History's Women: Misc. Articles: Tsze Hsi An, The Famous Empress Dowager of ChinaTsze Hsi An
The Famous Empress Dowager of China
1835 – 1908 A.D.

Her full name is Tszehi Toanyu Kangi Chaoyu Chuangcheng Shokung Chinhein Chungsih. She is the shrewdest woman in Asia, “The only man in China,” and probably exercises the most power of any woman in the world, today. Victoria has invluence; Tsze Hsi An has power and it is of her own getting.

To begin with she is not a Chinese, but a Manchu, though born in Peking.

It may be noted in passing that the Manchu Tartars seized the throne of the Chinese Empire in 1644 and have kept it to the present time.

We must not overlook another woman, Tsze Hi, who became the principal wife of Prince Chun, the emperor’s brother, and Tsze An became the secondary wife of Emperor Hienfung. The emperor had no child but his brother’s wife gave birth to a son and she was raised to the rank of empress though still obligated to yield precedence to Tsze An.

Troublous [sic] times came and the royal family was obligated to flee into Tartary. Here in exile the emperor died leaving his tottering throne to the son of Tsze Hil

Tsze An, the subject of our own sketch, now made herself felt in the game of royalty. By an unwritten law of China she should have terminated her life as a mark of respect, being childless. But she conveniently followed another law which requires the children of inferior wives to regard the chief wife as their mother. Tsze An thus concluded not to die and the young prince came under the joint control of the two dowagers.

In due time he was proclaimed emperor and the two mothers as regents. When he arrived at the proper age he assumed the reins of the government and the ladies retired to the background. Soon after he died of smallpox, 1874, and the two dowagers again came forward.

Being women they could not reign in their own right, but reign they would somehow, so they looked about for a child to adopt.

They found a nephew of Tsze Hi, three years of age. That child is now Emperor Kuangsii, about thirty years of age, and childless. When Kuangsii was about eight years of age his aunt died and Tsze An was left sole dowager, master of the child and of the empire.

The young prince became of age n 1889 and was crowned emperor, but he was little more than a puppet in the hands of the dowager.

At the beginning of the war with Japan the dowager stepped in and sent her old favorite Li Hung Chang to Japan to make peace.

More recently again, when the emperor was starting out on a series of reforms by the adoption of Western ideas, she assumed control of affairs. All the sweeping decrees of the emperor were annulled, six of the leaders of the reform party were executed. Among them was Chang Yin Yuan, president of the Board of Review and former minister to the United States.

It was announced that the young emperor had committed suicide — which is a Chinese form of execution. This proved to be untrue. For some reason best known to herself the despotic dowager proposed to keep the puppet alive.

The true inwardness [sic] of the recent war with China cannot yet be written. The astute and masterful dowager has been put to a severe test, but her iron hand does not seem to have lost its hold on the scepter.


Reference: Woman: Her Position, Influence and Achievement Throughout the Civilized World. Designed and Arranged by William C. King. Published in 1900 by The King-Richardson Co. Copyright 1903 The King-Richardson Co.

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