Saturday, September 14, 2013

Tomb of Shangguan Wan'er, 664-710 CE, Discovered in China!

What a great discovery!  I am not familiar with written Chinese herstory, but it seems that during the Tang and Song Dynasties, in particular, women played important roles not only in family matters and behind-the-scenes in politics, they also served important official roles at the royal courts.  This is, perhaps, reflected in xiang qi (Chinese chess) in excavated pieces dating to the Song Dynasty that have female advisors ("guards"), which hold the place of a queen on western chess boards, but with the 9x9 board, flank the General on either side. 

In xiang qi, played on a 9 x 9 board, the pieces are placed on the intersections of the squares themselves, not inside the squares as pieces are placed in western chess.  There are 9 pieces across the back rank on each side and only one General (western chess equivalent is the King).  There is no "queen" in xiang qi as we know her in western chess.  Therefore, the presence of those female
advisors or guards in that Tang Dynasty era chess pieces is all the more important and perhaps indicative of the important positions women held in Tang and Song Dynasty courts.

Chinese archaeology has confirmed in many instances what ancient historians (from the east and the west) wrote about -- the presence of powerful female empresses or queens, duchesses, and consorts of high-ranking officials and nobles.  And now we have the tomb of Shangguan Wan'er of the early Tang Dynasty!  It was a time of expanding contacts between the East and the West, when the Tang emperors sent out missions to establish trade and diplomatic contacts with western cities and empires. Cultural exchange flourished and ideas, goods and people flowed both ways across the ancient Silk Road, as well as on the seas.

Not very good images of those Song Dynasty xiang qi pieces showing the female guard piece (there would have been at least two for one color of pieces) can be found at a Chinese Chess Art Gallery at Yutopian online. 

From BBC News
2 September 2013 Last updated at 06:29 ET

China finds ancient tomb of 'female prime minister'

The ancient tomb of a female politician in China, described as the country's "female prime minister", has been discovered, Chinese media say.

The tomb of Shangguan Wan'er, who lived from 664-710 AD, was recently found in Shaanxi province. Archaeologists confirmed the tomb was hers this week.

She was a famous politician and poet who served empress Wu Zetian, China's first female ruler.  However, the tomb was badly damaged, reports said.

The grave was discovered near an airport in Xianyang, Shaanxi province, reports said.  A badly damaged epitaph on the tomb helped archaeologists confirm that the tomb was Shangguan Wan'er's, state-run news agency Xinhua reported.

Experts described the discovery as one of "major significance", even though it had been subject to "large-scale damage".

"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," he said.

Shangguan Wan'er was a trusted aide of Wu Zetian, who ruled during China's prosperous Tang dynasty. She [Empress Wu Zetian] was killed in a palace coup in 710 AD.

Her [Sjangguan Wan'er's] story has intrigued many in China, and has even inspired a TV series.

Oh yeah, Wu Zetian was much hated for many years both before and after she took the Chinese throne for herself and was ultimately, finally, shoved aside in her old age.  When her husband died, she took control of the throne in place of a, frankly, idiotic son who played the role of puppet for many ambitious men behind the scenes, along with many ambitious concubines of the deceased emperor touting their own sons as potential worthy heirs to the throne.  See what kind of trouble happens when a man can't keep his penis inside his pants - ha!  But Wu Zetian outfoxed them all for a good 40 years or more. She was replaced on the throne, but not killed, and died a short time thereafter at the age of 80. The Dynasty died within a generation of Wu Zetian.  You can find a lot of information online about Empress Wu Zetian, here are some interesting links:

Empress Wu Zetian, from Women in World History
Empress Wu Zetian, from Wikipedia
Yeah, she wasn't a very nice lady sometimes...

For more information on Shangguan Wan'er:

Tomb of China's woman prime minister Shangguan Wan'er, from The Daily Mail online (video in Chinese)
Huffington Post news report from September 12, 2013
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