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  • In China's Valley of the Kings there stands a tall carved stone

  • It marks the tomb of a woman who rose from lowly concubine to become emperor of China

  • The only woman to dare claim that title

  • But China's female Emperor has gone down in history as a controversial and deeply divisive ruler

  • To have a woman with such power

  • really threatened the establishment

  • Not only did Wu Zetian rock the boat in some ways. She overturned it

  • It would have been a very dangerous thing to get in the way of Wu Zetian

  • Since her death 1,300 years ago wu zetian has been remembered as a callous tyrant who brought calamity to china

  • But now

  • Extraordinary new discoveries are revealing a very different picture of her reign from ancient tombstones

  • I've been waiting since this was excavated. I am ecstatic

  • to Buddhist temples

  • I honestly wasn't expecting that that is really exciting seeing this with your eyes is incredible experience

  • Lost treasures have even more fantastic than I thought it would be

  • Now for the first time experts are discovering how one woman managed to rule all the Imperial China

  • And whether Wu Zetian really was an evil dictator or one of the most misunderstood leaders in history

  • The only female emperor in China's 2,000 years of Imperial history was named Wu Zetian

  • move the celestial

  • She first entered court in 637 ad as a 13 year old concubine

  • Part of the hareem of mistresses serving emperor Taizong of the Tang dynasty

  • Tang Taizong had more than a hundred concubines by repute. She was beautiful. She was charming. She was entertaining

  • She also had a real zest for life

  • Concubine Wu soon got herself noticed

  • When she entered the palace

  • She quickly gained favour of this emperor and her relationship of become closer and with the rise her of her influence at court

  • and

  • She proved to be politically very very skilful and she's very shrewd

  • When the old Emperor died Wu Zetian became at first concubine to his son Gaozong

  • Then in 655 he made her his Empress

  • But emperor gaozong was a sickly man

  • And gradually Wu became the real power behind the throne

  • Until in 690 with her husband dead Wu Zetian stepped from the shadows and declared herself Emperor

  • Yet China's ancient chroniclers were scathing in their accounts of her rise to power

  • History tells us a really dark and bleak picture about Empress Wu

  • One of the most brutal stories we have is that she killed her own child just to frame the previous Empress and

  • gain station at court

  • We're also told that Wu Zhao had her two

  • Rivals legs and arms cut off and then dip them in a vat of wine and let them slowly bleed to death

  • So this paints a picture of a devious

  • manipulating

  • calculating

  • self-serving and absolutely ruthless Virago

  • hell-bent on power

  • Even after she claimed the throne we're told Wu Zetian was ruthless in her reign

  • This is the tomb of Wu Zetian's second son Li Xian. He was a threat to his mother

  • Li Xian was accused of treason and he was exiled to the most remote

  • corner of the Chinese Empire locked in a room and

  • forced to commit suicide by poisoning

  • So this is a mother killing her own son so that she can hold on to power

  • Wu Zetian led China for nearly 50 years

  • According to legend she was a tyrant whose reign brought disaster to the Empire

  • Now archaeologists run earthing new evidence the challenges this version of Wu's story

  • The professor Zhang Jianlin is the world's leading archaeologists to the tang era

  • Today the city of Xian has grown to encompass old Chang'an, Wu's capital

  • The population of 12 million Xian is rapidly expanding

  • It's also home to professor Zhang's conservation facility

  • Historian dr. Harry Rothschild has heard about some intriguing recent finds that date to Wu's rein. Whoa

  • It's amazing seeing all these Tang artifacts

  • I've been studying Wu Zhao, Wu Zetian for 17 years and finally here

  • We are at Ground Zero you can sense her everywhere here in Chang'an

  • The figurines show life in Wu's capital the musicians traders and nobles buried with the dead to ensure a comfortable

  • afterlife

  • but there's also something unexpected here a

  • first clue to what Wu's China was really like

  • So we're looking at an unprecedented boost for the position of women

  • you're talking about a female Emperor here after all and and so that

  • Translated directly in this sort of greater opportunity and greater freedom for women in the late 7th in early 8th century

  • It seems like there may be more to Wu Zetian that meets the eye

  • Ancient chroniclers denigrated her reign

  • But many recent tomb discoveries like the women in men's clothing hinted a rather different story

  • Professor Tonia Eckfeld is an expert on Tang era tombs

  • She's on her way to see one of the most amazing archaeological finds in all Chinese history

  • It's amazing it's even more fantastic than I thought it would be

  • This is the fabled Phoenix crown of ancient China a

  • long-lost treasure from the Tang era

  • written about in ancient texts, but never seen

  • until now

  • This priceless headdress is held under lock and key and can only be viewed by special appointment

