on the head with the hammer. If he still rebels, I shall slit his throat.” The Emperor was totally LOL over this, because that’s exactly how he was dealing with some annoying ethnic groups that needed conquering.


Actress Li Li Hua played the title role in the 1963 movie Empress Wu

The novel has plenty of good sex scenes, which would no doubt delight Wu biographer Nigel Cawthorne, but it outdoes him in the girl-on-girl department. Or, rather, the concubine-on-concubine department. Hey, the ladies didn’t get to see the emperor that often. They had to do something to while away the hours.

Li Li Hu as “Crazy Eyes” Wu

As delightful as the love scenes are, I much prefer the Wu we get after she outplays, outwits and outlasts two emperors and takes over personally. In a speech to the Forbidden City she says, “I am not afraid of treacherous, rebellious men.” She goes on to name three rebels and list all their intimidating qualities. “Those three men were believed to be indomitable! When they tried to betray me, I cut off their heads.” Suckas!

Another lady with crazy eyes

Empress is the kind of historical novel I really like. Wu’s head-chopping habit is placed in the context of the societal and political challenges of her time, giving her justification without making her a misunderstood innocent. She’s neither a sociopathic dragon lady nor a slandered sweetie-pie. At the end, when her spirit meditates on the centuries that have passed since her reign and on her own reputation, I had tears in my eyes. Wu really did request that her stele, or gravestone, be left blank. The fictional empress says, “Some see this lack of inscription as a symbol of my humility: I wanted to give men the opportunity to inscribe it with their blame or their praise. Others interpret it as an expression of overweening pride from a woman who became emperor: No one can comment on my destiny.” I’m voting for option #2. No one should dare comment on her! Except for me. I would love to go visit her gravestone one day. After, all the world will marvel at the red-lipstick message that has appeared as if by magic on the blank tablet: KNEEL BEFORE WU.

The blank monument to Wu
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82 Responses to “Thursday Book Club: Empress Wu, Part II”

  1. Blue Floppy Hat says:

    Oh dear…I hope they unlock your blog soon.
    *waves pitchforks at evil Google guys*

  2. Renée S. says:

    I found some shoes I think you like:


    Animal shoes 😉

  3. AsianCajuns says:

    Boo Hiss on blogger for tagging your blog as spam. What gives?

    Congrats on getting recognized by Gawker – it’s about time!

  4. WendyB says:

    LOL, Cajuns! I knew it would happen someday, but it was still shocking. I love how they make an age difference and a Google search term reference so scandalous! And now people are searching on “amazing bosom” like crazy! Be original! Jebus!

  5. WendyB says:

    Renee S…that’s so funny. “Similar” to Marc Jacobs. You know someone was sitting at home sticking those whiskers on. I think the bat shoe would eat those up!

  6. altamiranyc says:

    Four BUSINESS days seems like forever right now….

  7. Lynette says:

    WendyB, I didn’t know one thing about the WuName Generator. So, I have you to thank for discovering that from my first and last names, I’m Womanly Panther, and from my middle and last names, I’m Inscrutable Drama Queen. What a hoot! I needed it, too. Thank YOU.

  8. WAT says:



  9. Jello on Springs says:

    The only song I’ve heard by Wu Tang is Method Man,and it scared the crap out of me lol And wtf :shakes fist at google guys: Meanwhile the real spammers are out there leaving me comments about how little my wanker is @_@ lol

  10. Blue Floppy Hat says:

    Go Wendy, Gawker has nothing on you! Just wait till those Blogger guys unlock this blog…

  11. Blue Floppy Hat says:

    PS: Your blog is now the the top search result for your name!

  12. Catherinette Singleton says:

    This is the best book review I have ever read. And I think you’re the first person in the history of the world to bring in the Wu Tang Clan to a book review.


  13. Cate says:

    in my opinion, empress wu was cruel.

  14. WendyB says:

    Lynette, very impressive names!
    WAT, don’t be scared, she can’t hurt you.
    Jello, I know exactly which one you mean. That’s why I turned comment moderation on.
    Floppy and Catherinette, thanks.
    Cate, of course she was. That was a requirement for the job, (as I believe I pointed out in Wu Part I.)

  15. Aretha says:

    How could someone accused you of that!? I don’t get it, what did you do?????
    PS: I miss your post

  16. Moira says:

    I was starting to worry. Thank god you’re ok. Sorry about your Google freeze : (

    That ain’t right!!!

    Perhaps you need to market some “Free Wendy” t-shirts. (My sister was the mastermind behind the Free Katie ones. Let me know.)

  17. Carolina Lange says:

    Great post! Your writting makes it so interesting!

  18. Jen (MahaloFashion) says:

    Heather mills is the most classic one legged lady ever.
    Blog again soonnnn

  19. WendyB says:

    I hope to, Jen! I have a post already to go as soon as I am unfrozen!

  20. altamiranyc says:

    Patiently waiting for the next post. I have my fingers crossed for you!

  21. WendyB says:

    Thanks, Altamira. Still nothing! It’s making me very nervous.

  22. Marie-Kristine says:

    come back soon! we all miss you 🙁

  23. Effortlessly Average says:

    They froze you!? Psha! I guess what you need to do is throw in stories of gratuitous sex, drop as many f’bombs as you can, and talk about your boobs all the time. THAT will keep the Blogger thugs from freezing you again.

  24. alexgirl says:

    I can’t believe you’re locked out of your blog! That is madness!
    But this post was genius. I love Wu Tang, and the book sounds fabulous. That picture of ODB always cracks me up. He’s so crazy!
    I was just on your site looking at all the fabulous jewels. I would kill to own something, but i don’t think I can afford it! Maybe my next book will be a bestseller and then I will buy that awesome buckle ring (my fave, I think).

  25. Perfect Ratio says:

    I think Empress Wu should be your misogyny-fighting superhero persona…you just need a costume!

  26. WendyB says:

    Perfect Ratio, wait till you see the piece of jewelry I’ve designed for another ass-kicking empress. It’s ALMOST done. Maybe I’ll have both the piece and the photo by next week.

  27. 123Valerie says:

    Google? How about “Gurgle” cause that’s the sound my barf made when I read about your troubles.

    Fight the good fight, sister.

  28. Deirdre says:

    Where’s my damn morning fix of Wendy?

    It’s killing me! I love me some Wu but every time I come here and see that same damn post I experience a downward trill of disappointment. I’m getting to feeling malevolent towards that bitch and she didn’t do anything. To me. Or lately.

    Well here’s to your blog’s quick(ish) recovery and I’ll keep clicking on in to see if the Google gods have release you from the ninth ring of hell.

  29. Pretty In Black says:

    Wu and the Wu Tang could have totally been hommies.

  30. Blue Floppy Hat says:

    Hang in there, Wendy! You have a whole battalion of readers who are very annoyed indeed at Google over this..

  31. ChiliLady says:

    This post made me LOL much :-)))

  32. the iron chic says:

    I read a Josephine Boneparte trilogy a few years ago by Sandra Gulland.
    If you like that subject, you should look into them too.
    Now I’m gonna google your book recommendation…..