Empress Cixi

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Although there may not be an extremely extensive amount of knowledge about the Empress Dowager Cixi, she is often considered one of the most powerful women in history. She ruled for almost fifty years, maintaining and expanding her own power. During her ‘behind the curtain’ reign, she made all decisions and always had the final say. Though she was very sharp and understood and executed politics well, she was (what some might consider today) corrupt. She was insistent on keeping her power in the Qing dynasty, to the point of (being suspected of) killing others. Though this seems despotic, recent reports say that she was just like any other ruler, and was blamed for events that would also have occurred under any other’s rule. Perhaps the saying she was in the wrong place at the wrong time could be applicable. Why does she get so much blame when many of the other emperors from other dynasties had similar faults (and even larger ones – their whole dynasties fell, Cixi helped perpetuate the Qing dynasty until her death – as tumultuous as it may have been)? One could argue that it was because she did not have the Mandate of Heaven since she was not traditionally supposed to have any power; or, because she was a woman.

From a feminist perspective, Empress Cixi can be considered a role model. In a society where women were not considered equals, Cixi became extremely influential, and controlled what many women today cannot. Though she could not truly take advantage of her power as openly as a man would have, she did not let her gender hinder her.

Cixi began as a concubine to the Xianfeng (Hsien-feng) Emperor, but when both his consort and his wife could not produce male heirs, he found hope in Cixi, who soon gave him a son. There are a ...

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...the Chinese people wanted – though, this could have been to keep her own position. Even if that is the case, she could have done what they did not want and keep her position using more violence than she actually used.

Works Cited

Carl, Katharine A. With the Empress Dowager of China. London: Nash, 1906.

Douglas Reynolds, China, 1898-1912: The Xinzheng Revolution and Japan. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993.

Sit, Tony. "The Life of Empress Cixi” (from Issue 10 of the China in Focus Magazine). Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (SACU), 2001. .

Warner, Marina. The Dragon Empress: Life and times of Tz'u-hsi, 1835-1908, Empress Dowager of China. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1972.

"Historical Opinions on Empress Dowager Cixi." History - China Culture. .
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