  • Tonia believes that is a vital clue to the truth about Wu Zetian's China

  • There's an enormous amount to investigate in this piece

  • Looking closely the metal work is filigree, and there's a lot of granulation

  • Granulation consists of tiny little beads of gold

  • The whole crown is like a peacock displaying its tail

  • There are very very fine flowers made of mother-of-pearl and pearl. There are even fine bunches of grapes made of Chinese glass

  • So really what we see here is something

  • cosmopolitan and something rich

  • something fashionable full of

  • luxury items not only in the making of it, but also in the imagery involved

  • Professors Jung's team found the Phoenix crown in a grave that was already in exceptional find, a tomb that had never been raided

  • Inside was a skeleton and on the skull the beehive hairstyle

  • studded with jewels

  • The skeleton was of a young woman named Li Chui a minor descendant of the Tang royal family

  • For 18 months the team carefully picked out every single jewel and stone

  • Slowly piecing together the headdress to reveal its true glory

  • But when they used x-ray chromatography to discover where the different jewels and stones came from they were in for a surprise

  • The headdress has carnelian from Uzbekistan

  • 2,900 miles to the west of Chang'an, garnet from India 3,000 miles southwest

  • Amber from Iran 4,000 miles away and ivory from Sri Lanka

  • 4500 miles from Wu's capital

  • The crown gives us clues about Wu Zetian's society. Life was rich. There's a lot of luxury

  • It was a real high point in the arts

  • What we can see here is the embodiment of all of the wealth and all of the treasure that the Tang court could attract

  • Li Chui wasn't even a princess if she was buried wearing this priceless headdress

  • Clear evidence of the extraordinary wealth of China at the time

  • Her tomb holds one final secret

  • She was buried with the Jade silkworm in her hand

  • Another clue that reveals Wu's ambitions to make her China the wealthiest empire in the world

  • In seventh century China a woman named Wu Zetian rose from lonely concubine to Empress

  • With her husband, the Emperor's sick. She ruled the Empire in all but name

  • Ancient chroniclers dismissed her reign as a time of calamity

  • But today's experts think the truth may be very different

  • In a tomb 50 miles northwest of wu's capital city, Chang'an

  • Tonia Eckfeld is investigating murals that provide strong evidence of Wu's influence and power

  • Here we can see a mural of foreign ambassadors coming to court

  • Ambassadors came from far and wide in this mural we can see a Mongolian a Korean and a townshend monk

  • perhaps from Rome or Syria

  • There's a man from Xinjian from Greece and from Persia

  • It's interesting because we can see that the The Ambassadors are in

  • quite subservient positions their hands are clasped before them and

  • Seem quite in awe of the situation

  • The mural suggests that Wu Zetian was a respected international leader of her time

  • I think Wu Zetian was a consummate politician

  • she saw advantage in the use of

  • diplomacy rather than warfare and led the society that was quite open and open to foreigners

  • Many foreigners at high level beat a path to her door

  • Recent research suggests that there were 25,000 foreigners living in Wu's Chang'an

  • Many were traders and more than anything, they were after one Chinese product.

  • Since the 4th millennium BC China had produced the finest quality silk

  • By Wu's era the demand for Chinese silk had made it as valuable as gold

  • The ancient trade routes of the Silk Road began in Chang'an spreading east and west linking China to other nations

  • But by the mid 7th century bandits and robbers threatened to stop trade in its tracks

  • new discoveries reveal Wu Zetian's master strain

  • She built military outposts far into Central Asia securing safe passage all along the Silk routes

  • Harry Rothschild has come to the very start of the Silk Road in Chang'an to find the latest archaeological evidence of trade in Wu's capital

  • This is incredible. We've been allowed to come right down here into the Western market

  • We're standing right on the edge of the canal

  • looking right across into this square where you had all of these stalls arrayed where rows of iron mongers and butchers and

  • tanner's and

  • silversmiths, goldsmith's, calligraphy brush salesmen would be arrayed where you could find anything under the Sun

  • If you get down closely here you can see

  • Ruts that have been left in in the earth

  • From the carts that went over this bridge you really feel the ambience of the Western market

  • In Wu Zetian's Chang'an, the east and west markets marked the start of the silk road

  • In the West market goods from lands to the west of Chang'an were bought and sold

  • Silk Road trade not only made Wu's Empire wealthy it brought so many

  • foreigners to China that her capital became one of the first truly

  • cosmopolitan cities in the world. People from all across the world traveled to China and many chose to stay

  • And this multicultural influence can still be felt in present day Xi'an

  • We are walking along the Huimin street the Chinese Muslims street on the very heart of old

