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China Perspectives
Fu Hao - Woman General in the Shang Dynasty 1

Fu Hao - Woman General in the Shang Dynasty 1


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.

Productivity in her time was low and knowledge about nature and society was restricted to religious explanations. Sacrifices were common practice, and seen as a way of appeasing the gods in the hopes of being protected and blessed with happiness. The royal family and slave owners especially relied on their religious beliefs and made a great show of it, making sacrificial ceremony the most important political activity of the day. These offerings could be made to any of a number of gods or ancestors, asking for the prevention of epidemics and natural disasters, for victory in war, and so forth. The ceremonies were presided over by such high-ranking personages as Fu Hao. These ceremonies were usually held inside the ancestral temple of the rulers filled with the necessary accoutrements. Solemnly and properly dressed for the occasion, the participants, nobles and commoners alike, strictly followed the direction of the Shang court, Fu Hao was recorded to have presented sacrificial offerings to the gods. These characteristically included live animals such as oxen, or humans - normally slaves and war prisoners.

 

 
   
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