Empress Dowager Cixi

Empress Dowager Cixi
Empress Dowager Cixi
Regent of the Qing Dynasty
Regency 11 November 1861 – 15 November 1908
(&1000000000000004700000047 years, &100000000000000040000004 days)
concurrently with Empress Dowager Ci'an (1861–81)
Predecessor Sushun, Zaiyuan, Duanhua and other 5 officials as regents for Tongzhi Emperor
Successor Empress Dowager Longyu and Zaifeng, 2nd Prince Chun as regents for Puyi
Spouse Xianfeng Emperor
Tongzhi Emperor
Posthumous name
Short: Empress Xiao-Qin Xian 孝欽顯皇后
Full: Empress Xiao-Qin Ci-Xi Duan-You Kang-Yi Zhao-Yu Zhuang-Cheng Shou-Gong Qin-Xian Chong-Xi Pei-Tian Xing-Sheng Xian 孝欽慈禧端佑康頤昭豫莊誠壽恭欽獻崇熙配天興聖顯皇后
Father Yehenara Huizheng
Mother Lady Fuca
Born 29 November 1835(1835-11-29)
Died 15 November 1908(1908-11-15) (aged 72)
Hall of Graceful Bird, Zhongnanhai, Beijing, Qing Empire

Empress Dowager Cixi1 [t͡sʰɨɕi] (Chinese: 慈禧太后; pinyin: Cíxǐ Tàihòu; Wade–Giles: Tz'u-Hsi T'ai-hou) (29 November 1835 – 15 November 1908), of the Manchu Yehenara clan, was a powerful and charismatic figure who became the de facto ruler of the Manchu Qing Dynasty in China for 47 years from 1861 to her death in 1908.

Selected by the Xianfeng Emperor as an imperial concubine in her adolescence, she climbed the ranks of Xianfeng's harem and gave birth to a son who became the Tongzhi Emperor upon Xianfeng's death. Cixi ousted a group of regents appointed by the late emperor and assumed regency over her young son with the Empress Dowager Ci'an. Cixi then consolidated control and established near-absolute rule over the dynasty. She installed her nephew as the Guangxu Emperor in 1875. A conservative ruler who refused to adopt Western models of government, Cixi rejected reformist views on government and placed Guangxu under house arrest in later years for supporting reformers. However, she supported technological and military modernization of China's armies. After Ronglu sabotaged the Chinese army during the Boxer Rebellion against the Eight-Nation Alliance, external and internal pressures led Cixi to attempt institutional changes and appoint reform-minded officials. Ultimately, the Qing Dynasty collapsed a few years after her death.

Historians from both Kuomintang and Communist backgrounds have generally portrayed her as a despot and villain responsible for the fall of the Qing Dynasty, but in recent years other historians have suggested that she was a scapegoat for problems beyond her control, a leader no more ruthless than others, and even an effective if reluctant reformer in the last years of her life.[1]


Early years

The origins of Empress Dowager Cixi are unclear, but most biographies agree that she was the daughter of Huizheng (惠徵), an official from the Manchu Yehenara (葉赫那拉) clan, and his principal wife, who belonged to the Manchu Fuca (富察) clan.[citation needed] Huizheng was a member of the Bordered Blue Banner of the Eight Banners and served in Shanxi Province before later becoming Commissioner of Anhui Province.

It is generally accepted that she spent most of her early life in Anhui Province before moving to Beijing sometime between her third and fifteenth birthday. According to biographers, her father was dismissed from the civil service in 1853, two years after Cixi entered the Forbidden City, for allegedly not resisting the Taiping Rebellion in Anhui Province and deserting his post.[2] Some biographers even claim that he was beheaded for his crime.

In 1851, Cixi participated in the selection process for concubines for the new Xianfeng Emperor alongside sixty other Manchu girls. This process was supervised by the Imperial Dowager Consort Kangci. Cixi was one of the few girls selected to stay and was created a Preparative Concubine (秀女). In May 1851, after being selected for the emperor's bed, she was promoted to the rank of Worthy Lady Yi (懿貴人), or concubine of the fifth rank. In 1854, she was again promoted to the rank of Imperial Concubine Yi (懿嬪).

In 1855, the Lady Yehenara (as Cixi's name was recorded upon entering the Forbidden City) became pregnant, and on 27 April 1856, she gave birth to Zaichun, the Xianfeng Emperor's only son. Soon afterward, she was elevated to the rank of Consort Yi (懿妃), or consort of the fourth rank.[3]

In 1857, when her son reached his first birthday, Cixi was elevated to the rank of Noble Consort Yi (懿貴妃). The rank of Noble Consort placed Cixi second in rank only to the Empress among the ladies of the imperial household.

Death of the Xianfeng Emperor

In September 1860, British and French troops attacked Beijing during the closing stages of the Second Opium War, and by the following month had burned the Emperor's exquisite Old Summer Palace to the ground. The attack, under the command of Lord Elgin, was mounted in retaliation for the arrest on 18 September of British diplomatic envoy Harry Parkes and the torture and execution of a number of western hostages. The Xianfeng Emperor and his entourage, including Cixi, fled Beijing for the safety of Rehe in Manchuria.[4] On hearing the news of the destruction of the Old Summer Palace, the Xianfeng Emperor (who was already showing signs of dementia) fell into a depression, turned heavily to alcohol and drugs, and became seriously ill.[5]

On 22 August 1861 the Xianfeng Emperor died at Rehe Palace in the city of Rehe (now Chengde, Hebei). Before his death, he summoned eight of his most prestigious ministers, headed by Sushun, Zaiyuan, and Duanhua, and named them the "Eight Regent Ministers" to direct and support the future Emperor. His heir, the son of Noble Consort Yi (future Empress Dowager Cixi), was only five years old. On his deathbed, the Xianfeng Emperor summoned his Empress and Noble Consort Yi, and gave each of them a stamp. He hoped that when his son ascended the throne, his Empress and Noble Consort Yi would cooperate in harmony and, together, help the young emperor to grow and mature. It was also meant as a check on the power of the eight regents .[6] Upon the death of the Xianfeng Emperor, his Empress Consort, aged 25, was elevated to the title Empress Dowager Ci'an (popularly known as the East Empress Dowager because she lived in the Eastern Zhong-Cui Palace), and Noble Consort Yi, aged 27, was elevated to the title Empress Dowager Cixi (popularly known as the West Empress Dowager because she lived inside the Western Chuxiu Palace).

Xinyou Coup: Ousting Sushun

Empress Dowager Cixi is shown sitting on her throne inside her bedroom chamber, the Hall of Happiness and Longevity of the Summer Palace. The plaque hanging above Cixi is inscribed with her title in full, literally translated as "The Current Holy Mother Empress Dowager of the Great Qing Empire, Cixi (kind and auspicious) Duanyou (upright and blessed) Kangyi (healthy and well-maintained) Zhaoyu (clear and pleasant) Zhuangcheng (solemn and sincere) Shougong (long-living and respectful) Qinxian (royal and sacrificial) Chongxi (magnanimous and prosperous).

By the time of the Xianfeng Emperor's death, Empress Dowager Cixi had become a shrewd strategist. In Rehe, while waiting for an astrologically favorable time to transport the coffin back to Peking, Empress Dowager Cixi plotted to grab power. Cixi's position as the lower Empress Dowager was neither influential nor legitimate when it came to political power. In addition, the young emperor was not yet an entity to be taken into political consideration. As a result, it became necessary for her to ally herself with other powerful figures. Taking advantage of the naïveté and good nature of the late emperor's principal wife, the Empress Dowager Ci'an, Cixi suggested that they become co-reigning Empress Dowagers, with powers exceeding the Eight Regent Ministers.[7]

Tensions grew between the Eight Regent Ministers, headed by Sushun, and the two Empress Dowagers. The ministers did not appreciate Cixi's interference in political matters, and the frequent confrontations left the Empress Dowager Ci'an in a frustrated state, to the point where she refused to come to court audiences, leaving Empress Dowager Cixi to deal with the ministers alone. Secretly, Empress Dowager Cixi began collecting the support of talented ministers, soldiers, and others who were ostracized by the Eight Regent Ministers for personal or political reasons. Among them was Prince Gong, who had great ambitions and was at that time excluded from the power circle, and the Prince Chun, the sixth and seventh sons of the Daoguang Emperor, respectively. While she aligned herself with these Princes, a memorial came from Shandong asking for Cixi to "listen to politics behind the curtains", i.e., asking Cixi to become the ruler. The same petition also asked Prince Gong to enter the political arena as a principal "aide to the Emperor."

