Powerful Women in History 8 of 10 -Empress Dowager Cixi
Empress Dowager Cixi
Cixi was probably most powerful woman in China since Empress Wu Zetian of the seventh century Zhou Dynasty. In fact, Cixi may have been even more powerful than Wu Zetian. She was an ambitious and conservative leader. She opposed foreign influence and supported the Boxer Rebellion of 1900. Anyway, I place Cixi at third rank on this list. Cixi was a consort of Emperor Xianfeng. After her husband’s death, she acted as regent for her son, Emperor Tongzhi, and later for her nephew, Guangxu. Her rule began in 1861 and lasted until her death in 1908. Cixi was the last empress dowager of the ethnic-Manchu Qing Dynasty and the last empress dowager of China.
Cixi was sent to the Forbidden City in 1851 to be a concubine to Emperor Xianfeng. In 1856, Cixi gave birth to her son and the future emperor, Tongzhi. After the birth of her son, Cixi’s status was elevated in the royal court and she became a consort. Emperor Xianfeng soon died in 1861 and Tongzhi became emperor with Cixi acting as regent. Cixi, in reality, held the real power because she had total control over state affairs. She surrounded herself with good advisors which also contributed to her success in maintaining power.
Internal chaos and foreign challenges plagued China during Cixi’s time. The country was suffering from the aftermath of the Second Opium War as well as the Taiping Rebellion. Cixi appointed General Zeng Guofan to handle the Taiping situation, and as a result, the revolt was successfully crushed. In 1881, she dealt with the concern of too much foreign influence by ending China’s so-called “learn from foreigners” program with the West. As a result, she put a halt to sending Chinese children abroad to study and promoted hostility toward the West.
In 1898, Emperor Guangxu, Cixi’s nephew, felt China needed cultural, political, and political reform so he initiated what became known as the Hundred Days’ Reform. He began turning to the West. Cixi put an end to this by launching a coup and placing Guangxu on house arrest. The resentment toward Western influence continued with the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 in which Western Christian missionaries became targets for attack. The rebellion failed, however, when Western powers intervened and stopped the revolt. Ironically, between 1902 and 1908, Cixi softened her views of the West and began encouraging the modernization of China. I wonder what changed her mind.