Wu Zetian rose to power over 1300 years ago when she became the only woman in history to claim the title of Emperor of China. Her history has been marred in scandal and controversy. In its examination of newly discovered artifacts and other materials, China’s Forgotten Emperor attempts to piece together the real story behind this enigmatic leader.
Zetain first entered the historical consciousness as a popular concubine. She shrewdly gained favor with an emperor. When he passed away, the arrangement continued with his son and eventually led to her becoming his empress. Upon his death, Zetain assumed the throne of Emperor.
History’s recounting of Zetain is likely a reflection of how others perceived her at the time. As a female serving in a male dominated role, she stoked great suspicion and posed a severe threat against the establishment. Perhaps that’s why her story is littered with anecdotes and characterizations worthy of the most dastardly Shakespearean villain. Was she really as ruthless, tyrannical and power mad as she’s been portrayed? Did she really assassinate her rivals, and kill her own child? What was her ultimate contribution to the development of her country?
Recently unearthed discoveries – including documents, a jewel-adorned headdress, an inscribed gold tablet, and an ancient tomb – may change the official narrative of her reign. Contrary to previous historical accounts, Zetain might have been a widely revered leader who inspired awe in many circles. Her unprecedented role as emperor might have caused a ripple effect that empowered the general female population of the time. Her reign was significantly defined by diplomacy, though a fair amount of bloodshed also occurred during her period of power. She was repentant for her sins even as her scheming male counterparts closed in.
The film features a series of impressively produced re-enactments that deepen the viewer’s investment in this dramatic saga. Other segments of the film feature interviews with expert historians and archeologists, as well as visits to many of the historical sites that play a role in her story.
China’s Forgotten Emperor is an elegant and illuminating portrait of one of China’s most consequential and misunderstood figures.
Directed by: Stephen Finnigan