Between 1,600 B.C. and 1,050 B.C., long before the production of the Terracotta Army, the teachings of Confucius, and the importation of Buddhist thought, parts of modern day China were living among divided Kingdoms. They held religious ceremonies, and were well versed in literary application with a dictionary of over 4,000 characters. Some tribes painted these characters with brushes on bamboo slips to keep daily records.
During this time along the Yellow River Valley, near modern day Anyang, Henan Province, the Shang Dynasty flourished. The advances of bronze smelting during this period ensured that skilled craftsmen would have work, that Kings would have fine decorations and utensils, and that warriors would be well armed.
It was a time before the vast area we know of today as China was brought together under one rule. In fact, much of the area known as China today was home to approximately seven different warring tribes before being unified by its first Emperor, Qin Shi Huang (King Zheng of Qin) of the Zhou (JO) Dynasty in 221 B.C. (It was Qin Shi Huang who thought that having united all the surrounding kingdoms into one vast empire, he should be addressed as Emperor of the nation, not simply as a King. This is why he is referred to as “First Emperor.”)
The Shang culture was one of agriculture, hunting and animal husbandry, all of which sustained not only the farmers who worked the fields and raised the animals, but also the citizens who were employed by the king in the areas of bronze crafting, weapons building, being a member of the Imperial Guard, or those who made up the Armed forces. The Shang Dynasty expanded bronze making to an efficient artistic and practical craft; the foundry and workshop for bronze smelting were usually within earshot of the King’s palace and occupied approximately 36,000 square yards. With the perfection of bronze production, the Chinese began making some of the most elaborate bronze pieces ever formed which served as both practical pieces for daily use as well as artistic sculptures. Birds, horses, dragons, tigers, phoenix’ the sun, and other depictions of fantasy and reality could be found on tools, musical instruments, weapons (daggers, arrowheads, spears), and food and ritual vessels.
Pyramids had long been constructed to protect the tombs of kings in Peru, Bosnia, Brazil, and of course Egypt. During the time in which the Shang Dynasty tombs were being built in China, Moses had recently descended Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments (approximately 1446 B.C), the Hindu Scripture, “The Vedas”, was written in India, and King Tutankhamen’s body was being embalmed in Egypt.
Not only was Chinese civilization quite advanced in its artistic and technical skills during the Shang Dynasty, but their mathematical skills were becoming more sophisticated as well; the principles of the Pythagorean triangle theory were being taught as were mathematical permutations, or “magic squares.” Even with all of the intellectual and physical achievements which the Shang Dynasty instigated, their religious beliefs remained primitive and archaic, though highly structured.
It is in this society, a social structure of hard labor by males, of great thinking credited to males, and of artistic achievement and religious rites ruled by males, that we meet our first Chinese Heroine, Fu Hao (FU HOW), who found herself at the palace of King Wu Ding by way of marriage.
It was an apparently effective decision of King Wu Ding to marry a woman from each surrounding tribe in the region in order to stave off warfare. It is in this way that King Wu Ding found himself married to over sixty wives, one of which was Fu Hao, who the King discovered had a knack with both divination and the sword.
Believing that the ancestors had power over their lives was sacrosanct to the Shang and it is the King who tried to divine the intentions of the ancestors as well as seek favor of God (Tien) with the means of a diviner. Considering the great importance of the diviner to the King, Fu Hao gained the King’s great favor. She could be found almost daily conducting a ceremony by which oracle bones were inscribed with questions for the ancestors and gods.
In order to obtain direction from the deities about the weather, battles, illness, or the success of crops, the questions were chiseled into the bone of an ox or the shell of a tortoise with a sharp tool. A heated rod was then applied to the oracle bone until the bone or shell cracked, at which point the diviner would interpret the cracks in relation to the inscribed question. Thus, it can be assumed, the diviner had much power. In an age when superstition was the dominant method for explaining medical and scientific phenomenon, the diviner was an important facet of society.
Not only did Fu Hao have great ability as a diviner, a reader of oracle bones and of conducting sacrifices, she became the first known female general in the history of China. Not long after being appointed diviner to the King, she and King Wu Ding set out on a three year tour of the countryside. They may have been skirting the boundaries of the kingdom in search of ore deposits such as copper, tin, and lead to use in producing bronze. Upon arriving back from their long journey in which they formed alliances and conducted trade with many tribes throughout the region, they found that the Shang territory was being invaded by hostile enemies from the north, the Tu Fang.
