China's Forgotten Emperor

China's Forgotten Emperor


The chances are you won’t have heard of Wu Zetian. But in her story Channel 4 has dug up one of those shards of history that still seems etched in vivid colours more than a millennium after it happened.

In the late seventh century AD, Wu rose from being a teenage palace concubine to become the only woman across 3,000 years of history to rule China in her own right. How she did so is the subject of some dispute, because most subsequent historians painted her as a vicious monster, even prepared to smother her own infant child to frame a rival.

But archaeological evidence also points to a strong, shrewd ruler who expanded her empire and dominated the economic and cultural superpower of her day. So what is the true picture? With access to priceless treasures from Wu Zetian's time, Secret History looks to set her record straight.


Documentary about Wu Zetian, the only woman to become emperor of China. Wu Zetian ruled China in the last years of the seventh century, and has always had a reputation as a brutal tyrant. However, recent archaeological finds have shed new light on her reign, revealing a gifted politician who shaped her country into a military, economic and cultural superpower. The programme examines tombs, palaces and treasures from her dynasty that highlight her skills as a leader and also the violence of her regime.

Cast & Crew

Director Stephen Finnigan
Executive Producer Liz McLeod
Producer Stephen Finnigan