Fu Hao: Warrior Priestess of Ancient China

Statue of Fu Hao in front of her tomb complex. By https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fu_Hao.jpg — https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fu_Hao.jpg, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52919211

The Shang Dynasty ruled China during the 2nd million BCE, following the Xia Dynasty, and before the Zhou Dynasty. They are the earliest dynasty supported by archeological evidence in China, and their greatest ruler was Wu Ding, who ruled from 1324–1266 BCE. He made alliances with neighboring tribes by marrying women from each of these tribes. His favorite was a woman named Fu Hao.

Little is known about Fu Hao, or sometimes Lady Hao, in the historical record. It was not until her tomb was discovered at Yinxu in 1976. The tomb was found intact with various artifacts and inscriptions on oracle bones — cow bones of turtle shells with Chinese characters written on them and heated until they cracked to predict the future — were able to reveal her story. They revealed that not only gave archeologists insight into the Shang Dynasty but also the life of a unique woman.

Fu Hao was one of Wu Ding’s sixty-four wives and worked her way up through the ranks to become one of the king's three consorts. The other two consorts were Fu Jing and Fu Shi. While Fu Jing was considered the king’s First Wife, Fu Hao was named the Second Wife. The name “Fu” may also reference religious duties, and she may have been a priestess as well as a queen. The oracle bones reference her performing religious duties as well as paying tribute to Wu Ding.

During the Shang Dynasty, religious and military duty were incredibly important. The records in Fu Hao’s tomb showed that she also played a military role as well. Not only were there inscriptions describing military campaigns that Fu Hao participated in, but they also found weapons in her tomb as well. Fu Hao led troops in defeating the Tu-Fang, who had plagued the Shang for years, in one decisive battle. She also led troops in campaigns against the Yi, Qiang, and Ba people. At the height of her power, she led 13,000 troops and famed commanders Zhi and Hou Gao, making her the most powerful Shang general at the time.

Though we are not sure of the date of her death, she died many years before Wu Ding. Instead of being buried with the other members of the Shang royal family, Fu Hao was buried across the river on her own land near the capital of Yin. Because of this, her tomb was one of the few Shang tombs that were not looted in later years and were all but forgotten before being rediscovered in the twentieth century.

Her well-preserved tomb was a wealth of treasures from the Shang period. Along with weapons signifying her warrior status, she was also buried with jade, bronze, bone, and stone objects. Figurines and other valuable objects were preserved and found untouched in the tomb. Tortoiseshells and bronze sacrificial vessels were inscribed prepared for Fu Hao, showing her further importance as a priestess. As was the custom during the Shang Dynasty, Fu Hao was also buried with sixteen human sacrifices and six dogs.

Today Fu Hao’s tomb is open to the public. Visitors can gaze down at the burial pit and marvel at the artifacts found within. They can visit her tomb, much as her husband was said to do after her death seeking advice from her spirit in his wars with the Gong. A statue stands in front of the tomb, showing the queen in military dress and holding an ax. The look on her face is both beautiful and fearsome, much like the woman was in life.

I am an educator and a writer. My topics of interest include sports, movies, comics, history, professional wrestling, food, music, and hobbies.

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