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China Perspectives
Fu Hao - Woman General in the Shang Dynasty 2

Fu Hao - Woman General in the Shang Dynasty 2


Fu Hao"s presiding role at such ceremonies was deduced from the large collection of sacrificial bronze vessels unearthed in 1976 from her tomb in Xiaotun Village, in Anyang, Henan Province (the site of the Shang capital). The collection included an enormous cooking utensil bearing many inscriptions of the name Fu Hao. Among the artifacts are also tortoise shells bearing the characters "prepared by Fu Hao", which shows that Fu Hao was also in charge of divination rites. At that time, it was the task of the diviner to prepare tortoise shells or ox shoulder blades by chiseling small indentations in them to hold granulated charcoal. During the divination ceremonies, the shells or bones were baked on a fire until they formed cracks. These cracks were then studied, and it was believed that one could foretell a future event based on the pattern so created. The process and outcome were carved on these shells or bones afterwards by the diviner. The fact that Fu Hao was a diviner points up her political status.

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芒鈧劉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.

All her life Fu Hao had been economically independent. Like other leaders and meritorious chiefs, she was granted extra land by the emperor in addition to her own. She managed the land herself, and the yields were hers. She also possessed large numbers of valuable articles, such as bronze vessels, jade pieces and shell money. The findings in her bombs included bronze vessels weighing over 500 kilograms in total, more than 6,000 jade pieces and over 7,000 pieces of shell money which constituted a large fortune amassed during the course of her lifetime. What was more, she has in her possession slaves, also given to her by the emperor or taken in battles. Sixteen of these were buried with her. It is most impressive to note that she was so respected by the later emperors that she was honored with her own tomb instead of being buried with Emperor Wu Ding after his death.

The Zhou Dynsty that succeeded the Shang was set up on a feudal patriarchal clan system under which women"s status was greatly reduced. Women who had taken part in politics and military affairs during the Shang Dynasty were snubbed as rebels or "hens reporting the dawn". Women under the Zhou were deprived of the right to personal property, and from that time on, they were at the mercy of the gods, the clan and the husband.

 

 
   
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