When the Emperor's funeral procession left for Beijing, Cixi took advantage of her alliances with Prince Gong and Prince Chun. She and the boy Emperor returned to the capital before the rest of the party, along with Zaiyuan and Duanhua, two of the principal regents, while Sushun was left to accompany the deceased Emperor's procession. Cixi's early return to Beijing meant that she could plot further with Prince Gong, and ensure that the power base of the Eight Regent Ministers was divided between Sushun and his allies, Zaiyuan and Duanhua. History was re-written and the Regents were dismissed for having carried out incompetent negotiations with the "barbarians" which had caused Xianfeng Emperor to flee to Rehe "greatly against his will," among other charges.[7] Empress Dowager Cixi and Prince Gong produced a document called the "Eight Guilts of Regent Ministers," which included allegations such as altering the late Xianfeng Emperor's wills, causing his death, and stealing power from the two Empress Dowagers.[citation needed]

To show the world that she had high moral standards, Empress Dowager Cixi executed only three of the eight regent ministers. Prince Gong had suggested that Sushun and others be executed by the most painful method, known as slow slicing, but Dowager Cixi declined the suggestion and ordered that Sushun be beheaded, while the other two also marked for execution, Zaiyuan and Duanhua, were given white silks to allow them to commit suicide. In addition, Cixi refused outright the idea of executing the family members of the ministers, as would be done in accordance with Imperial tradition of an alleged usurper. Ironically, Qing Imperial tradition also dictated that women and princes were never to engage in politics. In breaking with tradition, Cixi became the first and only Qing Dynasty Empress to rule from "behind the curtains" (垂簾聽政).

This palace coup is known as the "Xinyou Palace Coup" (Chinese: 辛酉政變) in China after the name of the year 1861 in the Sexagenary cycle.

Behind the Curtains

New era

Empress Dowager Cixi's
Provincial Appointments c.1863
Province Governor 中文
Zhejiang Zuo Zongtang 左宗棠
Henan Zheng Yuanshan 鄭元善
Anhui Li Xuyi 李續宜
Hubei Yan Shusen 嚴樹森
Jiangxi Shen Baozhen 沈葆楨
Jiangsu Li Hongzhang 李鴻章
Guangxi Liu Changyou 劉長佑
Hunan Mao Hongbin 毛鴻賓

In November 1861, a few days following the coup, Cixi was quick to reward Yixin, the Prince Gong, for his help. He was made head of the General Affairs Office and the Internal Affairs Office, and his daughter was made a Gurun Princess, a title usually bestowed only on the Empress's first-born daughter. Yixin's allowance also increased twofold. However, Cixi avoided giving Yixin the absolute political power that princes such as Dorgon exercised during the Shunzhi Emperor's reign. As one of the first acts from behind the curtains, Cixi (nominally along with Ci'an) issued two important Imperial Edicts on behalf of the Emperor. The first stated that the two Empresses Dowager were to be the sole decision makers "without interference," and the second changed the boy Emperor's era name from Qixiang (祺祥; "Auspicious") to Tongzhi (同治; "collective stable").

Cleaning up the Bureaucracy

Cixi's entrance as the absolute power figure in China came at a time of internal chaos and foreign challenges. The effects of the Second Opium War were still hovering over the country, as the Taiping Rebellion continued its seemingly unstoppable advance through China's south, eating up the Qing Empire bit by bit. Internally, both the national bureaucracy and regional authorities were infested with rampant corruption. 1861 happened to be the year of official examinations, whereby officials of all levels presented their political reports from the previous three years. Cixi decided that the time was ripe for a bureaucratic overhaul, where she personally sought audience with all officials above the level of provincial governor, who had to report to her personally. Cixi took on part of the role usually given to the Bureaucratic Affairs Department (吏部). Cixi also executed two prominent officials to serve as examples as a more immediate solution: Qingying, a military shilang who had tried to bribe his way out of demotion, and He Guiqing, then Viceroy of Liangjiang, who fled Changzhou in the wake of an incoming Taiping army as opposed to trying to defend the city.

Another significant challenge Cixi faced was the increasingly decrepit state of the country's Manchu elite. Since the beginning of the dynasty most major positions at court had been held by Manchus, and Emperors had generally shown contempt for powerful Han Chinese. Cixi, again in a reversal of Imperial tradition, entrusted the country's most powerful military unit against the Taiping army into the hands of a Han Chinese, Zeng Guofan. Additionally, in the next three years, Cixi appointed Han Chinese officials to become governors of all southern Chinese provinces, raising alarm bells in an administration traditionally fond of Manchu dominance.

Taiping Victory and Prince Gong

Under the command of Gen. Zeng Guofan, the victorious Xiang Army defeated the Taiping Army in a hard-fought battle at Tianjing (present-day Nanjing) in July 1864. Zeng Guofan was rewarded with the title of "Marquess Yiyong, First Class," and his brother Zeng Guoquan, along with Li Hongzhang and Zuo Zongtang, all Han Chinese generals from the war, were rewarded respectively with their decorations and titles. With the Taiping threat receding, Cixi was focused on new internal threats to her power. Of special concern was the position of Yixin, the Prince Gong, and the Chief Policy Advisor (议政王) at Court. Yixin, whose loyalties stretched at least half of the country, also had effectively gathered under his command the support of all outstanding Han Chinese armies. In addition, Yixin controlled daily court affairs as the first-in-charge at the Grand Council as well as the Zongli Yamen, the de facto ministry of foreign affairs. With his increasing stature, Yixin was considered a serious threat to Cixi and her power.

Although the Prince was rewarded for his conduct and recommendation of Zeng Guofan before the Taiping defeat, Cixi was quick to move after Cai Shaoqi, a little-known official who was the recorder at court, who filed a memorial asking for Yixin's resignation. Having built up a powerful base and a network of allies at court, Yixin considered the memorial insignificant. Cixi, however, took the memorial as a stepping stone to Yixin's removal. In April 1865, under the pretext that Yixin had "improper court conduct before the two Empresses," among a series of other charges, Yixin was dismissed from all his positions, but was allowed to keep his title.[8] The dismissal, however, surprised the nobility and court officials, and brought about numerous petitions for his return. Yicong, Prince Tun, as well as Yixuan, the Prince Chun, both sought their brother's reinstatement. Yixin himself, in an audience with the two Empresses, burst into tears .[9] Bowing to popular pressure, Cixi allowed Yixin to return to his position as the head of the foreign ministry, but rid Yixin of his title of Chief Policy Advisor. Yixin would never return to political prominence again, and neither would the liberal and pro-reform policies of his time. Yixin's demotion showed Cixi's iron grip on Qing politics, and her lack of willingness to give up absolute power to anyone, including her most important ally in the Xinyou Coup, Prince Gong.

Foreign influence

Empress Dowager Cixi with foreign ladies

China's loss in the Second Opium War was undoubtedly a wake-up call for its imperial rulers. Cixi presided over a country whose military strategies, both on land and sea, and in terms of weaponry, were vastly outdated. In addition, there were significant difficulties in communications between China and the Western powers.[citation needed] Sensing an immediate threat from foreigners and realizing that China's agricultural-based economy could not hope to compete with the industrial prowess of the West, Cixi made a decision that for the first time in Imperial Chinese history, China would learn from Western powers and import their knowledge and technology. At the time, three prominent Han Chinese officials, Zeng Guofan, Li Hongzhang and Zuo Zongtang, had all begun industrial programs in the country's southern regions. In supporting these programs, Cixi also decreed the opening of Tongwen Guan in 1862, a university-like institution in Beijing that hired foreigners as teachers and specialized in new-age topics such as astronomy and mathematics, as well as the English, French, and Russian languages. Groups of young boys were also sent abroad to the United States.