  • Tang China and it is bustling it is vibrant. It is full of energy

  • As you see by the milling bustle going on behind me now

  • I think these are sugared figs or dried figs here

  • these came from along the Silk Road from from Persia

  • So this is a kind of wheat kernel candy

  • and he's pulling this taffy then afterwards they'll take the taffy and they'll

  • Roll it out with pumpkin seeds or with sesame seeds and then turn it into this hard candy

  • The sesame came from Persia and the Middle East along the Silk Road

  • So this is this is sort of the fruit of something that was trafficked thirteen hundred years ago during Wu Zetian's time

  • It is good. I think in terms of the

  • multiculturalism the vibrance the bustle the energy just the constant commercial buzz

  • You have a great sense of what was going on during the time

  • By 662 with her husband the Emperor ill Empress Wu Zetian was an effective control of the whole Chinese Empire

  • Trade had brought wealth and luxury

  • Evident from the valuable artifacts that have been found and Wu wanted to flaunt this to the rest of the world

  • To do this she planned the expansion of the Imperial Palace on a scale never seen before

  • When archaeologists first uncovered the foundations they were amazed by what they found

  • This is one of the huge gated entrances rebuilt to scale on those very foundations

  • This is Danfeng Gate the southern gate of Daming palace

  • Just looking up at it it conjures a sense of awe

  • For me

  • It's a statement

  • It provides a sense of Imperial grandeur

  • It makes any one sort of standing before the gate feel a sense of their own smallness and insignificance

  • Wu Zetian's Daming Palace was the largest in the world

  • Completed in just three years the scale of the complex outshone anything anyone had ever seen

  • Look at the size of Daming Palace

  • This is twice as big as old pompeii

  • It's five times bigger than the Forbidden City of the Ming and Qing Dynasty Emperor's it's twenty-two times the size of the Acropolis

  • The scope the grand juror. It's it's absolutely staggering.

  • You can read about it

  • but you don't really appreciate that magnitude until you step out on this balcony and you look out at this vista

  • There are archery grounds. There are polo grounds, cockfighting arenas,

  • places for drama troops to practice and that's just the beginning. There are three or four more palaces beyond that

  • Emissaries coming from foreign countries would come in with their jaws dropping with just a sort of starry-eyed

  • wonder and they would feel like they were looking at a celestial world a paradise on earth.

  • I do think that was about imposing her power with the majesty and size of Daming Palace

  • But Harry thinks this place is unusual in more than just its extreme size

  • Chang'an when it was first designed was the model of perfect Imperial symmetry

  • The old Imperial Palace was in the north central position within the Tang capital Chang'an. This new Daming Palace

  • was outside of the city walls altogether. It's very unusual to build a palace

  • outside of this usual model of imperial symmetry

  • there's one good reason for 12 years Wu Zhao had

  • languished in the old imperial palace. For her,

  • this was a chance to get a new start to distance herself from her lowly and obscure past as a fifth rank talent

  • Here where you have this stunning new imperial grandeur

  • was an opportunity to sort of reinvent herself

  • It's becoming clear that Wu Zetian made China a global superpower

  • Contrary to how the legends were written she was at the center of a web of trade

  • wealth and political influence that stretched from Japan to the Mediterranean

  • In the seventh century Wu Zetian's capital city Chang'an was in a class of its own

  • So Chang'an during Wu Zetian's time would have been an absolutely massive city

  • There's supposed to be almost a million people living within the city walls and another million outside

  • which just outclasses anything else in the world at that time

  • Jonathan Dugdale from Birmingham University thinks he knows one reason for Wu Zetian's remarkable success

  • She would win the support of the common people through the reinvigorated religion that was sweeping China

  • Buddhism

  • Wu Zetian realized patronizing Buddhism was a great way to please the people and what better way than building new temples and pagodas

  • So one of the main ones she built was this one right behind this the great wild goose pagoda

  • The great goose pagoda was originally built in 652

  • As someone who studied pagodas for a long time, this is

  • particularly awesome

  • The pagoda was an important temple housing sacred Buddhist writings

  • But just 50 years after it was built. It was destroyed in an earthquake

  • Wu, who had been brought up in the Buddhist faith spending time in a nunnery,

  • decided to rebuild the pagoda but on a much bigger scale

  • Jonathan suspects that this new building was a record breaker and

  • that Wu surpassed herself in her desire to make her mark in her people's faith

  • And he thinks he can prove it.

  • I would really like to find out how tall this building was when Wu Zetian rebuilt it

  • Because it'd be really interesting if she's decided to build it significantly bigger for a reason

  • But first he has a problem to solve. Wu Zetian's pagoda was partially damaged by a second earthquake

  • The top three floors toppled

  • So Jonathan has to work out how high her structure would have been with the missing floors

  • onwards and upwards

  • One two Okay that's 40 steps <