Last modified on January 7, 2015, at 14:41

Empress Dowager Cixi

Empress Dowager Cixi (1835 — 1908) was a regent of the Qing dynasty. She was a consort of the Xianfeng emperor, mother of the Tongzhi emperor, and adoptive mother of the Guangxu emperor. Cixi became co-regent after a palace coup in 1861 and remained an influential figure until her death.

Empress Dowager Cixi
Chinese 慈禧太后
During the Self-Strengthening Movement of the 1860s and 1870s, the government was led by the reformist Prince Gong. The Taiping rebels were defeated and attempts were made to modernize the army as well as other sectors of society. The imperial bureaucracy, the core of the Qing state, was untouched by these reforms. It continued to be dominated by Mandarins with little knowledge or interest in the modern world. Mandarins were selected through a rigorous examination system that focused on archaic subjects such as Classical Chinese and Confucian scripture.

After Cixi became sole regent in 1881, Prince Gong's influence declined. With her supporters firmly in charge, Cixi retired as regent in 1889 and took up residence at the Summer Palace outside Beijing. China's defeat by Japan in 1895 inspired a reformist movement led by Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao. During the "Hundred Days of Reform" in 1898, Guangxu issued numerous edicts inspired by these reformist officials. Led by the Manchu general Ronglu, conservative officials appealed to Cixi, who staged a coup that restored her authority. After the coup, Cixi kept the emperor confined at the Forbidden City. His life was saved only by the intervention of foreign powers.

After foreign armies occupied China in 1900 to suppress the Boxer Rebellion, Cixi turned to Yuan Shikai. Yuan was a general backed by officers of the Beiyang clique. The Beiyang army was the only modern military force that survived the Boxer upheaval. Yuan implemented a sweeping set of reforms similar to those Cixi had quashed in 1898. An edict against footbinding was issued in 1902, the Imperial Examinations were abolished in 1905, and a National Assembly, with half the membership elected, met in 1910. Guangxu was poisoned, presumably at Cixi's command, the day before she died in 1908.