China's "learn from foreigners" program quickly met with impediments. China's military institutions were in desperate need of reform, and Cixi's solution, under the advice of officials at court, was to purchase seven British warships. When the warships arrived in China, however, they carried with them boatloads of British sailors, all under British command. The Chinese were enraged at this "international joke," negotiations broke down between the two parties, and China returned the warships to Britain, where they were to be auctioned off. Scholars sometimes attribute the failure of China's foreign programs to Cixi's conservative attitude and old methods of thinking, and contend that Cixi would learn only so much from the foreigners, provided it did not infringe upon her own power. Under the pretext that a railway was too loud and would "disturb the Emperor's tombs," Cixi forbade its construction. When construction went ahead anyway in 1877 under Li Hongzhang's recommendation, Cixi asked that they be pulled by horse-drawn carts.[10] Cixi was especially alarmed at the liberal thinking of people who had studied abroad, and saw that it posed a new threat to her power. In 1881, Cixi put a halt to sending children abroad to study, and withdrew her formerly open attitude towards foreigners.

Tongzhi's Marriage and Rule

Katherine Carl's depiction of the Manchurian court ladies and Empress Dowager Cixi (arriving via the sedan in the opening gate)
Depiction of Cixi in a barge with court ladies (published in 1905)

In 1872, when the Emperor was 17, under the guidance of the Empress Dowager Ci'an of the East, the Tongzhi Emperor was married to Lady Alute (the Jiashun Empress). Empress Jiashun Alute's grandfather had been an enemy of the Empress Dowager Cixi during the Xinyou Coup. From the beginning, the relationship between Cixi and the Empress was tense and often a source of irritation to Cixi.

Lady Alute was an Empress, the principal and legal wife of the Emperor. She was the favorite of the principal Empress Dowager Ci'an of the East, and of Ci'an's legal (if not maternal) son, the Emperor Tongzhi. Alute's spies once warned her to be more agreeable to the secondary Empress Dowager Cixi of the West, as Cixi was the one who truly held the power with Prince Gong. Empress Alute's reply was, "I am principal wife and empress, having been carried through the front door with pomp and circumstance, as mandated by our ancestors. The Empress Dowager Cixi was only a lowly concubine, having entered this house by the side door."

Emperor Tongzhi proceeded to spend most of his time with his new Empress Alute, who was always with Tongzhi's favorite mother, Empress Dowager Ci'an, at the expense of his four Imperial consorts and concubines, including the Lady Fuca, Noble Consort Hui, who was chosen by Cixi. Cixi became hostile to the Empress Alute and told her and her husband that they were both still young and should spend more time studying how to effectively manage the country. Cixi also spied on Tongzhi using eunuchs. After her warning was ignored, Empress Dowager Cixi ordered Tongzhi to concentrate on ruling the country, and Tongzhi purportedly spent several months following Cixi's order in isolation at Qianqing Palace.

The young Emperor, who could no longer cope with his grief and loneliness, grew more and more ill-tempered. He began to treat his servants badly and beat them for minor offenses. Under the combined influence of court eunuchs and Zaicheng, the eldest son of the Prince Gong, who was also Tongzhi's contemporary and best friend, Tongzhi would get out of the palace to seek pleasure in unrestricted parts of Beijing. For several evenings the Emperor disguised himself as a commoner and secretly spent the nights in the brothels of Beijing. The Emperor's sexual habits became common talk among court officials and commoners, and there are many records of Tongzhi's escapades.

Tongzhi received a rigorous education from four famous teachers of Cixi's own choosing, in addition to making Mianyu his supervisor. Namely, Li Hongzao, Qi Junzao, Weng Xincun (later his son Weng Tonghe, and Woren) were all Imperial teachers who instructed the Emperor in the classics and various old texts for which the Emperor displayed little or no interest.

The pressure and stress put upon the young Emperor made him despise learning for the majority of his life. According to Weng Tonghe's diary, the Emperor could not read a memorial in full sentences by age sixteen. Worried about her son's inability, Cixi only pressured Tongzhi more. When he was given personal rule at age 18, in November 1873 (four years behind the usual custom), Tongzhi proved to be an incompetent Emperor.

Tongzhi made two important policy decisions during his short stint of rule, lasting from 1873 to 1875. First, he decreed that the Imperial Summer Palace, destroyed by the English and French in the Second Opium War, would be completely rebuilt under the pretext that it was a gift to Cixi and Ci'an. Historians also suggest that it was an attempt to drive Cixi from the Forbidden City so he could rule without interference in policy or his private affairs.

The Imperial treasury was almost depleted at the time from internal strife and foreign wars, and as a result Tongzhi asked the Board of Finance to forage for the necessary funds, as well as members of the nobility and high officials to donate their share. Once construction began, Tongzhi checked its progress on a monthly basis, and would often spend days away from court, indulging himself in pleasures outside of the Forbidden City.

Feeling unease from the Emperor's neglect for national affairs, Princes Yixin and Yixuan (the 1st Prince Chun), along with the Court's top officials, submitted a joint memorial asking the Emperor to cease the construction of the Summer Palace, among other recommendations. Tongzhi, unwilling to submit to criticism, issued an Imperial Edict in August 1874 to rid Yixin of his Prince title and be demoted to become a commoner. Two days later, Yicong, Yixuan, Yihui, Jingshou, Yikuang, Wenxiang, Baoju, and Grand Councilors Shen Guifen and Li Hongzao were all to be stripped of their respective titles and jobs.

Seeing the mayhem unfold from behind the scenes, Cixi and Ci'an made an unprecedented appearance at court directly criticizing the Emperor for his wrongful actions, and asked him to withdraw the Edict; Cixi said that "without Prince Gong, the situation today would not exist for you and me."[11]

Feeling a grand sense of loss at court and unable to assert his authority, the Emperor returned to his former habits. It was rumored that the Emperor caught syphilis and became visibly ill. The doctors spread a rumor that the Emperor had caught smallpox, and proceeded to give medical treatment accordingly. Within a few weeks, on 13 January 1875, the Emperor died. The Jiashun Empress followed suit in March. Judging from a modern medical perspective the onset of syphilis comes in stages, thus the Emperor's quick death does not seem to reflect its symptoms. Therefore most historians maintain that Tongzhi did, in fact, die from smallpox. Regardless, by 1875, Cixi was back onto the helm of imperial power.

Regency over the Guangxu Emperor

New Challenges

Emperor Guangxu (literally Glorious Succession)

Tongzhi died without a male heir, a circumstance that created an unprecedented succession crisis in the dynastic line. Members of the generation above were considered unfit, as they could not, by definition, be the successor of their nephew. Therefore, the new Emperor had to be from a generation below or the same generation as Tongzhi. After considerable disagreement between the two Dowagers, Zaitian, the first-born of the 1st Prince Chun Yixuan and Cixi's sister, then aged four, was to become the new Emperor. 1875 was declared the era of Guangxu, or the reign of Glorious Succession. Young Zaitian was taken from his home and for the remainder of his life would be cut completely off from his family. While addressing Ci'an conventionally as Huang O'niang (Empress Mother), Zaitian was forced to address Cixi as Qin Baba (親爸爸; lit. "Biological Dad"), in order to enforce an image that she was the fatherly power figure in the house.[12] The Guangxu Emperor began his education when he was aged five, taught by Imperial Tutor Weng Tonghe, with whom he would develop a lasting bond.

The sudden death of Empress Dowager Ci'an in April 1881 brought Cixi a new challenge. Ci'an took little interest in running state business, but was the decision maker in most family affairs. Owing to possible conflict between Cixi and Ci'an over the execution of An Dehai or a possible will from the late Xianfeng Emperor issued exclusively to Ci'an, rumours began circulating at court that Cixi had poisoned Ci'an .[13] During March 1881 Ci'an fell ill and Cixi became the only regent at Court, and on the Imperial records, Ci'an appeared sick on the morning of 11 April, and was dead by the evening.[14] The circumstances indeed looked suspicious. Because of a lack of evidence, however, historians are reluctant to believe that Ci'an was poisoned by Cixi, but instead choose to believe that the cause of death was a sudden stroke, as validated by traditional Chinese medicine. Ci'an's death meant that the balanced power structure was now tipped completely in Cixi's favor, and Prince Gong's position was considerably weakened.

