Empress Dowager Cixi

Empress Dowager CixiEmpress Dowager Cixi was born in 1835, Her name was “Little Orchid”. Her father was a gentleman-in-waiting of the Qing court. In 1851 she was one of the 28 Manchu girls selected for Emperor Xian-feng, who gave her a new name, Cixi, meaning “Holy Mother”. She was made a concubine of the fifth rank when she was seventeen years old. After she gave birth to a son, the only son of the Emperor, she was made a concubine of the second rank. Emperor Xian feng died in 1861 and his six-year-old son succeeded the throne the following year. She was now the empress dowager. She started as a prodigy in the art of intrigue and built power based on the eunuchs.

While the boy Emperor sat in the throne, she sat behind him with a screen in between and told him what to say and what to do. This practice is known in the Chinese history as “giving audience behind a screen” or power behind the throne. Her son died of small pox at the age of 19. Then she put her sister’s 4-year-old son on the throne, whom she dominated and tormented. Empress Dowager Cixi had three ambitions: pleasure, power and luxury. To usurp power she invited Empress Ci’an, the first wife of Emperor Xianfeng, to dinner and poisoned her to death.

In 1898, the Empress Dowager brutally suppressed the 100-day Reform, a reform movement launched by well-known scholars that won the support of Emperor Guangxu. She declared that she “would rather lose the country than carry out the reform”. After the failure of the Reform Movement, Emperor Guangxu was put under house arrest. The Empress Dowager died in the Forbidden City at the age of 73. Before she died she put Emperor Puyi, another 3-year-old child, on the throne. The 1911 Revolution led by Dr. Sun Yatsen overthrew the Qing Dynasty that lasted for 267 years.

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