Chen Shuozhen, A Woman Who Wanted to Be An Emperor

Usually we think that Wu Zetian (武则天) was the only female emperor of ancient China. However, in fact, another woman also addressed herself as the title “Emperor”.

In the early days of the Tang Dynasty, the emperors aroused their efforts to make the country prosperous, but they unleashed wars to other nations such as Turk (突厥) and Korea. Though the army of Tang Empire won the battles, the burden of Chinese people was very heavy. Many officials tried to exploit the common people. So social conflicts became acute. After Tang Gao-Zong (唐高宗) who was the third emperor of the Tang Dynasty ascended the throne, the status was not improved, and even the conditions of some areas were more acute. Finally, the revolted fire started to burn. In the tenth month (Lunar Calendar) of AD 653, Chen Shuozhen (陈硕贞), an ordinary woman of Mu Zhou (睦州, modern-day Jiande [建德] City of Zhejiang Province), led her followers to rebel against the Tang Dynasty by religious instigation. This rebellion was a heroic action, because at that time the Tang Dynasty was flourishing, and the official army was very strong. However, this brave woman was not afraid about the future. She called herself “Wenjia-Emperor”(文佳皇帝) and created an official system as the Tang Dynasty. This thing occurred for the first time, because no one woman addressed herself “Emperor” before that time. Chen Shuozhen was brave to call herself “Emperor”, and this showed she challenged the uppermost power.

Chen Shuozhen was supported by the local poor people, and soon her army developed to have several ten thousand warriors. Her army seized several cities of modern-days Zhejiang Province. In Wu Zhou (婺州, modern-days Jinhua [金华] City of Zhejiang), Shuozhen met a strong opponent Cui Yixuan (崔义玄) who was the local governor of Wu Zhou (婺州刺史). The subordinates of Cui Yixuan were very afraid of the army of Chen Shuozhen, and they tried to persuade Yixuan to retreat, but Cui Yixuan decided to resist. An advisory officer (司空参军) Cui Xuanji (崔玄籍) encouraged him and said, “A uprising which conforms with the will of the Heaven and the people can’t be successful sometimes. As for Chen Shuozhen, she is only an ordinary woman who know about some magics, so she is unable to persist for a long time.” Cui Yixuan was excited, and ordered Cui Xuanji to lead the vanguard army to intercept the front army of Chen Shuozhen which was led by Tong Wenbao (童文宝). Cui Yixuan led more troops to reinforce the army of Cui Xuanji. Tong Wenbao only had four thousand warriors, and he had to ask Chen Shuozhen for aid.

Chen Shuozhen led her main force to support Tong Wenbao. Then Wu Zhou was attacked by several ten thousand people. Cui Yixuan didn’t fear of the army of Chen Shuozhen. On the one hand, Cui Yixuan heartened his troops. He fabricated a lie and told his troops that a star fell down to the camp of the enemy, and it showed the enemy would be annihilated. On the other hand, Cui Yixuan sent messengers to go to other cities and ask for military aid. In the end of the eleventh month of AD 653, Fang Renyu (房仁裕), an adjutant of the local governor of Yang Zhou (扬州长史), received the urgent letter of Wu Zhou, and he led his army to aid Wu Zhou at once. Cui Yixuan had joined the army which rebelled against the Sui Dynasty before decades, so he had sufficient military experience. Official armymen were drilled enough and they had strict organization, so they were good at fighting. The revolted common people were not drilled and Chen Shuozhen had no military experience. Therefore, the revolted army of Chen Shuozhen was annihilated by the armies of Cui Yixuan and Fang Renyu. More than ten thousand revolted people were captive, most of the other several ten thousand people died in battle. Chen Shuozhen was caught, and she was killed unfortunately.

The uprising of Chen Shuozhen occurred in the strong and prosperous times of the Tang Dynasty, so it inevitably failed soon. However, this uprising taught the rulers of the Tang Empire a lesson that the peaceful and prosperous society could not be created by deceptive and whitewashing means.

Wenjia-Emperor Chen Shuozhen died. Two years later, Wu Zetian became an empress. 35 years later, Wu Zetian became a great female emperor who ruled the whole Central Nation. Though both the two women gave themselves the title “Emperor”, they were different. Chen Shuozhen led a peasant uprising and called herself “Emperor”, but Wu Zetian really ascended the throne of the Tang Empire by her political skills and built a new empire.

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