The once fierce and determined Prince Gong, frustrated by Cixi's iron grip on power, did little to question Cixi on state affairs, and supported Manchu involvement in the Sino-French War. Cixi used China's loss in the war as a pretext for getting rid of Prince Gong and other important decision makers in the Grand Council in 1885. She downgraded him to "advisor," and promoted the more easily influenced Yixuan, Prince Chun. After being appointed President of the Navy, Prince Chun, in a sign of unswerving loyalty to Cixi, but in reality a move to protect his son, the new Emperor, moved funds from the military to reconstruct the Imperial Summer Palace outside of Beijing city as a place for Cixi's retirement. Prince Chun did not want Cixi to interfere with his son Guangxu's affairs once he came of age. Cixi showed no opposition to the construction of the palace.

For her sixtieth birthday in 1895, Empress Dowager Cixi was given ten million taels of silver, which many believe was used to furnish her Summer Palace. Although the Chinese Navy had recently lost most of its modern warships in the 1894 First Sino-Japanese War, and urgently needed the money to rebuild a high-tech fleet, it is a common misconception that Empress Dowager Cixi instead chose to use the money for her own pleasure. In fact, the sum of money would have been used to pay for public events and as gifts to the many favorite princes, courtiers, viceroys, governors, mayors, magistrates, and other officials as payment for their services. And, Empress Dowager Cixi canceled her celebration, which upset many nobles, gentry and others who had expected generous payment.

The Guangxu Emperor's accession

Guangxu technically gained the right to rule at the age of 16 in 1887 after Cixi issued an edict for Guangxu to have his accession to rule ceremony. Because of her prestige and power, however, court officials voiced their opposition to Guangxu's personal rule, citing the Emperor's youth as the main reason. Shiduo, Yixuan, and Weng Tonghe, each with a different motive, asked Guangxu's accession to be postponed until a later date. Cixi, with her reputed reluctance, accepted the "advice" and legitimized her continued rule through a new legal document that allowed her to "aid" the Guangxu Emperor in his rule indefinitely.

Cixi would slowly let go of her iron grip on power as the court prepared for the Guangxu Emperor's wedding ceremony in 1889. By then the Guangxu Emperor was already 18, older than the conventional marital age for Emperors. Prior to the wedding, a large fire engulfed the Gate of Supreme Harmony at the Forbidden City, following a trend of natural disasters in recent years, which according to Chinese political theory meant that the current rulers were losing the "Mandate of Heaven".

In another political move, Cixi forced Guangxu to choose Jingfen (later the Empress Dowager Longyu), her niece, to become the Empress, against Guangxu's will. In later years, however, Guangxu would prefer to spend more time with Consort Zhen, neglecting his Empress, much to Cixi's dismay. In 1894, Cixi, citing intervention in political affairs as the main reason, but in reality fearful that Consort Zhen had become a liberal influence on the Emperor, flogged and punished Consort Zhen. Even after Guangxu began formal rule at age 19, Cixi continued to influence his decisions and actions, despite residing for a period of time at the Imperial Summer Palace which she had ordered Guangxu's father to construct, with the official intention not to intervene in politics. Guangxu paid visits to her, along with the entourage of court officials, every second or third day, where major political decisions would be made.

Hundred Days' Reform

After taking power, the Guangxu Emperor was more reform-minded than the conservative-leaning Empress Dowager Cixi. After a humiliating defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894, during which China's Beiyang Navy was crushed by the Japanese forces, the Qing government faced numerous unprecedented challenges internally and abroad, with its very existence at stake. Under the influence of reformers Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao, Guangxu believed that by learning from constitutional monarchies like Japan and Germany, China would become more powerful politically and economically. In June 1898, the Guangxu Emperor began the Hundred Days' Reform (戊戌变法), aimed at a series of sweeping changes politically, legally, and socially. For a brief time, after the supposed retirement of the Empress Dowager Cixi, the Guangxu Emperor issued edicts for a massive number of far-reaching modernizing reforms.

The reforms, however, were too sudden for a China still under significant neo-Confucian influence, and displeased Cixi as it served as a serious check on her power. Some government and military officials warned Cixi that the ming-shih (reformation bureau) had been geared toward conspiracy. Allegations of treason against the Emperor, as well as suspected Japanese influence within the reform movement, including a suspicious visit from the Japanese Prime Minister, led Empress Dowager Cixi to resume the role of regent and once again take control of the country.

In another coup d'etat carried out by General Ronglu's personnel on 21 September 1898, the Guangxu Emperor was taken to Ocean Terrace, a small palace on an island in the middle of Zhongnanhai linked to the rest of the Forbidden City with only a controlled causeway. Empress Dowager Cixi would follow with an edict dictating the Guangxu Emperor's total disgrace and "not being fit to be Emperor". The Guangxu Emperor's reign had effectively come to an end.

A crisis followed in the Qing court on the issue of abdication. However, bowing to increasing western pressure and general civil discontent over the issue, Cixi did not forcibly remove Guangxu from the throne, although she attempted crowning Punji, a boy of fourteen who was from a close branch of the Imperial family, as the crown prince. The Guangxu era nominally continued until 1908, but the Emperor lost all honours, respect, power, and privileges, including his freedom of movement. Most of his supporters, including his former tutor Weng Tonghe, and the man he had recommended, Kang Youwei, were exiled, while six prominent reformers led by Tan Sitong were executed in public by Empress Dowager Cixi. Kang continued to work for a more progressive Qing Empire while in exile, remaining loyal to the Guangxu Emperor and hoping eventually to restore him to power. His efforts would prove to be in vain.

The Boxer Uprising and Late Qing Reforms

In 1900, the Boxer Uprising broke out in northern China. Perhaps fearing further foreign intervention, Cixi threw in her support to these anti-foreign bands, making an official announcement of her support for the movement and a formal declaration of war on the European powers. The Manchu General Ronglu deliberately sabotaged the performance of the Imperial army during the rebellion. When Dong Fuxiang's Muslim troops were able and eager to destroy the foreign military forces in the legations, Ronglu stopped them from doing so.[15] The Manchu General Zaiyi, Prince Duan, was xenophobic and was friends with Dong Fuxiang. Zaiyi wanted artillery for Dong Fuxiang's troops to destroy the legations. Ronglu blocked the transfer of artillery to Zaiyi and Dong, preventing them from destroying the legations.[16] When artillery was finally supplied to the Imperial Army and Boxers, it was only done so in limited amounts, Ronglu deliberately held back the rest of them.[17] The Chinese forces defeated the Allied Western invasion force at the Battle of Langfang and scored numerous small victories around Tianjin such as the Battle of Beicang. Due to the fact that Moderates at the Qing court tried to appease the foreigners by moving the Kansu braves out of their way, the Allied army was able to march into Beijing and seize the capital.[18]

During the war, Cixi displayed concern about China's situation and foreign aggression, saying, "Perhaps their magic is not to be relied upon; but can we not rely on the hearts and minds of the people? Today China is extremely weak. We have only the people's hearts and minds to depend upon. If we cast them aside and lose the people's hearts, what can we use to sustain the country?" The Chinese people were almost unanimous in their support for the Boxers, due to the Western Allied invasion.[19]

Empress 'Jade Boat' of Purity and Ease

During the Battle of Peking, the Entire Chinese Imperial Court, including the Empress Dowager and Emperor Guangxu, safely escaped from Beijing and evacuated to Xi'an in Shaanxi province, deep beyond protective mountain passes where the foreigners could not reach. The Foreigners were unable to pursue, and had no such orders to do so, so they decided no action should be taken. The Muslim Kansu Braves protected the Imperial Court from the foreigners, Xi'an was deep in Chinese Muslim territory. Several foreigners commented that the Chinese shrewdly outsmarted the foreign forces, and succeeded in making the foreigners look stupid by escaping from their grasp, where they could not attack them.[20] The Qing dynasty was by no means defeated when the Allies took control of Beijing. They Allies had to temper their demands they sent in a message to Xi'an to get the Dowager Empress to agree with them, among them was that China did not have to give up any land at all. Many of the Dowager Empress's advisers in the Imperial Court insisted that the war be carried on against the foreigners, arguing that China could defeated the foreigners since it was disloyal and traitorous people within China who allowed Beijing and Tianjin to be captured by the Allies, and the interior of China was impenetrable. Dong Fuxiang was also recommended by them to continue fighting. The Dowager was practical, and decided that the terms were generous enough for her to acquiesce and stop the war, when she was assured of her continued reign after the war.[21] The Western powers needed a government strong enough to suppress further anti-foreign movements but too weak to act on its own; they supported the continuation of the Qing, rather than allowing it to disintegrate. Cixi turned once more to Li Hongzhang to negotiate. Li was agreed to sign the Boxer Protocol, which demanded the presence of an international military force in Beijing and the payment of £67 million (almost $333 million) in war reparations. The U.S. used its share of the war indemnity to fund the creation of China's prestigious Tsinghua University. The Emperor and the Empress Dowager did not return to the capital from Xi'an until January 1902.[22]

