Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Origins of Chinese Civilization, Part VII: Fu Hao Kicks Some Gluteus Max

Hello again everyone, and welcome back to Office Hours with the Brofessor: the Show Where I Say Things. Tonight we’re going to take a break from talking about the big picture to learn about the biggest badass in all of the Shang dynasty: my homegirl Fu Hao.

Fu Hao is perhaps the most historically interesting of the figures mentioned in the oracle bones, who was a Shang queen during the 13th century BC:


In fact not only was she the queen, but she was also a high priest and an accomplished general. When I think of Chinese woman warriors, the first one I think of is that Disney movie Mulan:

They’re not Huns, they’re Xiongnu. Get it right.

Now, I love Mulan, it’s my favorite Disney movie, but Fu Hao was doing the Chinese amazon warrior chick thing before it was cool. Although in theory she was second in authority to her husband, it seems like she really held the reins of power. After all, as evidenced by the painstaking attention to the oracle bones, the king’s policy was contingent on oracular pronouncements, and Fu Hao was the oracle. Territorial expansion and keeping vassals in line was contingent on a strong army with capable commanders—and Fu Hao was the general.

It therefore seems, to me at least, that Fu Hao was an extraordinarily talented and ambitious individual who wielded enormous power in the name of the king, who preferred not to dirty his hands with actual work—or, for that matter, power.

Another cool thing to think about: assuming they were inscribed by the priests, it’s possible that some of the oracle bones we’ve recovered were written by the hand of Fu Hao herself.

Pretty cool stuff, and Fu Hao was a pretty interesting character in the story of ancient China. Anyway, that’s all for today. Coming up next time: the Shang dynasty’s dark side…and how!

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