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Who was Fu Hao? KS2 Guide to the Legendary Shang Dynasty General


Fu Hao. Images courtesy shaolintemplemi.org

King Wu Ding of the Shang Dynasty had a lot of wives. 64 of them to be precise. Could you imagine how tight it must have been with all of them sitting around the dinner table on a Sunday evening? The servants must have used a giant person wedge to jam everyone into place. Anyway, table etiquette aside, one of these wives was a woman called Fu Hao. Along with being a high priestess, Fu Hao went on to become the most powerful general in all of China.


How do we know so much about Fu Hao?

Way back in 1976, archaeologist Zheng Zhenxiang discovered the Tomb of Fu Hao. Just like the untouched Tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun, Fu Hao’s Tomb had been perfectly preserved, it was still filled with all of her awesome treasure! In fact, this remarkable tomb had remained hidden for over three thousand years. Which is a looooooooooooooooooooooo – pause for breath – ooooooooooooooooooong time.

A Replica of the Fu Hao's Tomb. Courtesy Gary Todd.

What was in the tomb then?

130 weapons, including battle-axes, daggers, and arrowheads. From this discovery, people far brainier than I (not a particularly high bar, I know) knew that Fu Hao must have been a great general, as only military leaders were buried with so many sharp and pointy implements of death. There was loads of other cool stuff In the tomb too, like 500 bone hairpins (Fu Hao sure must have had a lot of hair to need all those!), mirrors, bells, figurines, 6900 pieces of cowry shell (used as money during the Shang Dynasty), and 4 Tiger Heads (yes, really). In total, thousands of artefacts were recovered. Oh, and sixteen human bodies were stuck in there too. It was common for people to be sacrificed and then popped in tombs during the Shang Dynasty.

A modern statue of Fu Hao, outside her tomb. Source Flickr.

What about Fu Hao? Was her body in there?

Sadly not, her body, along with her coffin, had disintegrated long ago.


So what did Fu Hao get up to when she was alive?

She was an incredibly powerful person during her lifetime. Oracle bones state that Fu Hao was an important priestess. The King himself asked her to conduct special rituals and religious sacrifices. However, she wasn’t just involved in spiritual shenanigans, she also led the Shang army into battle.


Was she any good at it?

Oh yes indeedy! Fun Hao defeated the neighbouring kingdoms of the Tu-Fang and led successful military campaigns against the Ba, Yi, and Qiang people. Her army consisted of over 13,000 soldiers, that’s a whole lot of soldier!


Was she the only woman in the army?

Not at all, those handy oracle bones state that over 600 women worked in the army at that time.


How did she die in the end?

We don’t know, what we do know is that she was greatly missed. King Wu Ding made many sacrifices at her tomb to ask for Fu Hao’s aid in battle. Of course, she was dead, but the King hoped her ghost would whup the butts of his enemies most rigorously. Heck, he liked and respected Fu Hao so much that he had her married to three great kings of the Shang Dynasty… after she had died!

Warrior, General, Priestess, Ghostly Avenger, and Zombie Bride? Fu Hao did it all!

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