Upon their return, however, the Empress Dowager made a remarkable reversal, wooing the powers she had attempted to destroy and supporting the policies she had suppressed. First she invited the wives of the diplomatic corps for an afternoon tea in the Forbidden City, had her portrait painted in oils, and promoted the very reformist officials who had resisted her orders in 1900, principally Yuan Shikai. High officials were dispatched to Japan and Europe to gather facts and draw up plans for sweeping administrative reforms in law, education, government structure, and social policy, many of which were modeled on the reforms of the Meiji Restoration. The abolition of the examination system in 1905 was only the most visible of these sweeping reforms. Ironically, Cixi sponsored the implementation of a reform program more radical than the one proposed by the reformers she had beheaded in 1898.[23]

In 1903, a strategy emerged to use photographic portraiture to rehabilitate her public image. Cixi allowed a young aristocratic photographer named Xunling to take elaborately staged shots of her and her court, designed to convey imperial authority, aesthetic refinement, and religious piety. As the only photographic series taken of Cixi—the supreme leader of China for more than forty-five years—it represents a unique convergence of Qing court pictorial traditions, modern photographic techniques, and Western standards of artistic portraiture. The rare glass plates have been blown up into full-size images, included in the exhibition "The Empress Dowager" at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Death and final resting place

The corpse of the Empress Dowager Cixi.

Empress Dowager Cixi died in the Hall of Graceful Bird at the Middle Sea (Chinese: 中海儀鸞殿) of Zhongnanhai on 15 November 1908, after having installed Puyi as the new Emperor of the Qing Dynasty on November 14. Her death came only a day after the death of the Guangxu Emperor.

On 4 November 2008, forensic tests were reported that the death of the Emperor was caused by acute arsenic poisoning. China Daily quoted a historian, Dai Yi, who speculated that Cixi may have known of her imminent death and may have worried that Guangxu would continue his reforms after her death. CNN has recently reported that the level of arsenic in his remains were 2,000 times higher than that of ordinary people.[24]

Empress Dowager Cixi was interred amidst the Eastern Qing Tombs (Chinese: 清東陵), 125 km (78 mi) east of Beijing, in the Dong Dingling (Chinese: 東定陵), along with Empress Dowager Ci'an. More precisely, Empress Dowager Ci'an lies in the Pu Xiang Yu Ding Dong Ling (Chinese: 普祥峪定東陵) (literally: the "Tomb East of the Ding Ling Tomb in the Broad Valley of Good Omen"), while Empress Dowager Cixi built herself the much larger Pu Tuo Yu Ding Dong Ling (Chinese: 菩陀峪定東陵) (literally: the "Tomb East of the Ding Ling Tomb in the Potala Valley"). The Dingling tomb (literally: the "Tomb of quietude") is the tomb of the Xianfeng Emperor, the spouse of Empress Dowager Ci'an and Empress Dowager Cixi, which is located indeed west of the Ding Dong Ling. The Putuo Valley owes its name to Mount Putuo, one of the Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains of China.

Empress Dowager Cixi, unsatisfied with her tomb, ordered its destruction and reconstruction in 1895. The new tomb was a lavish grandiose complex of temples, gates, and pavilions, covered with gold leaf, and with gold and gilded-bronze ornaments hanging from the beams and the eaves. In July 1928, Empress Dowager Cixi's tomb was occupied by warlord and Kuomintang general Sun Dianying and his army who methodically stripped the complex of its precious ornaments, then dynamited the entrance to the burial chamber, opened Empress Dowager Cixi's coffin, threw her corpse (said to have been found intact) on the floor, and stole all the jewels contained in the coffin, as well as the massive pearl that had been placed in Empress Dowager Cixi's mouth to protect her corpse from decomposing (in accordance with Chinese tradition). Urban legend states that the large pearl on Empress Dowager Cixi's crown was offered by Sun Dianying to Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek and ended up as an ornament on the gala shoes of Chiang's wife, Soong May-ling, but this is unconfirmed.

After 1949, the complex of Empress Dowager Cixi's tomb was restored by the People's Republic of China, and it is still today one of the most impressive imperial tombs of China.


  • Paternal Great-Grandfather
    • Yehenara Jilang A (葉赫那拉·吉郎阿)
  • Paternal Grandfather
    • Yehenara Jingrui (葉赫那拉·景瑞)
  • Father
    • Yehenara Huizheng (葉赫那拉·惠徵) (29 September 1805 - ?), Manchu official of the Blue Bordered Banner, served in Shanxi Province before becoming Commissioner of Anhui
  • Mother
    • Lady Fuca (富察氏), Huizheng's primary wife, daughter of Fuca Huixian (富察·惠顯)
  • Husband
  • Son

Siblings and their descendants

    • 1st younger sister: Yehenara Wanzhen (葉赫那拉·婉貞) (13 September 1841 – 19 June 1896), married Yixuan, 1st Prince Chun
      • 1st son: Zairong (載瀚) (1 February 1865 – 9 December 1866)
      • 2nd son: Zaitian (載湉) (14 August 1871 – 14 November 1908), became the Guangxu Emperor
      • 3rd son: unnamed (13 February 1875 – 14 February 1875)
      • 4th son: Zaiguang (載洸) (28 November 1880 – 18 May 1884)
    • 2nd younger sister: Lady Yehenara (葉赫那拉氏), married Yixun (奕勛) (second younger brother of Yikuang, Prince Qing)
    • 1st younger brother: Yehenara Zhaoxiang (葉赫那拉·照祥)
      • Son: Yehenara Deshan (葉赫那拉·德善)
    • 2nd younger brother: Yehenara Guixiang (葉赫那拉·桂祥)
      • 1st daughter: Yehenara Jingrong (葉赫那拉·靜榮), married Zaize, Duke of Zhen in 1894
      • 2nd daughter: Yehenara Jingfen (葉赫那拉·靜芬) (1868 – 22 February 1913), married her first cousin, the Guangxu Emperor on 26 February 1889 and became Empress Dowager Longyu (known posthumously as Empress Xiao Ding Jing)
      • 3rd daughter: Yehenara Jingfang (葉赫那拉·靜芳), married Zaiyi, Prince Duan
        • Son: Pujun (溥儁) (1885–1942)
          • 1st son: Yuwei (毓巍) (September 1908 – May 1998)
            • 1st son: Henglu (恆祿)
            • 2nd son: Hengyu (恆玉)
            • 3rd son: Hengjun (恆均)
              • Son: Luowei (羅偉)
          • 2nd son: Yuling (毓嶺)
      • 1st son: Yehenara Deheng (葉赫那拉·德恒), courtesy name Jianting (健亭)
        • 1st daughter: Yehenara Shumin (葉赫那拉·淑敏)
        • 2nd daughter: Yehenara Shuqin (葉赫那拉·淑琴)
        • Son: Yehenara Enxian (葉赫那拉·恩賢)
      • 2nd son: Yehenara Deqi (葉赫那拉·德祺), courtesy name Shouzhi (壽芝)
        • 1st daughter: Yehenara Xixian (葉赫那拉·希賢)
        • 2nd daughter: Yehenara Xiyan (葉赫那拉·希嬿)
        • 1st son: Yehenara Enyin (葉赫那拉·恩印)
        • 2nd son: Yehenara Enxian (葉赫那拉·恩顯)
        • 3rd son: Yehenara Enmin (葉赫那拉·恩民)
        • 4th son: Yehenara Enzhi (葉赫那拉·恩植)
    • 3rd younger brother: Yehenara Fuxiang (葉赫那拉·福祥)
      • Son: Yehenara Dekui (葉赫那拉·德奎), courtesy name Wenbo (文伯)
        • 1st daughter: Yehenara Enhua (葉赫那拉·恩華)
        • 2nd daughter: Yehenara Enxiu (葉赫那拉·恩秀)
        • 1st son: Yehenara Enquan (葉赫那拉·恩銓)
        • 2nd son: Yehenara Enhui (葉赫那拉·恩輝)
        • 3rd son: Yehenara Enyao (葉赫那拉·恩耀)
        • 4th son: Yehenara Enguang (葉赫那拉·恩光)

Names of Empress Dowager Cixi

The Room of Beautiful Scenery (Part of Empress Dowager Cixi's western Chu-Xiu Palace), inside which the Imperial Concubine Yi (the future Empress Dowager Cixi) gave birth to the future Tongzhi Emperor.

