Fu Hao

Many people consider the Shang Dynasty to be one of the most successful and advanced societies of its time. Ruling a large portion of China from 1600 B.C to 1046 B.C, the Shang Dynasty had several rulers over its 600-year reign. One of its more notable rulers was King Wu Ding. Wu Ding ruled the dynasty for 58-years and married a staggering 64 wives before eventually passing away. The majority of his wives didn't have a large influence on the dynasty but secondary-queen, Fu Hao was an exception. Scroll down to learn about her fascinating life and the bizarre contents that remain in her tomb.

The Rise of a Pioneer

Despite living in an era heavily influenced by men, Fu Hao was one of the world's first female warriors according to historical records. Fu Hao was so talented on the battlefield, Wu Ding promoted her to the rank of general as soon as she married into the kingdom. Before becoming a military leader for the dynasty, Fu Hao was a respected priestess across China and would go on to lead the Shang Dynasty's most important rituals and sacrifices to their ancestors. Since rituals and warfare were the most respected practices during the reign of the Shang Dynasty, Fu Hao was considered one of the most influential people within the kingdom. Due to her significance within the dynasty, Fu Hao also owned a large portion of land which was uncommon for a woman during her lifetime. 

An Image of Fu Hao's statue that was erected near her tomb in Yinxu. 

Conquering Rivals

Throughout her time as a general, Fu Hao was tasked with conquering neighbouring settlers and expanding the Shang Dynasty across China. At her disposal was an army of up to 13,000 trained soldiers. Even the most prestigious generals of the Shang Military, Zhi and Hou Gao served under Fu Hao, making her the most powerful military leader in the Dynasty. Fu Hao became so successful as the supreme general that the Tu-Fang Dynasty who had been feuding against the Shang Dynasty for decades, had been decisively defeated by her forces. Leading the dynasty's army on the frontlines with her signature battle-axe, Fu Hao also went on to conquer the Yi, Quang and Ba regions.

Although Fu Hao mastered how to wield a battle-axe, each warrior must decide what blade compliments their style. You can find the blade that suits you here, using our detailed Sword Guide

Her methods of attack were so tactically sound, she ended up coercing the first recorded large-scale ambush in the history of Chinese warfare, during the invasion of the Ba state. Even though oracle bones suggest many women had military roles within the Shang Dynasty, none of them received the rank of general or led its army into battle other than Fu Hao. 

Fu Hao's Fascinating Burial

After passing away, Fu Hao's legacy and remarkable accomplishments were honoured with a prestigious burial tomb. Most people of royal descent within the Shang Dynasty were buried in a central cemetery together which stood directly across from Fu Hao's land. Unlike the other members of the royal family, her tomb was buried beneath the piece of land she owned. Since she passed well before King Wu Ding, he helped construct her tomb at the Shang Dynasty's capital, Yi. Due to the unconventional location of her burial, Fu Hao's tomb was the only known royal Shang tomb that hadn't been looted or damaged. With all the contents and casing of her tomb left untouched, archaeologists were able to find out about her role in the dynasty and her connection to the royal Shang's once it was discovered in 1976.

This photograph displays the interior of Fu Hao's fabled tomb.

There were an enormous amount of offerings in her tomb that allowed the archaeologists to uncover her life story. Upon opening it, the investigators found:

  • 756 objects filled with jade 
  • 564 objects made from bone (approximately 500 bone hairpins and above 20 bone arrowheads)
  • 468 objects consisting of bronze weapons (130), bells (23), knives (27),
  • 63 stone items 
  • 11 pottery offerings 
  • 5 ivory items 
  • 6,900 cowry shells (the Shang Dynasty's form of currency)
  • 16 human sacrifices 
  • 6 sacrificial dogs

Although we may find it strange presently, the contents of Fu Hao's tomb were a tribute to her various accomplishments and the heroic attitude she displayed while serving the Shang Dynasty. Reflecting on her remarkable life, Fu Hao's story reminds all of us that regardless of what era you were born in or gender you are, the only thing heroism discriminates against is the fear of failure.