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Empress Dowager Cixi

Empress Dowager Cixi ; Chinese: (November 29, 1835 – November 15, 1908), popularly known in China as the West Empress Dowager was from the Manchu Yehe Nara Clan. She was a powerful and charismatic figure who became the de facto ruler of the Manchu Qing Dynasty, ruling over China for 47 years from 1861 to her death in 1908. Coming from an ordinary Manchu family and having been selected by the Xianfeng Emperor as a concubine, she exercised almost total control over the court under the nominal rule of her son the Tongzhi Emperor and her nephew the Guangxu Emperor, both of whom attempted to rule unsuccessfully in their own right. Largely conservative during her rule, many historians considered her reign despotic, and attribute the fall of the Qing Dynasty, and therefore Imperial China, as a result of Cixi's rule.

Early Years

The exact origins of Empress Dowager Cixi are unclear, but most biographies claim that she was the daughter of a low-ranking Manchu official named Huizheng of the Manchu Yenenara clan, and his principal wife, who belonged to the Manchu Fucha clan.

Huizheng was a member of the Bordered Blue Banner of the Eight Banners, who served in the Shanxi Province and later became Commissioner of Anhui Province. Edward Behr suggests that Cixi was born in 1835 as Lan Kueu (Little Orchid)[1], while Genzheng Yehenara, one of Cixi's brother's descendants, insists the name was Xing'er, and the name she used during schooling was Xingzhen. There are various stories about the early background of Cixi, none of which are in historical records. In the most popularly circulated tales, some of which have made their way into Chinese historical fiction, suggests Cixi is from one of four places: the Yangtze Region; Changzhi, Shanxi (this version says Cixi is actually a Han Chinese adopted by a Manchu family); Suiyuan (now Hohhot), Inner Mongolia; and Beijing. It is generally accepted that she spent most of her early life in the 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 September, 1851, Cixi participated, with sixty other Manchu girls, in the selection process for concubines for the new Xianfeng Emperor. This process was supervised by the Kang Ci Imperial Dowager Consort, and Cixi was one of the few girls selected on that occasion and was appointed Noble Person, concubine of the Fifth Rank. She moved into the Emperor's Old Imperial Summer Palace Complex, and was soon granted the title Worthy Lady Orchid  which was a consort of the second-lowest rank.

In 1855, the Lady Yehenara (as Cixi's name was recorded upon entering the Forbidden City) fell pregnant, and on April 27, 1856, she gave birth to Zaichun, the only male heir of the Xianfeng Emperor, obtaining an elevation to Imperial Consort Yi, which was a consort of the fourth rank.[3] When her son reached his first birthday, Yehenara was elevated to a Noble Consort Yi. This rank is an imperial consort of the third degree (after Empress Consort and Imperial Noble Consort). Because the rank Imperial Noble Consort was empty at that time, the rank Noble Consort placed Yehenara second only to the Empress Consort Zhen (who later became the Empress Dowager Ci'an). (See the section on "Names of Empress Dowager Cixi" for more detail.)

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 Imperial Summer Palace Complex to the ground. The attack, under the command of Lord Elgin, was in retaliation for the arrest on September 18 of British diplomatic envoy Harry Parkes. The Xianfeng Emperor and his entourage, including Cixi, fled Beijing for the safety of Rehe in Manchuria.On hearing the news of the destruction of the Summer Palace, the Xianfeng Emperor (who was already showing signs of dementia) fell into a depression, turning heavily to alcohol and drugs and becoming seriously ill

On August 22, 1861, the Xianfeng Emperor died at the Rehe Palace in the City of Rehe (now Chengde, Hebei). Before his death, the Xianfeng Emperor summoned eight of his most prestigious ministers, headed by Sushun, Zaiyuan, and Duanhua, and named them as 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 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 Empress Dowager Cixi (popularly known as the West Empress Dowager because she lived inside the Western Chuxiu Palace).

Xinyou Coup: Ousting Sushun

By the time of Xianfeng Emperor's death, Empress Dowager Cixi had become a brilliant manipulator. In Rehe, while waiting for an astrologically favorable time to transport the coffin back to Peking, Cixi plotted to grab power. Cixi's position as the lower Empress Dowager was neither convenient nor legitimate when it came to political power. In addition, the young emperor was not yet enough of a factor to be taken into political consideration. As a result, it became necessary for her to ally herself with other power figures. Taking advantage of the late emperor's principal wife, the Empress Dowager Ci'an's naivete and good nature, 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 Empress Dowagers. The ministers did not enjoy Cixi's interference in political matters, and the frequent confrontations left the Empress Dowager Ci'an in an angry state, to the point where she refused to come to court audiences, leaving Empress Dowager Cixi alone to deal with the ministers.[citation needed] Secretly, Cixi began collecting the support of talented ministers, soldiers and others who were ignored or hated by the eight regent ministers. Among them was Prince Gong, who had great ambitions and was at that time excluded from the power circle, and the Prince Chun, the 6th and 7th sons of the Daoguang Emperor, respectively. While she aligned herself with the 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 memorial also asked Prince Gong to enter the political arena as a principal "aide to the Emperor".