The name by which she is most frequently known and the name used in most modern texts is simply "Cixi", which is neither her birth name nor family name. It is an "honorific name" given to her in 1861 after her son ascended the throne. Empress Dowager Cixi's name at birth is not known, although a recent book published by one of Cixi's brother's descendants seems to suggest that it was Xingzhen (杏貞). The first occurrence of her name is at the time she entered the Forbidden City in September 1851, where she was recorded as "the Lady Yehenara, daughter of Huizheng" (Chinese: 惠徵). Thus, she was called by her clan's name, the Yehe-Nara clan, as was customary for Manchu girls. On entering the Forbidden City, she was a preparative concubine (Chinese: 秀女).

After her sexual union with the Xianfeng Emperor, she was made a concubine of the fifth rank Noble Person, a.k.a. "Worthy Lady" (Chinese: 貴人), and was given the name Yi (懿,meaning "good", "exemplary", "virtuous"). Her name was thus "Noble Person of Yi", or Worthy Lady Yi (Chinese: 懿貴人). At the end of December 1854 or the beginning of January 1855, she was promoted to concubine of the fourth rank, Imperial Concubine (Chinese: ), so that her new name was Imperial Concubine Yi (Chinese: 懿嬪).

On 27 April 1856, Yehenara gave birth to a son, the only son of Xianfeng, and was immediately made Noble Consort Yi" (Chinese: 懿妃). Finally, in February 1857 she was again elevated and made "Noble Imperial Consort Yi" (Chinese: 懿貴妃).

In the end of August 1861, following the death of the Xianfeng Emperor, her five-year-old son became the new Emperor, known as the Tongzhi Emperor. Empress Dowager Cixi, as biological mother of the new emperor, was officially made Divine Mother Empress Dowager (Chinese: 聖母皇太后). She was also given the honorific name Cixi (Chinese: 慈禧), meaning "Motherly and Auspicious". As for the Empress Consort, she was made "Mother Empress Dowager" (Chinese: 母后皇太后), a title giving her precedence over Empress Dowager Cixi, and she was given the honorific name Empress Dowager Ci'an (Chinese: 慈安), meaning "Motherly and Calm".

On 7 occasions after 1861, Empress Dowager Cixi was given additional honorific names (two Chinese characters at a time), as was customary for Emperors and Empresses, until by the end of her reign her name was a long string of 16 characters starting with Cixi (as Empress Dowager she had the right to nine additions, giving a total of 20 characters, had she lived long enough for it). At the end of her life, her official name was:

  • (Chinese: 大清國當今慈禧端佑康頤昭豫莊誠壽恭欽獻崇熙聖母皇太后)

which reads: "The Current Divine Mother Empress Dowager Ci-Xi Duan-You Kang-Yi Zhao-Yu Zhuang-Cheng Shou-Gong Qin-Xian Chong-Xi of the Great Qing Empire".

The short form was The Current Divine Mother Empress Dowager of the Great Qing Empire

(Chinese: 大清國當今聖母皇太后)

At the time, Empress Dowager Cixi was addressed as "Venerable Buddha" (Chinese: 老佛爺),literally "Master Old Buddha", a term used for all the Emperors of the Qing Dynasty. At official and ceremonial occasions, the phrase Long Live the Empress Dowager for ten thousand years (Chinese: 大清國當今聖母皇太后萬歲萬歲萬萬歲), which is by convention, only used by Emperors. The convention for Empress Dowagers of imperial China was usually Long live for one thousand years.

At her death in 1908, Empress Dowager Cixi was given a posthumous name which combines the honorific names that she gained during her lifetime with new names added just after her death. This is the name that is usually used on official documents to refer to an Empress. This long form of the posthumous name is:

  • (Chinese: 孝欽慈禧端佑康頤昭豫莊誠壽恭欽獻崇熙配天興聖顯皇太后),

which reads: Empress Xiao-Qin Ci-Xi Duan-You Kang-Yi Zhao-Yu Zhuang-Cheng Shou-Gong Qin-Xian Chong-Xi Pei-Tian Xing-Sheng Xian. This long name is still the one that can be seen on Cixi's tomb today. The short form of her posthumous name is: Empress Xiao Qin Xian (孝欽顯皇后).

Historical opinions

One of the historical oil paintings by Western artists depicting Empress Dowager Cixi

The traditional view of the Empress Dowager Cixi was that of a devious despot who contributed in no small part to China's slide into corruption, anarchy, and revolution. During Cixi's time, she used her power to accumulate vast quantities of money, bullion, antiques and jewelry, using the revenues of the state as her own. By the end of her reign she had amassed a huge personal fortune, stashing away some eight and a half million pounds sterling in London banks. The lavish palaces, gardens and lakes built by Cixi were hugely extravagant at a time when China was verging on bankruptcy.[25] The recent discovery that her nephew died of acute arsenic poisoning casts a sinister shadow on the events of her reign, as do the many examples of her ruthless elimination of enemies throughout her life, from Sushun and his entourage to the martyrs of the 100 Days' Reform to Empress Alute and the Pearl Concubine, whether or not the details were embellished by critics.

Katharine Carl

Katharine Carl spent some ten months with the Empress Dowager Cixi in 1903 to paint her portrait for the St. Louis Exposition. Two years later she published a book about her experience, titled With the Empress Dowager. In the book's introduction, Carl says she wrote the book because "After I returned to America, I was constantly seeing in the newspapers (and hearing of) statements ascribed to me which I never made."[26]

In her book, Katharine Carl describes the Empress Dowager Cixi as a kind and considerate woman for her station. Empress Dowager Cixi, though shrewd, had great presence, charm, and graceful movements resulting in "an unusually attractive personality". Carl wrote of the Dowager's love of dogs and of flowers, as well as boating, Chinese opera and her Chinese water pipes and European cigarettes. Carl also made note of Empress Dowager Cixi's loyalty, describing the case of "a Chinese woman who nursed Her Majesty through a long illness, about twenty-five years since, and saved her life by giving her mother's milk to drink. Her Majesty, who never forgets a favor, has always kept this woman in the Palace. Being a Chinese, she had bound feet. Her Majesty, who cannot bear to see them even, had her feet unbound and carefully treated, until now she can walk comfortably. Her Majesty has educated the son, who was an infant at the time of her illness, and whose natural nourishment she partook of. This young man is already a Secretary in a good yamen (government office)."

Katharine Carl's oil painting of the Imperial Dowager Empress.

Sterling Seagrave

Seagrave argues[27] that most of the more sensational stories of Empress Dowager Cixi's life can be traced to the boasting, self-important "Wild Fox" Kang Youwei and his cronies who, never having met the Empress Dowager, concocted stories of plots and poisonings and passed them on to the Western press. Many other "details" of her life are based on accounts by J. O. P. Bland and known forger Edmund Backhouse. As life in the Forbidden City remained a mystery for most Westerners, these stories created by Kang and Backhouse (some up to 30 years after the supposed events) were used by many 20th century historians to paint a misleading picture of the Empress Dowager.

In contrast, Seagrave portrays Empress Dowager Cixi as a woman stuck between the xenophobic Ironhats faction, made up of Manchu nobility wanting to maintain Manchu dominance and remove Western influences from China at all cost, and more moderate influences trying to cope with China's problems on a more realistic footing, such as Prince Gong in her earlier days. The Empress Dowager, Seagrave argues, did not crave power but simply acted to balance these influences and protect the Dynasty as best she could.