Fu Hao had been trained in military tactics in her youth. Coupling that education with her experience as a ruler in the art of war to her recently acquired knowledge in geography she learned traveling around the Shang territory, King Wu Ding granted Fu Hao’s request to lead the military campaign against the Tu Fang. It is here, in Fu Hao’s first battle as a General, that the full force of her abilities as a military leader was recognized. After being routed by a female leader, the Tu Fang never again challenged the forces of the Shang.
There were more challenges coming right on the heels of the Tu Fang battle. The Qiang Fang tribe in the northwest soon came to test the Shang, but again Fu Hao would lead the Shang to victory, riding high and mighty on a grand chariot made of wood and held together not with nails but with wooden pegs and leather lashing. The complicated structure of the Shang chariots, coupled with their well-stocked armament, made them a formidable army for any contender in battle.
Soon after the Shang defeated the Qiang Fang, threats from the southeast and southwest began to materialize. It was not long before the Shang ousted the Yi Fang as a threat with Fu Hao’s military strength and wit. Fu Hao’s genius demonstrated itself again when she fought alongside her husband, King Wu Ding, and cleverly laid a trap for the attacking forces of the Ba Fung tribe in the southwest. This fourth and final battle of Fu Hao’s was so demonstrative of military prowess that she was celebrated with fervor as the most outstanding military leader of the country. At one point, Lady Fu Hao led 3,000 soldiers in battles to protect the Shang Dynasty from invaders.
Not long after returning home from battle against the Ba Fung, Lady Fu Hao became very ill. During this illness her son, Xiao Yi, died, which distressed her so much that she was not able to recover and she soon died. King Wu Ding, having been so enamored with Fu Hao, had her tomb erected near his palace where it would be safe from looters. In fact, Fu Hao’s tomb remained unmolested until it was discovered more than 3,000 years later.
The treasures buried with Fu Hao are numerous; not only many animal and human sacrifices (16 slaves), but also with her earthly treasures; 490 different hairpins, articles of opal, 755 objects made of jade: birds, phoenix’, horses, dragons, tigers, etc., ivory objects, cowry shells, bronze jue’s, and over 440 smaller bronze vessels, pottery and130 weapons; one of which was a bronze battle axe which is a symbol of her great military influence. Lady Fu Hao’s tomb was found at the Capital of the Shang Dynasty, Anyang (present day Henan Province), in 1976 and is the only Shang Dynasty tomb of a member of the royal family to have gone unmolested since its construction in approximately 1250 B.C.
Statue of Fu Hao
Dynasties of Imperial China:
Bronze Age Dynasties:
Xia (Shaw) 2070-1600 BC
Erlitou (Arleetoo) 1900-1500 BC
Shang (Shang)1600-1046 BC
Zhou (Joe) 1046-256 BC
Early Imperial Period:
Qin (Chin) 221-207 BC
Western Han (Hon) 206 BC-8 AD
Xin (Shin) 8-23
Eastern Han 25-220
Three Kingdoms 200-280,
Pei (Pay)Northern region,
Shu (Shoo) SW region
Wu (Woo) SE region
Six Dynasties 222-589
Dong Jin (Dong Chin) 317-420
Liu-Song (Lew-Soong) 420-479
Nan Qi ( Non Chee) 479-502
Nan Liang (Non Leeyang) 502-557
Nan Chen (Non Shen) 557-589
Southern and Northern Dynasties 586-589
Late Imperial Period:
Sui (Swee) 581-618
Tang (Tong) 618-907
Five Dynasties 907-960
Later Liang 907-923
Hou Tang 923-936
Hou Jin 936-947
Hou Han 947-951
Hou Zhou 951-960
Ten Kingdoms 902-979
Nan Tang 937-975/976
Nan Ping 924-963
Qian Shu (Chi-en Shoo) 907-925
Hou Shu 934-965
Nan Han 917-971
Wu-Yue (Woo-You-A) 907-978
Bei-Han (beh hon) 951-979
Receive inspiring profiles in your inbox on a regular basis. Subscribe to the Globally Inspired newsletter
“Fu Hao (fl. 1040 BCE).” Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Ed. Anne Commire. Vol. 5 Detroit: Yorkin Publications, 2002. 807-809. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 10 Feb. 2014.
Peterson, Barbara Bemmett ED.. Notable Women of China: Shang Dynasty to the Early Twentieth Century, M.E. Sharpe, 2000, pp. 13-16, Electronic Book, 10 Feb. 2014.
Hammond, Kenneth James, ED. The Human Tradition in Premodern China (Issue 4 of Human Tradition Around The World) Rowman & Littlefield, 2002, pp. 11-12. Electronic Book. 10 Feb. 2014
Leave a Reply