Wednesday, 7 January 2015

What did Empress Wu Zetian look like?

The TV drama The Empress of China is hot among audiences recently. Actress Fan Bingbing, who plays the role of Empress Wu Zetian, is a fabulous beauty. What did Wu Zetian, China's only female monarch, look like in real life? Let's explore the possibilities.
A painting by Zhang Xuan is said to have portrayed Wu Zetian. [Photo/]
The famous Chinese scholar Guo Moruo researched this, and he thinks that a plump empress portrayed in a painting by Tang Dynasty painter Zhang Xuan is Wu Zetian. Zhang left many famous paintings, such as Paintings of Lady of Guoguo on a Spring Outing of the Tang DynastyCourt Ladies Preparing Newly-Woven Silk and Lady of Wei.
It is guessed that Zhang Xuan was a court painter and had met Wu Zetian before, so the portrait by him is quite reliable.
An image of Wu Zetian from the Images of Ancient People in History. [Photo/]
Another frequently seen image of Wu Zetian is the block-painted edition of Images of Ancient People in History, created in 1498, during the reign of Emperor Hongzhi in the Ming Dynasty. However, as the painting was recreated by Ming people, it is not very reliable and possibly a portrait born out of imagination.
The original stone statue of Wu Zetian in Sichuan province. [Photo/]
There are also many stone statues of Empress Wu Zetian, and the most ancient one is now at her birthplace, Guangyuan in Sichuan province. The statue is said to be very close to the real appearance of Wu Zetian.
The statue after restoration. [Photo/]
The Vairocana Buddha in Fengxian Temple. [Photo/]
When Empress Wu Zetian ascended the throne, she built many temples and Buddha statues. Many Buddha statues in the Longmen Grottoes in today's Luoyang in Henan province were constructed during her reign. Among them, a large Vairocana Buddha in Fengxian Temple is considered to be a "portrait" of Wu Zetian at 44 years old.
The Buddha has characteristics of an oriental beauty's face and is honored as the most beautiful Buddha in the world. At 17.14 meters high, the face of the Buddha looks elegant, pretty and plump, and has a mysterious smile.
Wu Zetian funded the statue's construction and took part in the consecration ceremony when it was completed. Ancient people assumed that the statue was an embodiment of Empress Wu Zetian.
Chinese actress Fan Bingbing in the TV drama The Empress of China. [File photo]

According to ancient records, Wu Zetian had big eyes, a long neck, a big face and a square forehead. Anyway, Wu Zetian would not look like Fan Bingbing, who has the little face of a modern beauty. Moreover, maybe Wu Zetian was a woman who had a face similar to a man's, as the Tang Dynasty regarded chubbiness as a standard of beauty and feminine temperament was not popular then.

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