In the late 600s, Wu Zhao (woo jow) became the only woman to rule China in her own name. She proved herself to be a capable empress. Her strong rule helped guide China through one of its most brilliant periods. At a time when Europe was fragmented into many small feudal kingdoms, two powerful dynasties—the Tang and the Song—restored unity in China.
Wu Zhao rose from a lowly position at court to a position of influence over the Tang emperor. Upon his death, she became the first woman to claim the throne.
After the Han dynasty collapsed in 220, China broke apart and remained divided for nearly 400 years. Yet China escaped the decay that disrupted Western Europe after the fall of Rome. Farm production expanded and technology slowly improved. Buddhism spread, while learning and the arts continued to flourish. Even Chinese cities survived. Although invaders stormed into northern China, they often adopted Chinese civilization rather than demolishing it.
Meanwhile, various dynasties rose and fell in the south. During the brief Sui (swee) dynasty (589–618), the emperor Sui Wendi reunited the north and south. But China was not restored to its earlier glory until the emergence of the Tang dynasty in 618.