China unearths ancient tomb of early woman prime minister
Shangguan Wan’er an influential 7th century politician
The newly discovered tomb of Shangguan Wan’er. Photograph: STR/AFP/Getty
Chinese archaeologists have discovered the tomb of a 7th-century female politician, who has been described as the country’s “female prime minister” and served China’s first empress.
Shangguan Wan’er (664–710) was an influential female politician and poet during the rule of Empress Wu Zetian (690-705), during the Tang dynasty, and was one of “the four most talented women” in ancient China.
Archaeologists confirmed the tomb was hers this week, according to the provincial cultural relics bureau.
The burial site was of “major significance” even though it had suffered “large-scale damage”, the Xinhua news agency reported. It was identified as being hers by a badly damaged epitaph.
“The roof had completely collapsed, the four walls were damaged, and all the tiles on the floor had been lifted up,” Geng Qinggang, an archaeology research associate in Shaanxi, told Chinese media.
“Hence, we think it must have been subject to large-scale, organised damage . . . quite possibly damage organised by officials.”
Affairs at court
Shangguan Wan’er was involved in some serious courtly shenanigans. She married Empress Wu’s son, while having relationships with both the ruler’s lover and her nephew.
Her grandfather and father were both important court officials, yet both were killed because of her grandfather’s opposition to Wu’s power grab.
Shangguan herself was demoted to slave status along with her mother. Later, however, she won the empress’s appreciation for her talents in poetry and management of state affairs, and served as a secretary for the empress.