In 664 it’s believed her level of government interference was resented by the ailing emperor, and she had employed a Taoist sorcery, the very crime that had taken down Empress Wang. Somne of Gaozong’s advisers urged him to demoite Wu. As he held the edict ready to sign, Wu burst into his chamber to plead her case. She had the advisers who’d supported her removal falsely accused and convicted of treason.
By 666 annals state she was nearly the equal of the emporer, permitted to give offerings to the gods beside him. She was also beside him at court, behind a screen but on a seat of equal grandeur and elevation. In 675, with his health worsening, Emperor Gaozong sought to make Wu Empress Regent. His advisors opposed this move, which he never made official.
Li Hong, the Crown Prince and Wu’s firstborn son, reportedly urged his mother to exhibit less control, and less retribution. He asked that his imprisoned half sisters be allowed to marry . Li Hong died suddenly and mysteriously soon after. Her second son Li Xiàn became suspicious that he was truly the son of Wu’s sister. Wu’s Taoist sorcerer declared that Li Xián was unsuited for the throne and was assassinated soon after. Wu suspected Li Xián’s hand in the murder.
After a stockpile of weapons was discovered in his home, Empress Wu formally accused her son Li Xián of treason and the murder of her mystic. He was deposed and banished. Wu’s third son Li Xiân (renamed as Li Zhe became the heir. Emperor Gaozong specified in his will that Li Zhe ought to ascend immediately following his death, and look to Wu to guidance. In late 683 Gaozong died. Li Zhe became Emperor while Wu became Empress Dowager and Regent.
Li Zhe was crowned in early 684 as Emperor Zhongzong and ruled for only six weeks. Zhongzong rebelled against his mother’s wishes while seeming to capitulate to his wife’s, elevating her relatives and even a favored wet nurse to high office. His chancellor and mother plotted together with leading generals to have the young emperor deposed and his father-in-law convicted of treason.