When the funeral procession started for Beijing, Cixi fully used her alliance 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 principle regents, while Sushun was left to accompany the deceased Emperor's procession. Cixi's early to return to Beijign meant that she could plot further with Prince Gong, and ensured that the power base of the Eight Ministers were 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.[8] 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 only executed 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 decided that Sushun be beheaded, while the other two, Zaiyuan and Duanhua, marked for execution be given white silks to allow them to commit suicide. In addition, Cixi outright refused 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 form "behind the curtains" .

This palace coup is known as the "Xinyou Palace Coup"  in China after the name of the year 1861 in the Sexagenary cycle.

Behind the Curtains

New era

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 only bestowed upon the Empress' first-born daughter. Yixin's allowance also increased two-fold. However, Cixi avoided giving Yixin the absolute political power princes such as Dorgon 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  "to Tongzhi

Cleaning up the Bureacracy

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 is still hovering over the country, as the Taiping Rebellion continues their seemingly unstoppable triumph through China's south as it eats 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 report their political reports from the last 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 Bureacratic 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 try and 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 have generally shown a contempt towards powerful Han Chinese. Cixi, again in a reversal of Imperial tradition, entrusted the country's most powerful military unit against the Taiping army, in the hands of a Han Chinese, Zeng Guofan. In addition, 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 the Prince Gong

Under the command of Gen. Zeng Guofan, his 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 held 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 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.[9] The dismissal, however, surprised the nobility and court officials, and brought about numerous petitions for his return. Yicong, the Prince Tun, as well as Yixuan, the Prince Chun, both sought for their brother's reinstatement. Yixin himself, in an audience with the two Empresses, burst into tears [10]. 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 for giving up absolute power to anyone, including her most important ally in the Xinyou Coup, the Prince Gong.

Foreign influence

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. Sensing an immediate sense of 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 began 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" programs quickly met its 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. 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 contribute the failure of China's foreign programs to Cixi's conservative attitude and old methods of thinking, and contend that Cixi will learn only so much from the foreigners, provided it does not infringe upon her own power. Under the pretext that a railway is too loud and will "disturb the Emperor's tombs", Cixi forbid its construction. When construction went ahead anyway in 1877 under Li Hongzhang's recommendation, Cixi asked that they be pulled by horse-drawn carts[11]. Cixi was especially alarmed at the liberal thinking of people who have 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

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

The Tongzhi Emperor proceeded to spend most of his time with his new Empress, at the expense of his four Imperial Consorts and Concubines, including the Lady Fucha, Noble Consort Gui, who was chosen by Cixi. Empress Dowager Cixi became hostile to the Jiashun Empress and told them 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. Tongzhi purportedly spent several months following Cixi's order in isolation at Qianqing Palace.

The young Emperor, who could no longer cope with his grievance and loneliness, grew more and more ill-tempered. He began to treat his servants badly and to 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 for pleasure in the rest 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 amongst court officials and commoners, and there are many records of Tongzhi's escapades and acts.

Having been under control of his mother for most of his life, 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 taught 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, which was four years behind convention, 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 for the Imperial Summer Palace, destroyed by the English and French in the Second Opium War, to 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 rightfully rule without intervention 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 had were to be all 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 I."

Feeling a grand sense of loss at court and unable to assert his authority, the Emperor returned to his former habits. It was rumoured that the Emperor caught syphilis and became visibly ill. The doctors produced a lie that the Emperor had caught smallpox, and proceeded to give medicines and treatments accordingly. Within a few weeks, on January 13, 1875, the Emperor died. The Jiashun Empress followed suit in March. Judging from a modern medicine perspective however, the onset of syphilis comes in stages, and the Emperor's quick death does not seem to reflect the 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

Tongzhi died without leaving a male heir, creating an unprecedented succession crisis in the dynastic line. As members of the generation above were considered unfit as they cannot, by definition, be the successor of their nephew, 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 from his family. While addressing Ci'an conventionally as Huang O'niang (Empress Mother), Zaitian was forced to address Cixi as Qin Baba   lit. "Biological Dad"), in order to enforce an image that she was the fatherly power figure in the house. 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 [12]. During March 1881 Cixi fell ill and Ci'an became the only regent at Court, and on the Imperial records, Ci'an appeared sick on the morning of April 11, and was dead by the evening[13]. 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 favour, 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 Chinese 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, the 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 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. In fact, 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 that the Emperor was too young as the main reason. Shiduo, Yixuan, and Weng Tonghe, each with a different purpose, 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, much 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 has 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, 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 experiencing a rather embarrassing defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894, where China's Beiyang Navy was crushed by the Japanese naval fleet, 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 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 Ronglu's personnel on September 21, 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 Pujun, 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 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 Rebellion

In 1900, Empress Dowager Cixi's support of the self-strengthening movement was again called into question when the Boxer Rebellion broke out in northern China. Eager to preserve traditional Chinese values, Empress Dowager Cixi threw in her lot with the rebels, making an official announcement of her support for the movement. When the Westerners responded by dispatching the Eight-Nation Alliance, the Chinese military, badly underdeveloped due to Empress Dowager Cixi's habit of filching military funds, was unable to prevent the technologically-advanced Allied army from marching on Peking and seizing the Forbidden City. Cixi, along with the Guangxu Emperor and the Longyu Empress, embarked on a western trek to Xi'an as they fled the Forbidden City. Determined to prevent another Chinese rebellion, the Western powers imposed a humiliating treaty on China, and Empress Dowager Cixi, with no military forces capable of protecting even her own palace, was forced to sign. The treaty demanded the presence of an international military force in China and the payment of £67 million (almost $333 million) in war reparations.

