Tz'u-Hsi or (Cixi)- Dowager Empress of China: 1835 - 1908
Tz'u Hsi was born in Peking, China, on November 29, 1835. She started out as no more than the Hsien-feng emperor's concubine. Then, in 1856, she gave birth to their son and the emperor died soon after. Her son became the emperor T'ung-chih, but he was too young. Instead the regency governed, which was usually a group of elders, but the power instead was given to Ts'u Hsi and two other partners. A century after her death the story of her life and reign remains veiled by varying versions of the truth.
During the early years of Tz'u Hsi's rule, the government was revitalized, foreign languages were added in schools, custom service was installed, arsenals were created in Western style, and the first Chinese foreign service office was created. However in her struggle to retain power she became more conservative and there was constant intrigue.
In 1873, Tz'u Hsi's son became old enough to rule and became full emperor Two years later he died and his mother, it is rumored, had a part in the death. Tz'u Hsi violated the normal succession and had her three year old nephew named the new heir so she could still be regent. Then, in 1881, one of her partners died and she became sole regent after displacing her last partner. In 1889, when Guangxu (Kuang-hsu), the nephew, attained maturity, Tz'u Hsi 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, Tz'u Hsi worked with the military and conservative forces to stage a coup and take power again as active regent, confining the emperor to his palace. In 1900, the Boxer Rebellion, occurred and she was forced to flee Peking for her life and had to accept the peace agreement's terms.
In 1901, she returned to the city with a whole new outlook. She was now in favor of modernizing China and making moral and social reforms. She even promised the people a constitution and representative government. However, this was too little too late. Some historians believe that Tzu-Hsi's success in the politics of her country and her conservatism helped put an end to any realistic hope of a modernized imperial China.
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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