Elon Musk, Bernard Arnault, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, and others are frequently mentioned as the richest people in the world. However, history offers a person who topped today’s billionaires combined in terms of wealth.
This formidable historical figure is Wu Zetian, renowned as Empress Wu, who surpassed today’s five richest individuals, including Elon Musk, Bernard Arnault, Jeff Bezos, Larry Ellison, and Mark Zuckerberg.
According to reports, Empress Wu, rumored to be hailing from the Tang dynasty, is regarded as the wealthiest woman of her era, with some historians even claiming that she is the richest woman in recorded history.
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Her estimated net worth is an astounding USD 16 trillion, surpassing the combined wealth of modern-day tycoons such as Elon Musk (USD 210 billion), Bernard Arnault (USD 206 billion), Jeff Bezos (USD 181 billion), Larry Ellison (USD 142 billion), Mark Zuckerberg (USD 141 billion) and others as of January 31.
To put this in perspective, Empress Wu’s wealth eclipses that of the contemporary business magnates, marking her as an unparalleled figure in accumulated riches.
According to a South China Morning Post (SCMP) report, She was born in 624 AD in Shanxi Province, Empress Wu hailed from a privileged background as the daughter of a prosperous timber merchant. Her father’s close association with Li Yuan, who eventually ascended to become Emperor Gaozong of Tang, played a pivotal role in shaping her destiny.
Fueled by a passion for literature, Empress Wu embarked on a path of education and, at the tender age of 14, commenced her career as a secretary in the Tang Palace, working under Emperor Taizong.
The emperor’s passing in 649 AD triggered a customary practice of sending all women associated with him to a Buddhist monastery. However, an intriguing twist unfolded in Empress Wu’s fate.
Despite this tradition, she was in a romantic relationship with Emperor Gaozong, the deceased emperor’s son and successor. Within a year, Gaozong intervened in her monastic life, removing her from the convent and elevating her status to that of his concubine.
As Wu solidified her influence within the palace, a bitter rivalry unfolded between her and Empress Wang. According to Chinese sources, Wu, who had given birth to a daughter in 654 (who unfortunately passed away shortly after birth), cunningly shifted blame onto Empress Wang and orchestrated her downfall.
Following the ousting of Empress Wang, Wu ascended to the throne as empress in the year 655. Over the next five years, Emperor Gaozong experienced debilitating migraine-like headaches and vision loss. In response to his ailing health, the king entrusted the governance of his realm to Wu, marking the commencement of her reign.
Historical accounts depict Empress Wu as a highly astute ruler who employed various strategies to secure and retain her power. There are even claims by some historians that she went to the extent of sacrificing her offspring to maintain her grip on authority.
For approximately 15 years, Empress Wu held sway over China, overseeing a period during which the Chinese empire expanded into Central Asia. The reign of Empress Wu was marked by substantial economic growth, particularly in the trade of tea and silk, contributing to the flourishing Chinese economy, as detailed by The China Project.
Empress Wu’s opulent and regal lifestyle has been vividly portrayed in numerous cinematic productions. Notably, the TV series “Empress of China,” featuring Fan Bingbing, offers a dramatized glimpse into the life of this influential historical figure.