Empress Orchid Analysis

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Empress Orchid Analysis



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Cixi: All Power to the Empress Dowager l HISTORY OF CHINA

Cixi decided that the time was ripe for a bureaucratic overhaul, and she personally sought audience with all officials above the level of provincial governor, who had to report to her personally. Cixi had two prominent officials executed to serve as examples for others: Qingying, a military shilang who had tried to bribe his way out of demotion, and He Guiqing, then Viceroy of Liangjiang , who fled Changzhou in the wake of an incoming Taiping army instead of trying to defend the city.

A number of reforms were implemented, such as the development of the Zongli Yamen, an official foreign ministry to deal with international affairs, the restoration of regional armies and regional strongmen, modernization of railroads, factories, and arsenals, an increase of industrial and commercial productivity, and the institution of a period of peace that allowed China time to modernize and develop. Another significant challenge Cixi faced was the increasingly decrepit state of the Manchu elites. Since the beginning of Qing rule over China in , most major positions at court had been held by Manchus. Cixi, again in a reversal of imperial tradition, entrusted the country's most powerful military unit against the Taiping rebels into the hands of a Han Chinese, Zeng Guofan.

Additionally, in the next three years, Cixi appointed Han Chinese officials as governors in all southern Chinese provinces, raising alarm bells in the court, traditionally protective of Manchu dominance. Regarding the reforms of the Tongzhi Restoration, Mary C. Wright suggested that "Not only a dynasty but also a civilization which appeared to have collapsed was revived to last for another sixty years by the extraordinary efforts of extraordinary men in the s. Fairbank wrote, "That the Qing managed to survive both domestic and international attacks is due largely to the policy and leadership changes known as the Qing Restoration.

Under the command of Zeng Guofan, the victorious Xiang Army defeated the Taiping rebel army in a hard-fought battle at Tianjing present-day Nanjing in July Zeng was rewarded with the title of "Marquess Yiyong, First Class", while his brother Zeng Guoquan , along with Li Hongzhang , Zuo Zongtang and other Han Chinese officers who fought against the Taiping rebels, were rewarded with auspicious decorations and titles.

With the Taiping rebel threat receding, Cixi focused her attention on new internal threats to her power. Of special concern was the position of Prince Gong, who was Prince-Regent in the imperial court. Prince Gong gathered under his command the support of all outstanding Han Chinese armies. In addition, Prince Gong controlled daily court affairs as the head of the Grand Council and the Zongli Yamen the de facto foreign affairs ministry. With his increasing stature, Prince Gong was considered a threat to Cixi and her power. Although Prince Gong was rewarded for his conduct and recommendation of Zeng Guofan before the Taiping rebels' defeat, Cixi was quick to move after Cai Shouqi , a minor scribe-official, filed a memorial accusing Prince Gong of corruption and showing disrespect to the emperor.

Having built up a powerful base and a network of allies at court, Prince Gong considered the accusations insignificant. Cixi, however, took the memorial as a stepping stone to Prince Gong's removal. In April , under the pretext that Prince Gong had "improper court conduct before the two empresses," among a series of other charges, the prince was dismissed from all his offices and appointments, but was allowed to retain his status as a noble. Prince Gong himself, in an audience with the two empresses, burst into tears. Prince Gong would never return to political prominence again, and neither would the liberal and pro-reform policies of his time. Prince Gong's demotion revealed Cixi's iron grip on politics, and her lack of willingness to give up absolute power to anyone — not even Prince Gong, her most important ally in the Xinyou Coup.

China's defeat in the Second Opium War of —60 was a wake-up call. Military strategies were outdated, both on land and sea and in terms of weaponry. Sensing an immediate threat from foreigners and realising that China's agricultural-based economy could not hope to compete with the industrial prowess of the West, Cixi decided that for the first time in Chinese history, China would learn from the Western powers and import their knowledge and technology. At the time, three prominent Han Chinese officials, Zeng Guofan , Li Hongzhang and Zuo Zongtang , had all begun industrial programs in the country's southern regions. In supporting these programmes, Cixi also decreed the opening of the Tongwen Guan in , a school for foreign languages in Beijing.

The Tongwen Guan specialised in new-age topics such as astronomy and mathematics, as well as the English, French and Russian languages. Groups of young boys were also sent abroad to the United States for studies. China's "learn from foreigners" programme quickly met with impediments. The Chinese military institutions were in desperate need of reform. Cixi's solution, under the advice of officials at court, was to purchase seven British warships. When the warships arrived in China, however, they were staffed with British sailors, all under British command. The Chinese were enraged at this "international joke", negotiations broke down between the two parties, and China returned the warships to Britain, where they were to be auctioned off.

Scholars sometimes attribute the failure of China's foreign programmes to Cixi's conservative attitude and old methods of thinking, and contend that Cixi would learn only so much from the foreigners, provided it did not infringe upon her own power. Under the pretext that a railway was too loud and would "disturb the emperors' tombs", Cixi forbade its construction. When construction went ahead anyway in on Li Hongzhang's recommendation, Cixi asked that they be pulled by horse-drawn carts.

