Cixi, the Empress Dowager of China

Cixi, the Empress Dowager of China, was “the most powerful and most mysterious woman in the world,” according to the World Magazine published in New York, 1904. Here are some portraits of this influential and controversial historical figure of the last dynasty of China.

More photos can be found at VIA, the public catalog of visual materials at Harvard University.


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  1. Joseph Ting wrote::

    In her new book, the acclaimed Sino-British author Jung Chang sets out to reverse the infamous and brutal reputation of Cixi, the Empress Dowager who ruled China until her death in 1908. Cixi’s notoriety for brutality and despotism is well deserved, with the profound resentment against the Qing Dynasty culminating in it being rapidly swept away of power within three years of her death. This more that any historical debate is the most reliable gauge of the negative verdict that history has accorded her up to now.

    For her enjoyment, Cixi diverted 30 million taels of silver originally designated for the Chinese Navy into the reconstruction and enlargement of the Summer Palace in Beijing. Her greatest self-indulgence is manifest in the Marble Boat commission for her 60th birthday. This sturdy, immoveable and unsinkable boat remains docked at the end of the Long Corridor of the Summer Palace today. Funds earmarked to strengthen the Qing Navy during the Sino-Japanese War became depleted, contributing to China’s humiliating defeat in 1895. Cixi’s demand of 128 dishes while dining on the Marble Boat, at the cost that would have bought enough millet to feed 5,000 peasants for a day, is emblematic of the unbounded extravagance and opulence that negates Chang’s revised claims to Cixi being a capable, socially progressive, proto-feminist “behind the scenes” leader of China at the start of the 20th century.

    Sunday, March 30, 2014 at 5:31 pm #