Who Was Empress Dowager Cixi?

Empress Dowager Cixi was one of the most powerful women in Chinese history. She was the empress dowager and regent of China for 47 years, from 1861 until her death in 1908. During her reign, the Chinese princess oversaw the end of imperial rule and helped to transform China into a modern country.

Early Life

Empress Dowager Cixi was born on November 29, 1835, in the town of Meishan, in the province of Sichuan. She was the fourth daughter of a minor official named Huizhen and his wife, Lady Ling. Cixi’s father died when she was three, and her mother passed away two years later. As an orphan, Cixi was raised by her older sister and brother-in-law. In 1850, at the age of 15, Cixi was selected to be a concubine of Emperor Xianfeng. She became pregnant soon after arriving at the imperial palace, but she miscarried. In 1856, Cixi gave birth to a son, Zaichun. Two years later, she bore another son, Zaitian, who would eventually become Emperor Guangxu.

Qing dynasty Empress Dowager Cixi was one of the most influential women in Chinese history. She was the first female emperor of China, ruling from behind the scenes for 47 years. During her reign, she oversaw dramatic changes in Chinese society and government. Born in 1835, Cixi was a member of the Mongolian aristocracy. She entered the imperial palace at the age of 15 as a concubine of Emperor Xianfeng. After bearing two sons, Cixi emerged as a powerful figure within the Qing dynasty court. When Emperor Xianfeng died in 1861, her four-year-old son, Zaichun, became emperor. Cixi served as regent until he came of age.

Rise to Power


When Emperor Xianfeng died in 1861, Cixi’s older son, Zaichun, was only six years old. Zaichun’s younger brother, Zaitian, was only four. The two boys became joint emperors, with Cixi serving as regent. Shortly after taking power, the empress of China, Cixi, faced a major challenge when the Taiping Rebellion broke out. The Taiping rebels were led by Hong Xiuquan, who claimed to be the younger brother of Jesus Christ. The rebels quickly took control of much of southern China.

Queen Dowager quickly realized that the Qing Dynasty would not be able to survive if the rebels were not stopped. She dispatched a loyal general, Zeng Guofan, to put down the rebellion. Zeng Guofan was successful in defeating the rebels, but it took him over 20 years to do so. During that time, Cixi continued to serve as a regent for both emperors.

In 1875, Emperor Zaichun died suddenly at the age of 22. Cixi’s younger son, Zaitian, became the sole emperor. Cixi once again served as regent.


During her time as regent and empress dowager, Cixi Empress initiated a number of reforms. One of her first reforms was to end the practice of foot-binding. Foot-binding was a painful process in which young girls’ feet were bound in order to keep them small. Cixi saw foot-binding as cruel and unnecessary, so she took steps to end the practice.

Cixi was also a strong supporter of women’s rights. She worked to improve the status of women in Chinese society. She helped to establish schools for girls and gave women the right to own property. Empress Cixi is credited with helping to make China a more modern and progressive country. By the time of her death, China had begun to catch up with the West in terms of industry and education.

Modernity and Tradition


During her reign, Empress Dowager Cixi was faced with the challenge of modernizing China while still maintaining traditional values. She believed that China needed to adopt some Western ideas in order to compete with the developed nations of Europe and America. At the same time, she was wary of completely westernizing China and wanted to maintain the country’s unique identity.

Empress Dowager Cixi embarked on a program of modernization. She introduced Western technology, such as railways and telegraphs, to China. She also reformed education and sent Chinese students to study abroad in Japan, America, and Europe. Empress Dowager Cixi herself learned about Western culture by reading novels and magazines from abroad.

While she promoted modernization, Empress Dowager Cixi was also careful to maintain China’s traditional values and customs. She believed that the key to modernization was to learn from the West but not to become like the West.

The Taming of the Emperor

Cixi again seized the reins of government, adopting the son of her sister and Prince Chun and naming him emperor. The young emperor was only two years old, so she served as his regent.

During her second reign, Empress Dowager Cixi continued her policy of modernization while also working to maintain China’s traditional values. She oversaw the completion of the Beijing-Hankou Railway, which was key to China’s economic development. She also launched a series of military reforms, modernizing the Chinese army.

Empress Dowager Cixi ruled for more than 30 years until her death in 1908. During her reign, she helped bring about a renaissance in Chinese art and culture. However, she also promoted modernization while maintaining China’s traditional values.


The last empress of China, Empress Dowager Cixi, died on November 15, 1908, at the age of 73. Her death marked the end of two thousand years of imperial rule in China. After her death, the Qing dynasty was overthrown, and China became a republic.

Empress Dowager Cixi was a controversial figure. Some people see her as a cruel dictator who suppressed the Chinese people. Others view her as a modernizer who helped to prepare China for the future. Whatever your opinion of her, there is no doubt that Empress Dowager Cixi was one of the most important figures in Chinese history.

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