In , Cixi put a halt to the policy of sending children abroad to study and withdrew her formerly open attitude towards foreigners. In , the Tongzhi Emperor turned The empress's grandfather, Prince Zheng , was one of the eight regents ousted from power in the Xinyou Coup of He had been Cixi's rival during the coup and was ordered to commit suicide after Cixi's victory. As a consequence, there were tensions between Cixi and the empress, and this was often a source of irritation for Cixi. Moreover, the empress's zodiac symbol of tiger was perceived as life-threatening by the superstitious Cixi, whose own zodiac symbol was a goat.

According to Cixi's belief, it was a warning from the gods that she would eventually fall prey to the empress. Her personal consultants once warned her to be more agreeable and docile to Cixi, as Cixi was truly the one in power. The empress replied, "I am a principal consort, having been carried through the front gate with pomp and circumstance, as mandated by our ancestors. Empress Dowager Cixi was a concubine, and entered our household through a side gate. Since the very beginning of his marriage, the Tongzhi Emperor proceeded to spend most of his time with his empress at the expense of his four concubines, including the Imperial Noble Consort Shushen , who was Cixi's preferred candidate for the Tongzhi Emperor's empress consort.

As hostility grew between Cixi and the Jiashun Empress, Cixi suggested the couple spend more time on studies and spied on the Tongzhi Emperor using palace eunuchs. After her warning was ignored, Cixi ordered the couple to separate, and the Tongzhi Emperor purportedly spent several months following Cixi's order in isolation at Qianqing Palace. The young emperor, who could no longer cope with his grief and loneliness, grew more and more ill-tempered. He began to treat his servants with cruelty and punished them physically for minor offences.

Under the joined influence of court eunuchs and Zaicheng, Prince Gong's eldest son and the Tongzhi Emperor's best friend, the emperor managed to escape the palace in search of pleasure in the unrestricted parts of Beijing. For several evenings the emperor disguised himself as a commoner and secretly spent the nights in the brothels of Beijing. The emperor's sexual habits became common talk among court officials and commoners, and there are many records of the emperor's escapades.

This group was later joined by Weng Xincun's son, Weng Tonghe ; the emperor's governor, also selected by Cixi, was Mianyu. The imperial teachers instructed the emperor in the classics and various old texts for which the emperor displayed little or no interest. Despite, or perhaps because of, the pressure and stress put upon the young emperor, he despised learning for the majority of his life. According to Weng Tonghe's diary, the emperor could not read a memorandum in full sentences by the age of Worried about her son's inability to learn, Cixi only pressured him more.

When he was given personal rule in November at the age of 18 four years behind the usual custom , the Tongzhi Emperor proved to be an incompetent ruler. The Tongzhi Emperor made two important policy decisions during his short stint of rule, which lasted from to First, he decreed that the Summer Palace , destroyed by the English and French in the Second Opium War, would be completely rebuilt under the pretext that it was a gift to Cixi and Ci'an. Historians also suggest that it was an attempt to drive Cixi from the Forbidden City so that he could rule without interference in policy or his private affairs.

The imperial treasury was almost depleted at the time from internal strife and foreign wars, and as a result, the Tongzhi Emperor asked the Board of Finance to forage for the necessary funds. In addition, he encouraged members of the nobility and high officials to donate funds from their personal resources. Once construction began, the emperor checked its progress on a monthly basis, and would often spend days away from court, indulging himself in pleasures outside of the Forbidden City.

Uneasy about the Tongzhi Emperor's neglect of national affairs, the emperor's uncles Prince Gong and Prince Chun , along with other senior court officials, submitted a joint memorandum asking the emperor to cease the construction of the Summer Palace, among other recommendations. The Tongzhi Emperor, unwilling to submit to criticism, issued an imperial edict in August to strip Prince Gong of his princely title and demote him to the status of a commoner. Seeing the mayhem unfold from behind the scenes, Cixi and Ci'an made an unprecedented appearance at court directly criticising the emperor for his wrongful actions and asked him to withdraw the edict; Cixi said that "without Prince Gong, the situation today would not exist for you and me.

Feeling a grand sense of loss at court and unable to assert his authority, the Tongzhi Emperor returned to his former habits. It was rumoured that he caught syphilis and became visibly ill. The physicians spread a rumour that the emperor had smallpox , and proceeded to give medical treatment accordingly. Within a few weeks, on 13 January , the emperor died. The Jiashun Empress followed suit in March. Judging from a modern medical perspective, the onset of syphilis comes in stages, thus the emperor's quick death does not seem to reflect its symptoms.

