Fu Hao – Queen, General, and Priestess




fu hao
(Chris Gyford CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons)

If a historian could name the roles that Queen Fu Hao played in her lifetime, the list would be endless. Queen Fu Hao played so many unusual roles that very few women in history have sought to emulate. She was the most powerful of King Wuding’s three queens whom he married during his lifetime.[1] She played the role of a loyal wife and a caring mother. She proved to be so loyal that King Wuding trusted her enough to lead and command troops on the battlefield.[2] She fought in many victorious battles. In one battle, she commanded 13,000 troops (the largest recorded army in Shang history) to victory against the Qiang, a neighbouring kingdom.[3] Thus, Queen Fu Hao is the first recorded female general in Chinese history.[4] She is also the only woman who had both the rights of royal sacrifice and military command in ancient China.[5] Queen Fu Hao also played the role of a priestess conducting many religious rituals.[6] She was a vassal lord and an administrator.[7] She was also worshipped as a goddess shortly after her death.[8] Thus, Queen Fu Hao was one of the most powerful women in the Shang dynasty.

Fu Hao was born around 1040 B.C.E., in the late Shang dynasty period.[9] The Shang dynasty was the second oldest dynasty in Chinese history and was the era with the earliest form of Chinese writing.[10] In Fu Hao’s youth, she received military training and was educated in the most advanced arts of war.[11] This knowledge would one day prepare her to lead battles alongside her husband, King Wuding.

King Wuding of Shang’s strategy of expanding his territory was having a woman from each nearby tribe enter his harem.[12] He had a total of 64 women in his harem, and one of these girls was Fu Hao.[13] Fu Hao quickly became his favourite. King Wuding made her his Queen after she gave birth to Xiao Yi, who was made heir apparent.[14] Archaeological evidence from several inscriptions of oracle bones made by King Wuding refer to Fu Hao as Queen.[15] Other inscriptions of oracle bones referring to her consist of prayers for childbearing and, more surprising, military success.[16] These bones show that Queen Fu Hao played a major military role for King Wuding. Queen Fu Hao also performed religious ceremonies.[17] She was recorded to have made sacrificial offerings to the gods.[18] Artefacts of inscriptions on tortoise shells bear the words “Prepared by Fu Hao”[19]. The evidence proves that Queen Fu Hao was in charge of divination rites.[20] Thus, archaeological evidence shows that Fu Hao played political, religious, and military roles.

Queen Fu Hao was second in command under King Wuding in both battle and administration.[21] She fought in battles against many of the kingdoms that bordered their territory. She fought against the Jiang tribes and took many of them captive.[22] She also led victorious campaigns against the Tu, Bai, and Yi.[23] In these battles, famous Shang generals (Zhi and Hou Gou) reported to her. She even led the earliest recorded large ambush in Chinese history.[24] Against the most-feared Qiang army, she commanded 13,000 troops with the two famous generals following her direct orders.[25]  They ambushed and defeated the Qiang. This victory established her as a talented and prestigious general. To celebrate her victory, Queen Fu Hao took many of the Qiangs as captives.[26]  Due to her prestigious military career, her husband awarded her with a fiefdom to guard the border states.[27] The fact that King Wuding let Queen Fu Hao lead military campaigns against her powerful enemies prove to historians that he trusted and believed in her abilities as a general.[28]

It is speculated by historians that Queen Fu Hao died young due to a hunting accident.[29] Her only son, Xiao Yi, died sometime before her.[30] Yet, Queen Fu Hao’s story did not end with her death. Instead, she began to be worshipped as a goddess.[31] Fearing that Queen Fu Hao would be alone in the afterlife, King Wuding married her to Shang’s highest god, Di and to his ancestors (one of whom was his own father).[32] He frequently sought her blessing for future battles.[33]

