Ancient Female Politician Shangguan Wan'er's Epigraph Published

January 9, 2014
Editor: Sylvia Liu
Ancient Female Politician Shangguan Wan'er's Epigraph Published
The epigraph of Chinese ancient female politician and poet Shangguan Wan'er (664–710) was published in the Archeology and Cultural Relics magazine on January 7, 2014, providing a glimpse at her life and the period of history she experienced. [hsb.hsw.cn]
The epigraph of ancient Chinese female politician and poet Shangguan Wan'er (664–710) was published in the Archeology and Cultural Relics magazine on January 7, 2014, providing a glimpse at her life and the period of history she experienced.

Shangguan Wan'er lived during the reign of Empress Wu Zetian (690-705), and was known as Empress Wu's secretary. Her tomb was found in Xianyangin northwest China's Shaanxi Province near the Xi'an Xianyang International Airport on September 9, 2013, according to the province's cultural relics bureau.

Although it was badly damaged, and only a few burial accessories were found, archaeologists concluded that the tomb was built for Shangguan Wan'er based on the inscription on the memorial tablet inside the tomb.

The 982-character epigraph mainly describesd Shangguan Wan'er's family history. As a member of an influential Chinese family in the Tang Dynasty (618-907), her grandfather, Shangguan Yi, rose to the rank of chancellor during the reign of Emperor Gaozong of Tang (628-683), but was executed after he was found to be involved in a plot to depose of his wife, Empress Wu.

Shangguan Wan'er's father, Shangguan Tingzhi, was also put to death for taking part in the same conspiracy. Despite her family connections, she went on to become Wu's secretary when she became empress dowager following Gaozong's death and then took the title of Emperor herself in 690.

Empress Wu is said to have admired Shangguan Wan'er's qualities. As secretary, she was in charge of writing imperial edicts, dealing with matters of vital importance to the government and state - effectively taking on the role of prime minister.

One of the new findings based on the epigraph is that Shangguan Wan'er was a concubine to both Emperor Gaozong and his son, Emperor Zhongzong of Tang (656-710).

According to previous historical records, Shangguan Wan'er was given to the title of Zhaorong as one of the Nine Concubines (jiupin, official rank 2A) to Emperor Zhongzong of Tang at the age of 42. However according to the epigraph, she became a concubine to Emperor Gaozong of Tang at the age of 13, given the title of cairen (official rank 5A).

Another new finding overturns the long-standing opinion that Shangguan Wan'er was an accomplice of Emperor Zhongzong's wife Empress Wei, a powerful figure in the imperial court but singled out for arrest during a failed 707 coup attempt. The epigraph records that Shangguan Wan'er was strongly opposed to choosing Princess Anle, the youngest daughter of Emperor Zhongzong and Empress Wei, as the crown princess. She remonstrated with the Emperor Zhongzong several times and was demoted.

She was put to death in 710 for her involvement in a coup. In 711, Emperor Ruizong (662-716) restored Consort Shangguan's title as Zhaorong, and gave her the posthumous name of Wenhui (meaning 'civil and benevolent'). Emperor Xuanzong (685-762) later ordered that Consort Shangguan's works be collected into a 20-volume collection, and he had the chancellor Zhang Yue wrote the preface to the collection.

Her story has intrigued many in China over past years and has even inspired a TV series.

(Source: hsb.hsw.cn / Translated by womenofchina.cn)

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