History Resource Cupboard – lessons and resources for schools

History Resource Cupboard - lessons and resources for schools

8. Does Empress Wu deserve her reputation as a ruthless murderer?

This lesson focuses on one of the most famous women in Chinese history: Wu Zetian, the only women to ever rule in her own right as empress.

Wu is a figure around whom various myths and, perhaps, misconceptions have built up – and in the lesson students examine the extent to which evidence supports some of these myths.

It introduces students to a contemporary account, which compared Wu to both a serpent and a wolf, and claimed that she ‘butchered’ several members of her own family.

Subsequently, students plot a series of clues on to a continuum, to assess the extent to which ideas of Wu as a ruthless murderer are borne out by the evidence.

Reflection on the reliability of the sources follows, before students are tasked with deciding whether or not Wu deserves to be included on a list of the ‘top 10 evil people from ancient times’.  

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  • Lesson presentation: PowerPoint
  • Lesson write-up: PDF
  • Worksheet 1 & Clues : PDF

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