Education About Asia: Online Archives

The Eyes of the Empress Women in China’s Tang Dynasty

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By Lyn Reese

WOMEN IN THE WORLD CURRICULUM RESOURCE PROJECT

1030 SPRUCE STREET

BERKELEY, CA, 94707

510-524-0304

1996. 58 PAGES, PAPERBACK

Reviewed by Helen Finken

The Eyes of the Empress guides secondary students in examining the diverse roles of women during China’s Tang Dynasty (618–906 C.E.). A wide variety of resources are provided which highlight women’s significant contributions to the cultural and political life of the period. An analysis of the role of Confucian ideology in defining the status and role of women extends students’ understanding of why Tang women are considered unique in Chinese history.

The primary teaching component of The Eyes of the Empress is a twenty-six page, original story based on true accounts of the lives of two Tang women: Yu Xuanji, a poet, and the Empress Wu Zetian. The fact that these women were not contemporaries compromises the historical accuracy of the account, but the Tang-period lifestyles and accomplishments of the women are effectively portrayed.

Changan, the setting for much of the story, comes alive through rich descriptions of its sounds, architecture, geographic layout, and the varied activities of its cosmopolitan population. When the characters travel beyond Changan, vivid details enable students to visualize rural life along the Huang He (Yellow River). Students can also picture themselves as members of Wu Zetian’s court, based on descriptions of court fashions, entertainment, foreign envoys and Buddhist ceremonial beliefs and practices. Throughout the story, the rich cultural and historical details of the Tang period provide the context in which the characters interact as they try to resolve the dilemmas posed by their individual dreams and circumstances.