Fu Hao — First Female General in the History of China and Wife of Four Kings

Lady Fu Hao (or Fu Zi) of the Shang Dynasty was the first documented female marshal in the history of China, and also was the queen of King Wu Ding (? — 1192 BC). 

Among around 10,000 pieces of oracle bone inscriptions excavated in China, about 200 of them were about Lady Fu Hao (or Fu Zi).

Together with her husband King Wu Ding, they implemented and won the earliest ambush war in Chinese history; She also commanded and succeeded in the largest-scale war of that century. 

She was an honorable queen, and an exceptional marshal with outstanding military achievements; meanwhile, she was also a feudal lord with her fief and army and was in charge of the most saint worship ceremonies of the Empire Shang.

As a woman with paramount theocracy, and royal and military power, she also obtained great love from the king. 

Recently, her well-preserved cemetery in Henan Province was found, which contained 1928 pieces of valuable and exquisite burial artifacts.

Those ancient oracle bone inscriptions and over 3000 years old cultural relics buried with her, together, are telling the world the story of this glorious queen.

Unearthed Jade Objects from Tomb of Fu Hao — National Museum of China (Photo by Dongmaiying)

From A Teenage Queen to An Exceptional Marshal

Fu Hao was a high-born princess of a vassal state of the Shang Dynasty, very knowledgeable and well-educated. 

When she was newly married to her ambitious husband, King Wu Ding, a big war on their northern border lasted for a while.

She strongly recommended herself as the general of Shang’s army; at that time, she was still a teenage girl.

Seeing those assigned military generals couldn’t win this war for a long time, King Wu Ding then reluctantly sent his young and beautiful queen into the battlefield.

To everyone’s surprise, when their queen picked up her broad axes, she was quite a brave and genius marshal; their enemy was soon defeated, and the Shang Empire achieved huge success. 

Unearthed Bronze Axe (Tong Yue) from Fu Hao's Tomb of the Shang Dynasty

Unearthed Bronze Axe (Tong Yue) from Tomb of Fu Hao — National Museum of China (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Fu Hao's Exceptional Military Achievements

From that time on, Queen Fu Hao became a respected and honorable marshal of Empire Shang.

 

In the meanwhile, she was also the high priestess, the most distinguished position in that era, which was in charge of Shang’s grand sacrificial ceremonies.

Together with her husband, they conquered lots of powerful states, and largely extended Shang’s territory.

The biggest war during that century was commanded by her, in which she led around 13,000 warriors and defeated a strong nomadic regime successfully. 

Her military activities, her successes, as well as her life experiences, were all documented in those ancient inscriptions on bones or tortoise shells.  

Unearthed Bronze Weapons and Jade Sacrificial Wares from Fu Hao's Tomb — National Museum of China

Love Life of Queen Fu Hao and Her Husband King Wu Ding

 

This excellent female marshal, moreover, was also a sweet wife. She and her husband had many children together, and one of their sons became the next king.

Every time she came back from the war, her husband would be waiting for her outside of the capital city; then they would ditch all of their guards, and spend lots of time together.

Besides, she got rewarded an independent vassal state, where she was the lord, with an army of 3000 soldiers to herself. 

Unearthed Hairpin (Zan) of Queen Fu Hao

Unearthed Hairpin (Zan) of Queen Fu Hao — National Museum of China

Fu Hao's Sudden Death and Her Special Mausoleum

 

Unfortunately, Fu Hao departed when she was 33 years old out of a sudden, because of difficult childbirth, or a lethal wound from the wars.

Her husband King Wu Ding was very sad; he rewarded her posthumous title as Mu Xin, and buried her under his palace instead of in their royal cemetery. Inside her tomb, the king buried thousands of valuable objects including bronze vessels, jade objects, bone and ivory objects, and cowry shells.

 

This is also the reason why Fu Hao’s tomb had never been opened before, which was the only case in the history of China when a king built a cemetery inside his palace.

 

After her death, the king still divined several times to see if she was living well on the other side of the world. 

King Wu Ding had other two queens afterward, but they were just for political alliances.

Every time the country was about to have important battles, King Wu Ding would lead all of his essential officials to hold a big worship ceremony and try to seek blessings from her.  

Bird Shaped Bronze Wine Vessels of the Queen Fu Hao
Cattle Shaped Bronze Wine Vessels of the Queen Fu Hao

Unearthed Animal Shaped Bronze Vessels from Queen Fu Hao's Tomb — National Museum of China 

Fu Hao's Other Three Marriages After Her Departure

 

A few years later, King Wu Ding was worried that Fu Hao was alone and might not be well taken care of in the other world, so he held a ceremony to marry her to one of his ancestors, the 13th king of the Shang Dynasty.

Sometime later, he held some other big ceremonies and married her to the 4th and the 1st king of Shang, hoping those powerful ancestors of Shang's royal family could take very good care of his love in the other world. 

Now, among her burial articles, her exquisite weapons and bronze wares are presenting her great success in military campaigns, and her gorgeous accessories and refined kitchen wares are reminding us that she was also a beautiful and virtuous queen.

Those inscriptions on bones, especially those concerning divination, noted her husband Wu Ding’s endless concern and care for her.  

Unearthed Bronze Cooking Utensils (San Lian Yan) from Queen Fu Hao's Tomb

Unearthed Bronze Cooking Utensils (San Lian Yan) to Steam and Boil Food from Royal Tomb of Fu Hao — National Museum of China