Empress Dowager Cixi

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Beijing, China
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Beijing, China

Empress Dowager Cixi was a Chinese empress dowager and regent of the Qing Dynasty who ruled China for over half a century through an exclusive clique of corrupt and conservative officials. She was the imperial concubine of Xianfeng Emperor, and she gave birth to his only son Zaichun. She rose to become one of China’s most prominent ladies. She became Empress Dowager and assumed co-regency with Empress Dowager Ci’an after the emperor died and Zaichun was enthroned as Tongzhi Emperor, removing regents introduced by the late emperor. She assumed full control of the Qing empire after the death of Tongzhi Emperor, enthroning her nephew as Guangxu Emperor. She supported the Self-Strengthening Movement and agreed with the concepts of the Hundred Days’ Reforms, but she refused to implement them without the cooperation of the bureaucracy. Guangxu Emperor was placed under virtual house arrest after he backed radical reformers and attempted to assassinate her. Following the Boxer Rebellion, she initially supported the Boxer groups, but after China’s defeat at the hands of the Allied armies and the signing of the Boxer Protocol, she began implementing fiscal and institutional reforms that marked the beginning of China’s transition to a constitutional monarchy.

Childhood and Adolescence

Yehenara Huizheng and Lady Fuca gave birth to Cixi on November 29, 1835. Her father, a Manchu Yehenara clan ordinary official, was working in Beijing in 1835, according to palace documents, identifying Beijing as her birthplace.

She was chosen as one of the Xianfeng Emperor’s concubines in 1851, along with a few others, from a pool of 60 candidates. She was given the title of “Noble Lady Lan” and was assigned to the sixth tier of imperial consorts.
In 1854, she was promoted to the 5th rank of consorts and named “Imperial Concubine Yi.”

On April 27, 1856, she gave birth to Emperor Zaichun, the Emperor’s only surviving son. She was raised to the fourth rank as “Consort Yi” after Zaichun’s birth, and then to the third rank of consorts as “Noble Consort Yi” the following year, second only to the Empress.

Her Chinese language reading and writing talents, which were uncommon among Manchu women in the royal household, prompted her to often assist the wounded emperor in handling his state affairs, giving Cixi firsthand experience in the art of governing as well as providing her with vital information.

Ascension to the throne, Rule, and Administration

The Xianfeng Emperor, who was already in poor health, died on August 22, 1861, in the Chengde Mountain Resort in Rehe Province.

The emperor appointed eight of his most prestigious ministers as the “Eight Regent Ministers” to guide his only surviving son Zaichun, the future emperor, before his death.

The Empress and Cixi were promoted to the roles of Empress Dowager Xi’an and Empress Dowager Cixi as a result of the Emperor’s death. On November 11, 1861, Zaichun was crowned.

Cixi’s keen political sense and earlier experience assisting the emperor in state issues helped her grow into a skilled political strategist.

She confided in Empress Dowager Xi’an and plotted in secret with the late emperor’s brothers, Prince Gong and Prince Chun, as well as competent ministers and warriors who faced ostracism at the hands of the eight regents commanded by Sushun, Zaiyuan, and Guanhua.

To capture power, she led the Xinyou Coup, which resulted in the expulsion of the eight regents as well as the executions of Sushun, Zaiyuan, and Guanhua.

Her participation in the coup ran counter to Qing Dynasty convention, which said that women and princes should never be involved in politics, making her the dynasty’s sole empress dowager to exercise authority from “behind the curtains,” known in Chinese as “chu lián TNG zhèng.”

One of Cixi’s first acts of “governing behind the curtain” was the issuance of two regal edicts on behalf of the boy emperor. While one asserted that he had changed his regnal title from Qixiang to Tongzhi, the other stated that the Empresses Dowager were the only ones who could make decisions “without interference.” By that time, Prince Gong had been appointed Prince-Regent.

Cixi rose to prominence in the face of both external and internal problems. She embarked on a bureaucratic purge and executed two high-ranking officials, Qingying and He Guiqing, for shirking their responsibilities and setting an example for others.

Following multiple military setbacks and concessions to foreign countries, including the Second Opium War (October 8, 1856-October 24, 1860), China began a peace-making process, with Prince Gong leading the Grand Council and Zongli Yamen leading the Zongli Yamen.

From 1861 until 1895, China saw a period of institutional reforms known as the Self-Strengthening Movement. Cixi supported it, along with military and technological changes, in order to enhance China’s defenses against Western powers, but she refused to accept Western political models.

In 1862, Beijing founded the ‘Tongwen Guan’ foreign-language school, where boys were sent to study in the United States, and other international programs were launched. However, in 1881, she gave up the strategy of sending students abroad because she saw it as a challenge to her power from the liberal ideas of those who studied abroad.

The ongoing Taiping Rebellion between the Manchu-led Qing dynasty and the Taiping rebel army began in December 1850 and ended in July 1864 with a Qing victory under the command of Zeng Guofan. For his achievements, he was given the title of “Marquess Yiyong, First Class.”

Meanwhile, Cixi began to feel uneasy as Prince Gong’s grip over normal court activities grew, and she began to see him as a challenge to her rule. In April 1865, she relieved him of his duties, but after repeated appeals, she was forced to reinstall him as the head of Zongli Yamen.

Despite being rehabilitated, Prince Gong lost his Prince-Regent title and sought to reclaim his political importance, demonstrating Cixi’s political supremacy and strong desire to hold total power in her hands once more.

After the death of the Tongzhi Emperor on January 12, 1875, Cixi chose Zaitian, the three-year-old first son of Prince Chun and his primary wife Yehenara Wanzhen, Cixi’s younger sister, to succeed him.

On February 25, 1875, Zaitian has crowned Emperor of Guangxu. The Empresses Dowager became Guangxu Emperor’s regents, and with Xi’an’s death in April 1881, Cixi became the sole regent.

On March 5, 1889, she stepped down from her second regency, but she was still consulted on significant political matters by Grand Councillors, officials, and the Guangxu Emperor.

Following China’s defeat by Japan in the First Sino-Japanese War (August 1, 1894–April 17, 1895), the Guangxu Emperor instituted a series of reforms aimed at transforming the country’s national, political, cultural, and educational structures.

However, the Hundred Days’ Reform movement, which lasted from June 11 to September 21, 1898, ended in a coup d’état orchestrated by Cixi’s conservative opponents.
For supporting radical reformers and attempting to kill Cixi, the Guangxu Emperor was placed under virtual house arrest.

From November 2, 1899, to September 7, 1901, the Boxer Rebellion, a ferocious insurrection in Northern China against Western colonialism and Christian nations, was led by Cixi.

Following the defeat of Chinese forces by invading Allied armies, the Boxer Protocol was signed in Beijing on September 7, 1901, between the Qing Empire and the Eight-Nation Alliance.

In her final years, she began to pursue institutional and fiscal reforms that signaled the beginning of China’s transition to a constitutional monarchy.

Personal History and Legacy

She died on November 15, 1908, one day after the death of the Guangxu Emperor. She enthroned Puyi, Yixuan’s grandson, Prince Chun, as the new emperor just before her death on November 14, 1908.

Estimated Net worth

Empress Dowager Cixi makes a lot of money since she is well-known and skilled. Empress Dowager Cixi’s primary source of income is her career. According to various sources, her estimated net worth was about $5 million.