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Thursday, January 24, 2013


The Empress Wǔ (WǓ Zétiān 武则天) of the Táng 唐 dynasty (reign 12a-6) received word of an uprising of discontented peasants, near Great Lake (Tài hú 太湖) in Jiāngsū 江苏 province against an oppressive local official, who turned out to be her kinsman WǓ Sānsī 武三思.

Uncertain how best to settle the matter, Empress Wǔ told a trusted chambermaid XIÈ Yáohuán 谢瑶环 to dress as a man and then go and look into the matter as the special magistrate for the district.

Arriving at Great Lake, Xiè met a virtuous official named YUÁN Xíngjiàn 袁行健, who helped her gather the facts, and develop a
plan: Under the authority of the empress, Xiè seized the land taken by Wǔ and redistributed it to the peasants. And then, no longer needing to be in disguise, she married the virtuous official Yuán.

However Wǔ, as a kinsman of the empress, had not been entirely removed from the scene. One day, when Yuán was far away on business, Wǔ and a band of thugs abducted Xiè and imprisoned and tortured her.

The local peasants wrote a petition to the empress asking her to come and save Xiè. Her majesty, enraged, traveled in person to Great Lake to investigate. But by the time she had arrived, Xiè was dead.
The empress punished those responsible and then erected a large tomb on the shore of the lake.

When he returned to Great Lake, Xiè's husband, the virtuous official Yuán, was still unaware of all that had happened. As he neared home, he paused to rest near a tomb on the shore of the lake. Suddenly he saw his beloved wife's name on it and was overcome with grief.

The empress, recognizing his virtue, asked him to serve in high office, but he refused, and departed with his burden of sorrow. No one knows what became of him.

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