624 – 705
Empress Wu Zetian was the only female leader of China for four millennia. She became concubine to Emperor Taizong at age 14. After his death, she married his successor and son, Gaozong, who suffered a stroke in 660. Wu became the de facto leader of China until her death in 705. She is heralded as a ruler who expanded China’s borders and offered state support for Taoism, Buddhism, literature and learning. Like many women in power her enemies painted her as a sex maniac after her death.