8. Empress Wu Zetian (625 AD – 705 AD)
Although she was highly educated, she was sent off to be one of the Emperor’s concubines when she was just 13. It was Empress Wang who hand-picked Wu Zetian to share her husband’s bed, but little did she know that the young girl would nudge her out and become empress in her place. Despite an ongoing feud with two other powerful female leaders, Consort Xiao and Empress Wang, Empress Wu Zetian became one of China’s most powerful women. She accused Empress Wang of murdering Wu Zetian’s infant daughter and accused Consort Xiao of witchcraft.
On her orders, Empress Wu Zetian had both of her rivals executed. With her rivals out of the way, Empress Wu Zetian ruled China with her husband, though historians believe she made most of the decisions herself. After the Emperor’s death, she crowned herself Emperor of China, the country’s only female emperor. She naturally had many detractors, but she silenced them by having them killed or exiled. She did plenty of good deeds, too, such as lowering taxes, establishing Buddhism as the official religion of China, and increasing agricultural output.