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Little is known about the early life of the warrior and commander Fu Hao who lived during the later Shang Dynasty, some 3,200 years ago. Wife of the Shang emperor Wu Ding, all records of her, inscribed in ancient oracle bone scripture, lend historians to believe that she is one who, taking advantage of her position in that still semi-matriarchal slave society, was able to bring her talents fully into play. 

In her day, the emperor Wu Ding pushed the Shang empire to its zenith by extending his realm of power through the cultivation of loyal collaborators. Many local tribes came over and pledged allegiance to him. In good faith Wu Ding married one woman from each such tribe, and Fu Hao was one of those wives. Nonetheless, she has gone down in history not so much as a stateswoman and an outstanding strategist, in her own right.....

It can be seen from ancient historical records that the major functions of the state at that time fell into two categories: to conduct sacrificial and divination ceremonies and to do battle. The records show that Fu Hao played an important part in a series of wars during the reign of Wu Ding.

As the mere size of an army often determined the outcome of a battle, especially when fairly primitive weapons were in use, the Shang regime rulers paid much attention to recruitment, and in keeping with the spirit, Fu Hao drew soldiers form within her own country and from neighboring tribes as well. It is found in the records that Fu Hao led generals and a huge army of ten thousand soldiers in battles. The two big yue, or battle-axes, found in her tomb weighing 9 kilos each, and two smaller ones are bearing the inscription of Fu Hao, are indications of her military authority.

The Shang territories were surrounded by hostile tribes. The Tus inhabited about one thousand li north of the Shang capital and repeatedly violated the Shang borders, seizing men and materials. Shang emperors prior to Wu Ding fought them many times but could not defeat them. History tells us that they were at last forced to surrender by Fu Hao in a single decisive battle, after which they became compliant.

The Yis, to the southeast, were not very strong but sometimes also made incursions into Shang territory. Under Wu Ding's order, Fu Hao's troops defeated them easily. Her force also repulsed the attacks of the Qiangs from the northwest. The Bafangs in the southwest were also a belligerent people. Wu Ding made a surprise attack, forcing them to flee right to the hands of Fu Hao's men who were waiting in ambush.

 
The Shangs suffered considerably after the death of Fu Hao. The Gongfang to the north took to battle against the shangs, threatening the latter’s very existence. Worried, Wu Ding made repeated appeals and sacrifices to the spirit of Fu Hao in the hope that she would help him defeat the invaders.


Source:  All-China Women's Federation

Women's History Magazine

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