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Emperor Wu Zhao and Her Pantheon of Devis, Divinities, and Dynastic Mothers$
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Norman Rothschild

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780231169387

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231169387.001.0001

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First Ladies of Sericulture

First Ladies of Sericulture

Wu Zhao and Leizu

(p.60) Three First Ladies of Sericulture
Emperor Wu Zhao and Her Pantheon of Devis, Divinities, and Dynastic Mothers

N. Harry Rothschild

Columbia University Press

This chapter examines the role of the silk goddess, Leizu, in magnifying Wu Zhao's political authority as emperor of China, particularly during the earlier years of Wu Zhao's rise. A daughter of the Xiling clan, Leizu was the primary consort of the Yellow Emperor, warrior god and civilizing force of the early third millennium BC. Regarded as an exemplary complement to the Yellow Emperor, she bore him two sons. Leizu's greatest legacy was her role as the culture hero who discovered sericulture, invented the loom, and brought silk weaving into wider practice. In early and medieval China, weaving and sericulture were closely connected with female virtue. This chapter considers how Wu Zhao simultaneously honored and symbolically assumed the guise of Leizu by repeatedly performing vernal sericulture rites to encourage a bumper crop of silkworms and thus abundant production of silk cloth. It also explores how Wu Zhao's affiliation with Leizu enabled her to project the image of a model wife and an ideal of womanly comportment to the wider empire.

Keywords:   silk goddess, Leizu, Wu Zhao, political authority, China, sericulture, loom, silk weaving, silkworms, silk cloth

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