Lei Chia-sheng

According to research by Professor Lei Chia-sheng (雷家聖),[28] during the Hundred Days' Reform (戊戌变法), former prime minister of Japan Itō Hirobumi (伊藤博文) arrived in China on 11 September 1898. Almost at the same time, British missionary Timothy Richard was invited to Beijing by Kang Youwei. Richard suggested that China should hand over some political power to Itō in order to help push the reforms further.[29] On 18 September, Richard convinced Kang Youwei to adopt a plan by which China would join a federation composed of China, Japan, the United States, and England. This suggestion did not reflect the policies of the countries concerned. It was Timothy Richard’s (and perhaps Itō Hirobumi's) trick to convince China to hand over national rights. Kang Youwei nonetheless asked fellow reformers Yang Shenxiu (楊深秀) and Song Bolu (宋伯魯) to report this plan to the Guangxu Emperor.[30] On 20 September, Yang sent a memorial to this effect to the Emperor.[31] In another memorial written the next day, Song Bolu also advocated the formation of a federation and the sharing of the diplomatic, fiscal, and military powers of the four countries under a hundred-man committee.[32] Lei Chia-sheng argues that the plot was the reason why Cixi, who had just returned from the Summer Palace on Sept. 19, decided to put an end to the reforms with the 21 September coup.[dubious ]

Still according to Lei Chia-sheng's findings, on 13 October, British ambassador Sir C. MacDonald reported to his government about the Chinese situation, saying that Chinese reforms had been damaged by Kang Youwei and his friends’ actions.[33] British diplomat Baurne claimed in his own report that Kang was a dreamer who had been seduced by Timothy Richard’s sweet words. Baurne thought Richard was a plotter.[34] The British and American governments were unaware of the "federation" plot, which seems to have been Timothy Richard’s personal idea. Because Richard's partner Itō Hirobumi had been Prime Minister of Japan, the Japanese government might have known about Richard's plan, but there is no evidence to this effect.

Princess Der Ling

Der Ling, whose Christian name was Elisabeth Antoinette, was born in Beijing in June 1885 and died in Berkeley, California in November 1944. She was the eldest daughter of Yu Keng, an official of the Chinese-Martial (hanjun) Plain White Banner, and his wife, Louisa Pierson, daughter of an American merchant in Shanghai and his Chinese consort.

When Der Ling's father was recalled from Paris, where he had been Chinese minister, in 1903, Der Ling, her sister Rong Ling (later the wife of General Dan Paochao) and their mother were summoned by Cixi to become court ladies - something between ladies in waiting and translators/hostesses for when the Empress Dowager had foreign female guests from Beijing's Legation Quarter.

Der Ling served at court from March 1903 till October 1905, and married an American, Thaddeus Cohu White, in 1907.

After Cixi's death in 1908, Der Ling professed to be so angered by what she saw as false portraits of Cixi appearing in books and periodicals that she wrote her own account of serving "Old Buddha," which she called "Two Years in the Forbidden City." This book appeared in 1911, just before the fall of the Qing Dynasty, and was a popular success.

In this book, Cixi is not the monster of depravity depicted in the popular press and in the second and third hand accounts left by foreigners who had lived in Beijing, but an aging woman who loved beautiful things, had many regrets about the past and the way she had dealt with the many crises of her long reign, and apparently trusted Der Ling enough to share many memories and opinions with her.

It was clearly Cixi's favouritism toward Der Ling, including permitting her to wear a "princess button" on her hat, that prompted Der Ling in later years, when seeking an English equivalent to her office at court, to add "Princess" to her name, a move that undermined her credibility in China even as it drove up her stock when she went before the American public in the 1920s to give lectures about life at court with the semi-legendary Cixi. Der Ling ultimately wrote a full-length biography of Cixi titled 'Old Buddha.'

Der Ling would go on to write seven more books about this relatively brief period in her youth when she had been close to the centre of failing imperial Chinese power, and sharing this personal history and her habit of promoting herself and her writings caused most of her family to turn against her. All of this has made it difficult to assess Der Ling's contribution to late Qing historiography. But the fact remains that she was the first woman of Cixi's own ethnic background to live with and observe her and then write about what it was like; if many of Der Ling's recollections smack of the every day minutiae of a court that throve on details and form, her writings are no less valuable for focusing on them, particularly as life within the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace was a closed book for most people in China, let alone in the rest of the world. It was misunderstanding of much of what emanated from the throne that created so many of the problems Cixi has been wholly blamed for.

Starting with Sterling Seagrave's biography of Cixi, 'Dragon Lady: The Life and Legend of the Last Empress of China', Der Ling and her reminiscences of the imperial court have been rehabilitated in recent years, in tandem with reassessments of the Empress Dowager herself. In January 2008, Hong Kong University Press published the first biography of Der Ling, 'Imperial Masquerade: The Legend of Princess Der Ling'.[35]

Other sources

She appears frequently in ceremonies described in the diaries of Sir Ernest Satow for 1900–06 when Satow was British envoy in Peking.

Another well known biography, although widely criticized, is "China Under The Empress Dowager" by J. O. P. Bland and Edmund Backhouse. Backhouse was later found to have forged some of his source materials when he wrote this work.[36][37][38] This is a book that gave rise to much of the negative perspective of the dowager empress.


Chinese royalty
Preceded by
Empress Xiaojingcheng
Empress Dowager of China
concurrently with Empress Dowager Ci'an:
Succeeded by
Empress Dowager Longyu

See also

  • Imperial Decree of declaration of war against foreign powers
  • Imperial Decree on events leading to the signing of Boxer Protocol
  • 1900 National Upheaval

In popular culture

  • Pearl S. Buck's novel Imperial Woman chronicles the life of the Empress Dowager from the time of her selection as a concubine until near to her death. Empress Dowager Cixi is portrayed as a stern, motivated woman who stands to the old ways of life and government and resists the changes brought by westerners. Empress Dowager Cixi's actions on behalf of the two Emperors that she raised and her own actions are all accounted for and rationalized as being for the good of her people and her country.
  • The 1968 novel Wij Tz'e Hsi Keizerin Van China (We, Tz'e Hsi, Empress of China) by Dutch author Johan Fabricius is a fictional diary of the Empress.
  • Forbidden City: Portrait of An Empress, a Singapore musical that tells the story of Empress Dowager Cixi, was staged by the Singapore Repertory Theatre originally on 17–19 October 2002.
  • The China Central Television production Towards the Republic portrayed Empress Dowager Cixi as a capable ruler, albeit not entirely positive, for the first time in the history of Mainland Chinese television, although it also clearly demonstrated her political views as very conservative.


