Woman of the Day: Empress Cixi

History class, English class, Math class…growing up, I remember learning of the accomplishments of many people in US and world history.  Almost overwhelmingly though, the people discussed were white men. Very rarely were women discussed. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that the accomplishments of women have historically been ignored.  This is another way that sexism has played out in society. Denying the accomplishments of women treats them as if they’re unimportant…as if they haven’t contributed significantly to events throughout human history. In this, a new ongoing series, I’ll be highlighting notable women, historically important women, and those women who ought to be more well known.  My intent is to show that women have contributed to the course of human history and ought to be recognized, rather than ignored or overlooked. Today’s woman of the day is Empress Cixi:

Cixi was a minor concubine of the emperor Xianfeng (Hsien-feng) when she became mother of his only son, Tongzhi (T’ung-chih), in 1856. Soon after Xianfeng died in 1861, Cixi along with the senior wife Ci’an (Tz’u-an) became regents for the boy. With the late emperor’s brother Gong Qinwang providing key leadership as counselor, the two Dowager Empresses ruled until 1873 when Tongzhi came of age.

Two years later, the young Tongzhi was dead, and his mother, it is rumored, had a part in the death. Cixi violated the normal succession and had her three year old nephew named the new heir. The two Dowager Empresses continued as regents until the death of Ci’an, the other Dowager Empress, in 1881, when Cixi became the de facto ruler of China.

When Guangxu (Kuang-hsu), the nephew, attained maturity, Cixi retired to the country, though she kept herself informed through a network of spies. After China lost the Sino-Japanese war (1894-1895), Guangxu implemented many reforms in what came to be known as the “Hundred Days of Reform.” In reaction, Cixi worked with the military and conservative forces to stage a coup and take power again as active regent, confining the emperor to his palace.

The next year, Cixi supported the forces behind the Boxer Rebellion, an anti-reform and anti-foreign rebellion. When foreign troops retaliated by entering the Forbidden City and capturing Beijing (Peking), Cixi accepted the offered peace terms. As appeasement, she eventually implemented the reforms that she’d stopped her nephew from instituting. She continued to rule, her power much diminished, until her death in 1908. The Emperor Guangxu died as she was dying, reportedly poisoned at her direction.

Her actual power surpassed that of another great Queen who was her contemporary, England’s Queen Victoria. In addition to her part in the politics of her day, she’s also remembered for her patronage of the arts including the opera, and the founding of the Peking Zoological Garden (1906), later the first zoo to breed the giant panda.

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Woman of the Day: Empress Cixi
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