||Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908)
"Never again allow a
woman to hold the supreme power in the State..."
--Empress Cixi's final words
Empress Dowager Cixi ruled over China for about a half a century. She had a limitless
greed for power, family, and subjects. Indeed she had a sharp political sense and decisive
practices but under her rule the Qing Dynasty grew more and more corrupt and lost its
She was born on the 29th of November in 1885 as the daughter of an ordinary official. Her
name was Yohonala, which originated from the combined name of two tribes, Yeho and Nala.
She lost her father at an early age. As the eldest child, she felt mistreated, neglected,
and unloved. She once said, "I have had a very hard life ever since I was a young
girl. I was not a bit happy with my parents, as I was not a favourite. My sister had
everything they wanted, while I was, to a great extent, ignored altogether.". She was
nominated as a candidate-concubine at the age of fourteen. It was a honour for her and it
was also a chance to escape from her family misery. When she was sixteen, she was chosen
to be a concubine. At the age of eighteen, she completed the ritual preparation necessary
for a royal concubine. Even during her early years, Empress Cixi proved to be
strong-willed. Her hard childhood made her more determine to rise above her peers and head
forward towards her dream of royalty.
Life As Empress
Emperor Hsien Feng took special notice to a second ranked concubine by the name of Li Fei.
Li Fei became pregnant with the emperor's child almost immediately. Unfortunately to many,
the child was a baby girl. Her rise to power came about when she gave birth to first and
only male heir on a sunny April 27, 1856. He was born at the summer palace. The healthy
baby boy was named Tsai Chun or better known as Emperor Tung Chih. On the part of
producing the first heir to the throne, she was promoted to consort or concubine of the
first rank, equal to Li Fei and second in prestige only to the empress. She was given the
title Kuei Fei, meaning Concubine of Feminine Virtue. The birth of an emperor's son gave
her the maximum status possible in China. Cixi was elevated from total obscurity to the
centre political stage of China as a figure of unique importance to the survival of the
dynasty. From that moment, she went from an insignificant figure, to someone who suddenly
had presence and power over others. In 1861, Emperor Hsien Feng died, and with that, Tsai
Chun became emperor. She then got the title of empress. From then her greed for the power
grew out of control and finally in 1865 she seized the throne, removing another sect being
at the helm of politics. In 1875 Emperor Tung Chih died. Then despite a lot of opposition,
she forced her nephew to become the emperor and maintained her power. She allowed the
emperor to govern the politics, but in 1898, she returned to wield power again. However,
Death is inevitable even to China's last empress dowager. Empress Cixi died on the
fifteenth of November 1908.
It was because she masterfully maintained a balance between conservatives and sects, that
the empress was able to ensure her power. But thorough wars with France and Japan in the
end of the 19th century, the balance of the two forces was corrupted, and to the contrary
radical sects demanding political reform tempted taking the power of Empress Dowager. The
Boxer Rebellion emerged in Shandong in 1898 out of secret societies whow were trained in
martial arts. The boxers were fanatically anti-foreign, and saw 1900 as the dawn of the
new age and believe themselves invincible to the bullets of foreign forces. The boxers
roamed in bands attacking Chinese Christians and foreigners. First, the Empress Dowager
encouraged the movement. But to the contrary, the Empress Dowager attempted to ride the
tide of anti-foreign sentiment by declaring war on the foreign powers in 1900.
Unfortunately, it led to a veary harsh competition and colonisation of China. After all,
under her politics, the Qing Dynasty became more corrupt and weak. It took only three
years from her death for the Qing Dynasty to fall.
The Selfish Empress
It is said that she was a keen Buddhist, but many women and subjects were killed just for
making her angry. She seized whatever she wanted by any means. She surrounded herself with
money and banquets, jewels, and other luxuries. She was served 150 different dishes at a
single banquet. She drank from a jade cup and ate with golden chopsticks. She used navy
funds to build herself a lavish summer palace. At the end of her life, her jewellery vault
held 3,000 ebony boxes of her "everyday jewels." Because she lived in luxury
despite the difficult financial situation, there were insufficient funds for the military.
This was later to contribute to the defeat of the war against Japan. She was such a
selfish woman that not many mourned her death. In 1928 robbers broke into her grave to get
the jewellery she was buried with.