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The last Empress of China

Posted in Historical articles, Royalty on Thursday, 29 September 2011

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This edited article about China originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 827 published on 19 November 1977.

Dowager Empress, picture, image, illustration

The Dowager Empress of China

On 15th November, 1908 an era ended – Tze-Hsi, the Chinese Empress, died. Four years later China became a republic.

Tze-Hsi was born in Peking in 1835 and when she was 15, entered the Imperial Palace to become one of the wives of the Emperor Hienfung.

Power came to her by chance. She was the only one of the Emperor’s wives to bear him a son. This meant that, when the Emperor died in 1861, her son, Tung-Chih, came in the throne. He was only five, at the time, so the Dowager Empress ruled as regent. When Tung-Chih died, in 1875, another minor succeeded and she continued to rule.

Tze-Hsi is probably best known for her suppression of the Chinese opium trade.

She dreamt of rebuilding China into a great and powerful nation, and urged her subjects to resist the Western influences of the European traders. It was during her reign that the Boxer Rebellion occurred, when fanatical Chinese tried to wipe out all the “foreign devils” living in China. The rebellion failed, and the foreign powers concerned increased the strength of their bases in China to protect their citizens, most of whom were traders trying to “open up” China.

In 1895 the Chinese forces were defeated by the Japanese. Tze-Hsi was blamed for this and for a while it seemed that the old lady might lose her throne. But by great cunning, she managed to defeat her political enemies and continued to wield enormous power.

Though the Empress sincerely believed she was doing what was best for her country, many of her subjects were critical of her – particularly of her practice of appointing her favourites to important government positions, whether or not they were suitable. In spite of this opposition Tze-Hsi managed to cling on to her throne until her death.

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