Empress of China, Empress Dowager Cixi
1835 – 1908 A.D.
Tz’u-hsi. E,press Dowager, the most famous woman in Chinese history, born in Pekings. She came of a Manchu family named Hui Cheng, and in her sixteenth year was selected for the Imperial harem of the Emperor Hien-fêng.
She started as a concubine of the fifth rank, but because of her beauty and talents was advanced in rank, until in 1858 she was second only to the first concubine, Tze-an, who became Imperial consort on the death of Hien-fêng’s legal wife.
Practically uneducated when she entered the palace, she applied herself diligently to a thorough course in Chinese history and classics, and became known as a fine scholar of the old school.
Having given birth to a son, afterward Emperor Tung-chih, her influence greatly increased, and she became Empress of the Western Place. In 1861 on the death of Hien-fêng, she frustrated a conspiracy to put her out of the way, and together with Tze-an, the Empress of the Eastern Palace, and Prince Kung she secured the overthrow of her enemies.
She was twenty-six years of age, and easily dominating Tze-an, she became the real ruler of China, remaining so during the reigns of Tung-chih and Kwang-sü. She had the political wisdom to select the great statesman, Li Hung Chang as her chief advisor, and later became his protégé, Yuan Shih-Kai. These two men, together with Prince Kung and Prince Ching, helped her to direct her foreign policies.
She was able to keep her country in fairly good standing among the nations of the world until the Chino-Japanese War (1894-1895) revealed the weakness of China and its ability to prevent territorial aggression.
After seizures, leases, and concessions of the Powers, came the Boxer Rebellion, and although she at first disapproved of it, she later gave the movement encouragement and imperial support. The tragic results of the Rebelling having taught Tz’u-hsi that the old order in China must eradicate, from 1901 until her death she distinctly encouraged the modernizing of China, and the gradual forming of a constitutional government.
Tz’u-hsi has been much maligned by her enemies, and as much overpraised by her admirers, but she was undoubtedly a great ruler and one of the few women who have profoundly influenced the world’s history.
Reference: Famous Women; An Outline of Feminine Achievement Through the Ages With Life Stories of Five Hundred Noted Women By Joseph Adelman. Copyright, 1926 by Ellis M. Lonow Company.