Hall of Mental Cultivation Eastern Part

Hall of Mental Cultivation Eastern PartHall of Mental Cultivation Eastern Part is of historical interest because it was here that Empress Dowager Cixi gave audiences behind a screen or controlled power behind the throne for many years, a political phenomenon which was previously unheard of in the annals of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). When Emperor Tongzhi ascended the throne in 1862 at the age of six, Empress Dowager Cixi and Ci’an (the first empress of Xianfeng) both sat on a throne in the room, which was separated from the Emperor9s throne by a screen, to assist him in the conduct of state affairs. This practice continued when Emperor Guangxu succeeded to the throne in 1875 at the age of four. But with the sudden death of Ci’an one morning in 1881, which many people believed was because of an act of intrigue by Empress Dowager Cixi’s, state power passed entirely into the hands of the Empress Dowager, known as the “battle axe.” She nominally gave up her authority on Guangxu’s coming of age in 1890, but later in1898, became a dictator when she placed Emperor Guangxu under house arrest at Yingtai (Water Terrace Pavilion), an islet in Zhongnanhai (Central South Sea), after she exposed his plans for political reform. A woman with no scruples, Cixi mismanaged the government and indulged in extravagent living for 48 years, plunging China into disasters and humiliations unparalleled in the annals of its history.

The Qing Dynasty, which was the last imperial dynasty in the history of China, was overthrown in the 1911 Revolution let by Dr.Sun Yat-sen. Emperor Xuantong (Puyi) was forced to issue an edict in the Hall of Mental Cultivation declaring his abdication and formally recongnizing the Republic on February 12, 1912. Under the terms of preferential treatment for the ex-Qing court, Puyi and his family continued to enjoy the privilege of living in the Hall of Mental Cultivation for another 13 years. In 1924, they were forced to move out of the palaces for good.

Behind the Hall of Mental Cultivation is Tishuntang (Hall of Manifesting Obedience). In the courtyard stands a huge piece of crystal which was supposed to be a symbol of the Emperor’s character.

The eastern part of the hall used to be Empress Longyu’s living room, and is a reminder of a tragedy in the Qing imperial family during the reign of Emperor Guangxu (1875-1908). It is said that Longyu was chosen by Empress Dowager Cixi to be Guangxu’s empress against his own wishes. Therefore, he never lived with her except on the night of the wedding, nor did he subsequently visit her room.

Not long afterwards in 1898, Emperor Guangxu became passionately attached to Zhenfei, a favourite concubine who ardently shared his views of political reform. This met with the displeasure of Empress Dowager Cixi. Deeply jealous of Zhenfei and taking advantage of her disfavour with Empress Dowager Cixi, Longyu spread gossip about her so-called infidelity. Longyu is said to have held many secret meetings with the powerful eunuch Li Lianying in the Hall of Mental Cultivation in order to lay plans to persecute Zhenfei.
In 1900, when the Allied Forces of the Eight Foreign Powers were advancing on Beijing, Cixi and her court fled Beijing in panic. On the eve of her flight, Empress Dowager Cixi tried to induce Zhenfei to jump down a well located in the northeastern part of the Forbidden City, which we will see before we leave the palace. When Zhenfei resisted, Empress Dowager Cixi ordered a courtier to push her in. Then the Empress Dowager escaped through a back door of the Forbidden City and headed for Xi’an.  The well, named Zhenfei Well in her memory, is today often visited by tourists.

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