One of the greatest modern Chinese archaeological excavations was the unearthing of her tomb in Anyang in 1976.[34] It is known to be the largest preserved tomb from the Shang dynasty era.[35] The items inside the tomb consisted of four bronze drinking vessels, bow and arrows, bronze dagger axes, 440 smaller bronze vessels, 700 pieces of jade, 560 hairpins, and several items of opal, ivory, and pieces of pottery.[36] The tomb also contained sixteen human corpses, which archaeologists found to be slaves forced to be buried alive with her to serve her in the afterlife.[37] While Queen Fu Hao lived a short life, she was a major historical figure in the Shang Dynasty era. Queen Fu Hao has been largely forgotten, but archaeologists are slowly putting pieces together to tell her remarkable story.

References:

Childs-Johnson, E. (2003). Fu Zi: The Shang Woman Warrior. The Fourth International

Conference on Chinese Paleography [ICCP].

Fu Hao-Queen and top general of King Wuding of Shang. (n.d.). Retrieved July 22, 2020 from

http://www.colorq.org/Articles/article.aspx?d=asianwomen&x=fuhao.

Peterson, B. B., & Guorong, W. (2015). Notable women of China: Shang Dynasty to the early

twentieth century (B. B. Peterson, Ed.; F. Hong, Trans.). London: Routledge.

Queen, Mother, General: 40th Anniversary of Excavating Shang Tomb of Fu Hao. (2016).

Retrieved July 22, 2020, from

http://en.capitalmuseum.org.cn/2017-11/23/content_40078002.html.

Woman General Fu Hao. (February 14, 2007). Retrieved July 22, 2020 from

https://web.archive.org/web/20070214080543/http://www.womenofchina.cn/people/wom

en_in_history/1405.jsp.


[1] Childs-Johnson, p. 2

[2] Childs-Johnson, p. 8

[3] Childs-Johnson, p. 8

[4] “Queen, Mother, General: 40th Anniversary of Excavating Shang Tomb of Fu Hao”, para. 2

[5]“Queen, Mother, General: 40th Anniversary of Excavating Shang Tomb of Fu Hao”, para. 2

[6] “Fu Hao-Queen and top general of King Wuding of Shang”, para. 2

[7] Childs-Johnson, p. 2

[8] Childs-Johnson, p. 15

[9] Peterson and Guorong, Hong, trans., p. 13

[10]Peterson, p. 8

[11]Peterson and Guorong, Hong, trans., p. 15

[12]“Woman General Fu Hao”, para. 1

[13]“Woman General Fu Hao”, para. 1

[14]Childs-Johnson, p. 2

[15]Childs-Johnson, p. 4

[16]Peterson and Guorong, Hong, trans., pp. 13-14

[17]“Fu Hao-Queen and top general of King Wuding of Shang”, para. 2

[18]“Fu Hao-Queen and top general of King Wuding of Shang”, para. 2

[19]“Woman General Fu Hao”, para. 3

[20]“Woman General Fu Hao”, para. 3

[21] Childs-Johnson, p. 7

[22]“Fu Hao-Queen and top general of King Wuding of Shang”, para. 1

[23]“Fu Hao-Queen and top general of King Wuding of Shang”, para. 1

[24]Childs-Johnson, p. 8

[25]Childs-Johnson, p. 8

[26]Childs-Johnson, p. 8

[27]“Fu Hao-Queen and top general of King Wuding of Shang”, para. 1

[28]Peterson and Guorong, Hong, trans., p. 16

[29]Childs-Johnson, pp. 14-15

[30]Peterson and Guorong, Hong, trans., p. 16

[31]Childs-Johnson, p. 15

[32]Childs-Johnson, p. 15

[33]“Queen, Mother, General: 40th Anniversary of Excavating Shang Tomb of Fu Hao”, para. 3

[34]Peterson and Guorong, Hong, trans., p. 13

[35]Peterson and Guorong, Hong, trans., p. 13

[36]Peterson and Guorong, Hong, trans., p. 13

[37] Peterson and Guorong, Hong, trans., p. 13






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