Therefore, most historians maintain that the Tongzhi Emperor did, in fact, die from smallpox. Regardless, by , Cixi was back onto the helm of imperial power. The Tongzhi Emperor died without a male heir, a circumstance that created an unprecedented succession crisis in the dynastic line. Members of the generation above were considered unfit, as they could not, by definition, be the successor of their nephew.

Therefore, the new emperor had to be from a generation below or the same generation as the Tongzhi Emperor. After considerable disagreement between the two Empresses Dowager, Zaitian, the four-year-old firstborn son of Prince Chun and Cixi's sister, was to become the new emperor. Zaitian was taken from home and for the remainder of his life would be cut completely off from his family. While addressing Ci'an conventionally as huang e'niang "Empress Mother" , Zaitian was forced to address Cixi as qin baba "Dear Father" , in order to enforce an image that she was the fatherly figure in the household.

Shortly after the accession of the Guangxu Emperor, Cixi fell severely ill. The sudden death of Ci'an in April brought Cixi a new challenge. Ci'an had taken little interest in running state affairs, but was the decision-maker in most family affairs. As the consort of the Xianfeng Emperor, she took seniority over Cixi, despite being two years her junior. Some believe that rumours began circulating at court to the effect that Cixi had poisoned Ci'an, perhaps as a result of a possible conflict between Cixi and Ci'an over the execution of the eunuch An Dehai in or a possible will from the late Xianfeng Emperor that was issued exclusively to Ci'an.

In the years between and , Cixi resorted to written communication only with her ministers. The once fierce and determined Prince Gong , frustrated by Cixi's iron grip on power, did little to question Cixi on state affairs, and supported Manchu involvement in the Sino-French War of — Cixi used China's loss in the war as a pretext for getting rid of Prince Gong and other important decision-makers in the Grand Council in She downgraded Prince Gong to "advisor" and elevated the more easily influenced Prince Chun. Before her adopted son, Emperor Guangxu , took over the throne in , Cixi wrote out explicit orders that the navy should continue to develop and expand gradually.

Japan's victories over China has often been falsely rumored to be the fault of Cixi. However, extensive research by Chinese historians revealed that Cixi was not the cause of the Chinese navy's decline. In actuality, China's defeat was caused by Emperor Guangxu's lack of interest in developing and maintaining the military. The Guangxu Emperor technically gained the right to rule at the age of 16 in after Cixi issued an edict to arrange a ceremony to mark his accession. Because of her prestige and power, however, court officials voiced their opposition to the Guangxu Emperor's personal rule, citing the emperor's youth as the main reason.

Prince Chun and Weng Tonghe , each with a different motive, requested that the Guangxu Emperor's accession be postponed until a later date. Cixi, with her reputed reluctance, accepted the "advice" and legitimised her continued rule through a new legal document that allowed her to "aid" the Guangxu Emperor in his rule indefinitely. The Guangxu Emperor slowly began to take on more responsibilities in spite of Cixi's prolonged regency. In , he attended his first field plowing ceremony and began commenting on imperial state documents.

By , he began to rule under Cixi's supervision. The Guangxu Emperor married and took up the reins of power in By that year, the emperor was already 18, older than the conventional marriage age for emperors. This event followed a trend of recent natural disasters that were considered alarming by many observers. According to traditional Chinese political theory, such incidents were taken as a warning of the imminent loss of the " Mandate of Heaven " by current rulers.

Besides her close relation to the emperor himself, she was also Cixi's niece. Cixi in addition selected two concubines for the Guangxu Emperor who were sisters, Consorts Jin and Zhen. The Guangxu Emperor eventually would prefer to spend more time with Consort Zhen, neglecting his Empress, much to Cixi's dismay. In , Cixi degraded Consort Zhen, citing intervention in political affairs as the main reason. According to some reports, she even had her flogged. On 5 March , Cixi retired from her second regency, but nonetheless served as the effective head of the imperial family.

In spite of her residence for a period of time at the Summer Palace , which had been constructed with the official intention of providing her a suitable place to live after retiring from political affairs, Cixi continued to influence the decisions and actions of the Guangxu Emperor even after he began his formal rule at age Along with an entourage of court officials, the Guangxu Emperor would pay visits to her every second or third day at which major political decisions would be made. Weng Tonghe observed that while the emperor dealt with day-to-day administration, the Grand Councillors gave their advice in more complex cases, and in the most complex cases of all, the advice of Cixi was sought.

Of note, the Japanese annexation of Taiwan followed Japanese annexation of the RyuKyu island Kingdom in and was followed by Japanese annexation of Korea in During this period, Cixi was continuously called upon to arbitrate policy-making, and the emperor was sometimes even bypassed in decision-making processes. In November , Cixi celebrated her 60th birthday. Borrowing from the plans used for the celebrations of the 70th and 80th birthdays of Empress Xiaoshengxian the Qianlong Emperor 's mother , plans included a triumphal progress along the decorated road between the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, decorations for the Beijing city gates and monumental archways, free theatrical performances, remission of punishments and the restoration of degraded officials.

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