#92 Fierce Historical Ladies Empress Dowager Cixi –Guest Blog by Historicity (Was Already Taken)

Note: Cross-posted with permission from Historicity (Was Already Taken)

“I have read a great deal about Queen Victoria. Still, I think her life isn’t half as interesting and memorable as mine.” (left: photo, right: painting; both created in 1903)

Empress Cixi is a fascinating, complex, contradictory, and often polarizing figure. She took the reign of China for herself at a time in which the country was being torn apart by foreign influence, and spent her reign fighting against the inevitable fall of her country to foreign powers and ideals.

She lived from 1835-1908, and ruled the Manchu Qing Dynasty from 1861-1908. Her political career began in her adolescent years when the Xianfeng Emperor selected her as a concubine. She worked her way up through the ranks of the harem, and upon the first birthday of her son Zaichun (1856-1875)—who would become the Tongzhi Emperor in 1861—she became the second highest ranking woman in the imperial household. She took over as regent for her son upon the death of the Xianfeng Emperor, and upon her son’s death in 1875, she installed her nephew as the Guangxu Emperor. However, it was Cixi who held the true power during both of their rules.

Cixi came into power at the conclusion of the Second Opium War, and in the midst of the Taiping Rebellion—a rebellion against the Qing Dynasty led by a Chinese Christian convert who aimed to institute Christian ideals in China over Cunfucian ideals, and to institute social reforms based in foreign ideals. Both of those wars were, at their core, about the struggle against foreign influence and interference in China. Cixi was a conservative, anti-Reformist, anti-foreign ruler, so it is quite fitting that she began her rule in the midst of those two conflicts.

The opening years of her rule can be characterized by increasing hostility and mistrust towards foreign powers. This mistrust grew to such proportions that, in 1881, Cixi halted the practice of allowing Chinese children to study abroad, fearing the liberal attitudes they often returned with. Upon his sixteenth birthday in 1887, Cixi publicly handed power over to the Guangxu Emperor. However, after the 1894 loss of the First Sino-Japanese War, and a failed series of social and political reforms in 1898, Cixi had him removed from power and re-instated herself as regent.

In 1900, in an official show of support for the Boxer Rebellion, Cixi declared war on the foreign powers operating within China. The Rebellion had begun two years previously by groups calling themselves the Boxers, who were fighting against the encroachment of foreign ideals across all spheres of Chinese society. The foreign powers responded to her declaration of war with the formation of the Eight-Nation Alliance, with the titular Eight Nations being Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

The Alliance defeated the Boxers, and the conflict officially came to an end in 1901. Though the Boxers had wished to continue fighting, Cixi, ever the politician, decided that it would be best to simply end the war and appease the Eight Nations. That appeasement took the form of the Boxer Protocol, which demanded the presence of an international military force in Beijing, and the payment of the equivalent of $333 million in reparation fees to the Eight Nations. Those fees effectively bankrupted China.

Beginning in 1902, Cixi did a complete political 180, and began to support the powers she once hated, and advocate for policies she had once suppressed.

She had tea with the wives of foreign officials in the Forbidden City, and instigated reforms far more radical than the ones she has rather brutally suppressed earlier in her reign. It is my opinion that she retained her anti-foreign views, but recognized that cooperation was, by that point, probably the best way to save her country from total collapse.

The Empress Dowager Cixi died in 1908 at the age of 73, and the Qing dynasty collapsed a few years after her death. Those who came after her characterized her as a ruthless leader and held her responsible for the fall of the Qing dynasty. In reality, she was no more ruthless than a male emperor would have been in her stead, and it was the imperial powers of the day who were responsible for the fall of the Qing Dynasty, not the woman who spent her life trying to save it.

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Historicity (Was Already Taken) is a young historian who is attending graduate school for History and Library Science with a focus in Archives and Records Management.  Her Tumblr is where she talks about history, a lot (and occasionally mentions shoes).

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5 Comments

Filed under Essays, History

5 responses to “#92 Fierce Historical Ladies Empress Dowager Cixi –Guest Blog by Historicity (Was Already Taken)

  1. VO SIANG JAO HUI VO EJYENTE QUOCHIATING TERLIFA, VOJAOHUI TAO VO
    EJYENTE NIANGNIANG, EMPRESS CIXI. VO SUAN TAO EMPEROR PUYI SHIR
    CHENTE VOTE SHOOSHU.

    VOTE FUCHING MINGJER JIAO, JOHN WONG HIN MIN, VO MUCHING CHIAO JUOR THERESA WONG (LEE SAI HOON).

    SEANJAI VO DANTOU CHUAN TIANXIAOTE. CHENFUGUANG YEDANTAO CHEN
    SEARN HUANG ” ELECTRONICS JINGDAOU SIFU HUANG ZHANGTER PHARJUANG
    ” VOYE TAH YINGGUO CHEN SEARN HUANG, PAOFU CHUEN TIAN XIANTE HAO
    JIATINGREN cccciiiiyyycccciiiyciiiceeeeici.

    EMPEROR CHYIE

    JIATINGREN.

  2. I love to see mine Great Grandmother,
    Thanks for Register my name in her Album,

    Signaecher, HIRH.
    1Ti Wong Swee Loke

  3. HUANG KONG

    VO JAO HUI VOTE EJYEN TARJIATINGTER ZHEN CHUOR SHERH, MUCHING
    NIANG-NIANG.

  4. I’ve spoken to EMPRESS CiXi’s Clone in Tønsberg, remember have had asker her
    whether what had happened during her reign
    In China.

    And she told me that in one occasion where she held a melding in the Palace, amongst all the General Staffs, like usual they have caused

  5. Continue,

    Those 500 Problems her mind in GREAT pains.
    The rest was written in herstory. Like they’ve causings me until now since the Winter in 1974
    left me fighting for a Cure since.

    Signaecher,

    HIRH. Emperor Chyie