Album: By Country | By Date China | July 2001 < Prev Image | The Summer Palace | Next Image >
Travelogue: By Country | By Date China | July 2001  


After being smuggled in in a van with darkened windows - it was past the time for selling tickets - this is one of the first things we saw. Empress Dowager Cixi dominated the Chinese empire for almost half a century, ruling through a clique of conservative, corrupt officials. SHe was one of the most powerful women in the history of China. A low-ranking concubine to the Hsien-feng emperor, Cixi bore his only son in 1856. On Hsien-feng's death, the six-year-old boy became the T'ung-chih emperor; state business was put in the hands of a regency council of eight elder officials. A few months later as a result of their clever plotting, the regency was transferred to Cixi and Hsien-feng's former senior consort. The two empress dowagers were aided in their intriguing by Prince Kung, the former emperor's brother, who then became the prince counsellor. Under this triumviral rule, the government entered a temporary period of revitalization. Although the regency was terminated in 1873 after the T'ung-chih emperor attained maturity, Cixi's control over state affairs continued. It was even rumoured that she hastened the demise of the young emperor by leading him into excesses and disrupting his personal life. Following his death, Cixi, with the support of the army, flagrantly violated the succession laws and had her three-year-old nephew, whom she adopted, named as the new heir. In 1889 Cixi nominally relinquished control over the government to retire to the summer palace she had by this time rebuilt.

© Monica & Mark Hughes 2000-02