  1. ^ Sue Fawn Chung, "The Much Maligned Empress Dowager: A Revisionist Study of the Empress Dowager Tz'u-Hsi (1835-1908)," Modern Asian Studies 13.2 (1979): 177-196.
  2. ^ Chung, S.F, The Much Maligned Empress Dowager, p. 3.
  3. ^ Laidler, Keith (2003), "The Last Empress" (p. 58), John Wiley & Sons Inc., ISBN 0-470-84881-2.
  4. ^ Immanual Hsu (1985), The Rise of Modern China (pg. 215).
  5. ^ Edward Behr, The Last Emperor, 1987, p. 44
  6. ^ [Sui Lijuan: Carrying out the Coup. CCTV-10 Series on Cixi, Ep. 4]
  7. ^ a b Edward Behr, The Last Emperor, 1987, p. 45
  8. ^ 清史稿:恭忠親王奕訢,宣宗第六子
  9. ^ 清史稿:恭忠親王奕訢傳記載:“王入謝,痛哭引咎”。
  10. ^ [Professor Sui Lijuang: Lecture Room Series on Cixi, Episode 9]
  11. ^ 《清德宗實錄》
  12. ^ "光绪皇帝为什么叫慈禧太后亲爸爸? Why does the Guangxu Emperor call the Empress Dowager Cixi as Qin Baba?". Lishi Qiannian. http://www.lsqn.cn/mingren/age/201003/216534.html. Retrieved 2010-03-15. 
  13. ^ Edward Behr, The Last Emperor, 1987, p. 49
  14. ^ 清德宗實錄
  15. ^ Paul A. Cohen (1997). story in three keys: the boxers as event, experience, and myth. Columbia University Press. p. 54. ISBN 0231106505. http://books.google.com/books?id=8hiGU_tJEocC&pg=PA54&dq=yangcun+dong+fuxiang&hl=en&ei=KQe2TMCFOsP98AaV29SgCg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CCoQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=ronglu%20not%20boxers%20made%20sure%20siege%20was%20never%20pressed%20home&f=false. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  16. ^ X. L. Woo (2002). Empress dowager Cixi: China's last dynasty and the long reign of a formidable concubine : legends and lives during the declining days of the Qing Dynasty. Algora Publishing. p. 216. ISBN 1892941880. http://books.google.com/books?id=GiqiIYdocKMC&pg=PA216&dq=ronglu+legations&hl=en&ei=nCS2TLP7GIH-8AazmpGYDA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CDMQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=ronglu%20legations&f=false. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  17. ^ Stephen G. Haw (2007). Beijing: a concise history. Taylor & Francis. p. 94. ISBN 0415399068. http://books.google.com/books?id=40WRdm1LstQC&pg=PA94&dq=ronglu+legations&hl=en&ei=nCS2TLP7GIH-8AazmpGYDA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=8&ved=0CFgQ6AEwBw#v=onepage&q=ronglu%20legations&f=false. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  18. ^ Sterling Seagrave, Peggy Seagrave (1993). Dragon lady: the life and legend of the last empress of China. Vintage Books. p. 311. ISBN 0679733698. http://books.google.com/?id=J07_tPJu9M8C&dq=kansu+braves+from+the+marines+path&q=path+braves+court. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  19. ^ Joseph Esherick (1988). The origins of the Boxer Uprising. University of California Press. p. 289. ISBN 0520064593. http://books.google.com/books?id=jVESdBSMasMC&pg=PA289&dq=Perhaps+their+magic+is+not+to+be+relied+upon:+but+can+we+not+rely+on+the+hearts+and+minds+of+the+people%3F+Today+China+is+extremely+weak.+We+have+only+the+people's+hearts+and+minds+to+depend+upon.+If+we+cast+them+aside+and+lose+the+people's+hearts,+what+can+we&hl=en&ei=sRa2TOuXDsG88gaL9azjCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCUQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=Perhaps%20their%20magic%20is%20not%20to%20be%20relied%20upon%3A%20but%20can%20we%20not%20rely%20on%20the%20hearts%20and%20minds%20of%20the%20people%3F%20Today%20China%20is%20extremely%20weak.%20We%20have%20only%20the%20people's%20hearts%20and%20minds%20to%20depend%20upon.%20If%20we%20cast%20them%20aside%20and%20lose%20the%20people's%20hearts%2C%20what%20can%20we&f=false. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  20. ^ Diana Preston (2000). The boxer rebellion: the dramatic story of China's war on foreigners that shook the world in the summer of 1900. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. p. 261. ISBN 0802713610. http://books.google.com/books?id=iWxKQejMtlMC&pg=PA261&dq=inscribing+the+name+of+Yuan+Shih-kai+on+its+back.+The+tortoise+was+a+symbol+of+homosexuality+and+hence+intended+as+a+grievous+insult+to+the+enemy+who+had+betrayed+his+attempts+at+reform.+Kuang+Hsu+would+stick+the+picture&hl=en&ei=8FxxTeKLC4q-tgfOs63zDg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCgQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=by%20one%20ingenious%20stroke%20chinese%20turned%20tables&f=false. Retrieved March 4, 2011. 
  21. ^ Diana Preston (2000). The boxer rebellion: the dramatic story of China's war on foreigners that shook the world in the summer of 1900. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. p. 312. ISBN 0802713610. http://books.google.com/books?id=iWxKQejMtlMC&pg=PA312&dq=neither+was+china+required+to+surrender+any+territory+Some+members+of+the+exiled+court+had+urged+her+to+continue+the+war,+arguing+that+Peking+and+Tientsin+had+fallen+because+of+traitors,+that+the+allies+could+never+penetrate+the+interior+of+China,+and+that+if+Tung+Fu-hsiang+were+allowed+to&hl=en&ei=eWxxTfvZMNCutweg7dH_Dg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCgQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=neither%20was%20china%20required%20to%20surrender%20any%20territory%20Some%20members%20of%20the%20exiled%20court%20had%20urged%20her%20to%20continue%20the%20war%2C%20arguing%20that%20Peking%20and%20Tientsin%20had%20fallen%20because%20of%20traitors%2C%20that%20the%20allies%20could%20never%20penetrate%20the%20interior%20of%20China%2C%20and%20that%20if%20Tung%20Fu-hsiang%20were%20allowed%20to&f=false. Retrieved March 4, 2011. 
  22. ^ Jaques Gernet, A History of Chinese Civilization (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, second edition 1982): 604.
  23. ^ Douglas Reynolds, China, 1898-1912: The Xinzheng Revolution and Japan (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993). ISBN 0-674-11660-7 passim.
  24. ^ "Arsenic killed Chinese emperor, reports say - CNN.com". CNN. 4 November 2008. http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/asiapcf/11/04/china.emperor/index.html?eref=rss_world. Retrieved 2 May 2010. 
  25. ^ Edward Behr, The Last Emperor, 1987, p. 51
  26. ^ With the Empress Dowager of China by Katharine Carl 1907, current print Kessinger Publishing 2004, ISBN 978-1-4179-1701-3.
  27. ^ Dragon Lady: The Life and Legend of the Last Empress of China by Sterling Seagrave, Vintage Books, New York, 1992 ISBN 0-679-73369-8.
  28. ^ Lei Chia-sheng, Liwan kuanglan: Wuxu zhengbian xintan 力挽狂瀾:戊戌政變新探 [Containing the furious waves: a new view of the 1898 coup], Taipei: Wanjuan lou 萬卷樓, 2004.
  29. ^ Timothy Richard, Forty-five years in China, Ch. 12.
  30. ^ Kang Youwei 康有為, Kang Nanhai ziding nianpu 康南海自訂年譜 [Chronicle of Kang Youwei's Life, by Kang Youwei], Taipei: Wenhai chubanshe 文海出版社, p. 67.
  31. ^ Yang Shenxiu, "Shandong dao jiancha yushi Yang Shenxiu zhe" 山東道監察御史楊深秀摺 [Palace memorial by Yang Shenxiu, Investigating Censor of Shandong Circuit], in Wuxu bianfa dang'an shiliao 戊戌變法檔案史料 [Archival sources on the history of the 1898 reforms], Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1959, p. 15.「臣尤伏願我皇上早定大計,固結英、美、日本三國,勿嫌『合邦』之名之不美。」
  32. ^ Song Bolu, "Zhang Shandong dao jiancha yushi Song Bolu zhe" 掌山東道監察御史宋伯魯摺 [Palace memorial by Song Bolu, Investigating Censor in charge of the Shandong Circuit], in Wuxu bianfa dang'an shiliao, p. 170.「渠(李提摩太)之來也,擬聯合中國、日本、美國及英國為合邦,共選通達時務、曉暢各國掌故者百人,專理四國兵政稅則及一切外交等事。」
  33. ^ Correspondence Respecting the Affairs of China, Presented to Both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty (London, 1899.3), No. 401., p .303.
  34. ^ British Foreign Office files (F.O.) 17/1718, 26 September 1898.
  35. ^ Imperial Masquerade: The Legend of Princess Der Ling, by Grant Hayter-Menzies [ISBN 978-962-209-881-7], Hong Kong University Press, January 2008
  36. ^ http://www.garyleetodd.com/iv-essays-and-blogs/evil-women-tyrants-is-history-telling-us-the-truth/
  37. ^ http://www.earnshawbooks.com/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=30
  38. ^ http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=2649940

Further reading

  • Chung, Sue Fawn (1979). "The Much Maligned Empress Dowager: A Revisionist Study of the Empress Dowager Tz'u-Hsi (1835-1908)". Modern Asian Studies 13 (2): 177–196. 
  • Hummel, Arthur William, ed (1943). Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period (1644–1912). 2 vols. Washington: United States Government Printing Office. 
  • Warner, Marina (1972). The Dragon Empress: Life and Times of Tz'u-hsi 1835-1908. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. 
  • Hayter-Menzies, Grant (2008). Imperial Masquerade: The Legend of Princess Der Ling. Hong Kong University Press. 
  • 雷家聖(Lei Chiasheng) (2004). 《力挽狂瀾-戊戌政變新探》,台北:萬卷樓. ISBN 9577395074. 

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