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First Episode 77 - 大明宫词


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大明宫词 tells the story of China's only female Emperor, 武则天 and her daughter 太平公主.

The historical background is compelling. 武则天 ruled China for forty years from 665 to 705, the first 25 as de facto ruler through her husband and sons and the last 15 as Emperor in her own right. She is not the only woman to be the de facto ruler of China (think at 慈禧太后 the death of the 清), but she stands alone as the only woman to rule as Emperor in her own right.

You don't get to be a female Emperor of China if you are a shrinking violet, and 武则天 was prepared to do whatever it took to get and maintain power, including murdering her own children. So until very recently, she has been vilified by scholars. But more recently people have pointed out that most if not all long serving and successful emperors have been ruthless and unscrupulous, and it looks like historians have been giving her a hard time because she was a woman. This was more or less the approach taken in the recent HK blockbuster film 狄仁杰之通天帝国 starring Andy Lau/刘德华 about 武则天's ascent to rule as emperor in her own right.

Her record stacks up pretty well against other long serving, successful ruthless and unscrupulous emperors:

- ruled China for 40 years;

- stepped down as emperor only a few months before her death at 81;

- appointed and promoted officials based on merit, did a good job in running affairs of state, kept things stable; and

- managed a reasonably stable succession, the first half of her grandson 唐玄宗's 43 year reign is generally regarded as a golden age.

In the immediate aftermath of 武则天, there were three more or less serious contenders to be the second female emperor of China; 韋皇后,安乐公主 and 太平公主, but once a negative verdict on 武则天's ruthlessness became established among historians, female emperors were generally thought to be a bad idea.

On the other hand, 大明宫词 the TV series often veers way too far into melodrama (OMG, that loud fake wind sound effect they use for "dramatic" scenes), makes absolutely no attempt to be historically accurate and is sometimes just plain silly. But I was interested enough in the background history to watch it to the end.

It is a Tang dynasty court drama so I am not going to say it is incredibly easy in terms of language level, but it is by no means impossible either.

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