Historians who share the written Chinese language as a carrier of cultural signification have negotiated the image of female emperor Wu Zetian with the signs of the times designated by the needs of the present. The female writer Zhao Mei's new biography Woman: Wu Zetian deconstructs the historical and cultural representation of Wu Zetian as the 'bad unwoman'; links a woman's private, and subjective experiences with her public and political activities; and demonstrates that how the former influences the latter. This paper examines how the participation of contemporary biographers in knowledge production constructs, legitimises and maintains the image of Wu Zetian as a woman and a ruler. It argues that Zhao Mei's biography of Wu Zetian manages to confront the established dominance of male hierarchy, questions the 'stigmatised identity' of this historical character as being stable and universal and, consequently re-genders an important chapter in Chinese history. © Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010.