Death and final resting place

Empress Dowager Cixi died in the Middle Sea Hall of Graceful Bird on November 15, 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.

Empress Dowager Cixi was interred amidst the Eastern Qing Tombs   125 km (75 miles) east of Beijing, in the Dong Dingling along with Empress Dowager Ci'an. More precisely, Empress Dowager Ci'an lies in the Pu Xiang Yu Ding Dong Ling   (literally: the "Tomb East of the Ding Ling Tomb in the Vale of Wide Good Omen"), while Empress Dowager Cixi built herself the much larger Pu Tuo Yu Ding Dong Ling (literally: the "Tomb East of the Ding Ling Tomb in the Vale of Putuo"). 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 Vale of Pu Tuo owes its name to Mount. Pu Tuo (literally: the "Mountain of the Dharani of the Site of the Buddha's Enlightenment"), at the foot of which the Dingdongling is located.

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 leaves, 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, the famous Soong May-ling.

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.

Names of Empress Dowager Cixi

The name by which she is most frequently known, "Cixi", 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 , 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" , 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,

After her encounter with the Xianfeng Emperor, Yehenala (Empress Dowager Cixi) was made a concubine of the fifth rank Noble Person, a.k.a. Worthy Lady (Chinese: ,and was given the name Lan, Her name was thus "Noble Person of Orchid", or Worthy Lady Orchid ,At the end of December 1854 or the beginning of January 1855, she was promoted to concubine of the fourth rank, Imperial Concubine , Her name was changed, and the new name given to her was Yi ,meaning "good", "exemplary", "virtuous"), so that her new name was Imperial Concubine Yi .

On April 27, 1856, Yehenara gave birth to a son, the only son of Xianfeng, and was immediately made Consort Yi" .Finally, in February 1857 she was again elevated and made "Noble Consort Yi" ,

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 Holy Mother Empress Dowager ,She was also given the honorific name Cixi ,meaning "Motherly and Auspicious". As for the Empress Consort, she was made "Mother Empress Dowager",a title giving her precedence over Empress Dowager Cixi, and she was given the honorific name Empress Dowager Ci'an ,meaning "Motherly and Calming".

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 reign, her official name was:


which reads "The Current Holy Mother Empress Dowager Cixi Duanyou Kangyi Zhaoyu Zhuangcheng Shougong Qinxian Chongxi of the Great Qing Empire".

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


At the time, Empress Dowager Cixi was addressed as "Venerable Buddha",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 which is by convention, only used by Emperors. The convention for Empress Dowageres of imperial China was usually Long live for a 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 posthumous name is:


which reads: Empress Xiaoqin Cixi Duanyou Kangyi Zhaoyu Zhuangcheng Shougong Qinxian Chongxi Peitian Xingshengxian. 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

Historical opinions

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 jewellery, 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 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.[14]

However, some authors maintain a far more positive view of the Empress Dowager, arguing that she has been unfairly maligned and when seen more closely, her actions were reasonable responses to the difficulties that China faced.

It is argued by some that one must not confuse the traditional Confucian idea widely held in Empress Dowager Cixi's day, that influential women caused trouble and were not to be trusted, with her frequent portrayal as a despot. While other powerful women of Chinese history, e.g. Empress Wu Zetian of the Tang Dynasty, are generally positively reassessed by modern historians, the negative views on Empress Dowager Cixi largely remain.

Katherine Carl

Katherine 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, Katherine 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."

In her book, Katherine 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)."

Sterling Seagrave

Sterling Seagrave, in his biography The Dragon Lady, argues that most of the more sensational stories about the Empress Dowager were fictions based on forgeries or on accounts by people who had little or no contact with the secretive life within the Forbidden City. He lays the blame for this at the feet of people such as the boasting, self-important "Wild Fox" Kang Youwei, and Edmund Backhouse, a known forger and pornographer whose two books, co-written with J.O.P. Bland, are still used today as key sources on the life of Empress Dowager Cixi. Seagrave has been criticized by some for his almost exclusive use of English sources.

Other sources

Another sympathetic account can be found in Anchee Min's historical novels Empress Orchid (2004) and The Last Empress (2005), and she appears frequently in ceremonies described in the diaries of Sir Ernest Satow for 1900-06 when Satow was British envoy in Peking.

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.

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.


Preceded by
Niuhuru, the Empress Dowager Ci'an
Empress of China Succeeded by
Lady Alute, the Empress Xiao Zhe Yi