Home / Chinese Culture / History / Qing Dynasty / Dowager Cixi
Follow us on: Empress Dowager Cixi

Empress Dowager Cixi
Empress Dowager Cixi
Usually, when we refer to the Empress Dowager Cixi, we tend to compare her with the great empress Wu Zetian of the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907). Admittedly, these two powerful women indeed had much in common: they both assisted three successive emperors being their husbands and sons and they both held real imperial power for nearly half a century. However, what was different between the two was that Wu Zetian ascended to the throne herself and her reign was considered as an indispensable connection between Li Shimin's Zhenguan Reign and Li Longji's Heyday of Kaiyuan; whereas Cixi's ruling period was regarded as the weakest period of the Qing Dynasty. Hence, she has always been remembered as a notorious lady who even betrayed her country. Here is a chronology of her life:

On November 28th of 1835, she was born, surnamed Yehe Nala.
In 1851, she was selected as a beauty into the palace. Due to the favor of Emperor Xianfeng, she was honored as a high-ranked imperial concubine, with the title of Yipin.

In 1854, she was given a higher rank, with the title changed to Yi Guifei.

In 1856, she gave birth to Zaichun who later became Emperor Tongzhi.

In 1861, the Second Opium War broke out. After Emperor Xianfeng died in August, her son ascended the throne as Emperor Tongzhi, who honored his mother as 'Holy Mother Empress Dowager'. In November, along with Prince Gong (brother-in-law of Cixi), she launched a coup in which the eight chancellors were dismissed or killed. As a result, she became the real power by keeping court from behind a screen.

In 1862, she was given the title of Empress Dowager Cixi by Emperor Tongzhi (Actually, she gave the title to herself through Emperor Tongzhi's prescript).

In 1873, as Emperor Tongzhi had grown up, she appeared to turn the power over to him but she still held power behind the scenes.

In 1874, Emperor Tongzhi died. she chose another grandson of Emperor Daoguang as the heir - Emperor Guangxu. Because she was aunt of Emperor Guangxu, she could continue ruling from behind the screen.

In 1889, Emperor Guangxu married. She announced that she would relinquish her power and retire to live in the Summer Palace. However, all the court officials still listened to her, leaving Emperor Guangxu as a puppet emperor.

In 1894, Japan launched the Sino-Japanese War while Cixi was busy preparing the celebration of her 60th birthday. What's worse, when the Chinese navy fought fiercely with the Japanese, she strongly insisted on appropriating the military fund to restore the Summer Palace, ignoring the advice of chancellors.

In 1895, the Qing Navy was defeated due to the compromise of Cixi. Taiwan Island ceded.

In 1898, she launched a coup against Emperor Guangxu's Wu Hsu Reform. After that, she executed the main reform party members and from then on she put Emperor Guangxu under house arrest.

In 1900, the Eight-Power Allied Forces captured capital Beijing. she took Emperor Guangxu with her and fled to Xian. In September, another humiliating treaty - Peace Treaty of 1901 was signed.

On November 15th of 1908, the day after the death of Emperor Guangxu, Empress Dowager Cixi died in the afternoon.