Famous Rulers in History Empress Dowager of China Tzu Hsi Part 4

About the famous Chinese Empress Dowager Tzu Hsi, history of China, her reign, the rise of Kuang Hsu.


Moreover, the emperor-to-be did not appear to be very promising. Good-looking and stubborn, he had been spoiled by Niuhuru and the soft life of the court. Like his father, he prowled the Outer City, where he may have contracted venereal disease. Like his mother, he loved the theater. But studying and hard work he did not love. A year after he married (a strong-minded woman named Alute), he ascended the throne, while Tzu Hsi went into partial retirement. (She was such a busybody that she could not leave affairs of state behind entirely.) Two years later, in 1875, the emperor, only 19, was "visited by the heavenly flowers" (contracted smallpox) and died during a relapse. Alute, probably at Tzu Hsi's suggestion, overdosed on opium and died only a short while later. Tzu Hsi called a meeting of the Grand Council and pushed through the naming as successor of a three-year-old child, the son of Prince Ch'un and her sister. He grew up with homosexual tendencies and a stutter, while she and Niuhuru ruled as regents. In 1881, Niuhuru, only 44, died after eating some milk cakes sent her by Tzu Hsi; she "choked on spit," it was said. (The boy-emperor had preferred her.)

Kuang Hsu, as the boy was called when he became emperor, developed sudden strength when he took over. After marrying him off to her bucktoothed niece, Tzu Hsi again went into retirement. Powerless, she watched him flirting with Western ideas and technology. He collected clocks, which he liked to take apart, and once borrowed a bicycle from an Englishman and tried to ride it, but his queue, according to the story, tangled in the spokes. He read books in law and science, tried and failed to learn English. During the 1890s, the European powers fought to gain "spheres of influence" in China, mostly by leasing huge tracts of land. In addition, the Chinese were defeated in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895). In 1898, alarmed by all this and influenced by the reformer K'ang Yu-wei, Kuang Hsu declared the 100 Days of Reform, a program through which industry and transportation would be developed, the masses would be educated, military power would be increased, and Western texts (including literary ones) would be translated into Chinese. He said that the empire had to do away with "bigoted conservatism and unpractical customs." "We must," he said, "select subjects of Western knowledge that will keep us in touch with the times and diligently study them and practice them in order to place our country abreast of other countries."

The whole plan was foiled when Jung Lu told Tzu Hsi of a plot to hold her prisoner until the reforms were in force. Ironically, Jung Lu's informant was probably Yuan Shih-k'ai, a military man who took over the country and declared himself emperor not long after Tzu Hsi's death. Then 63, the furious Tzu Hsi, with the strength of a far younger woman, staged a successful coup d'etat. She exiled Kuang Hsu to an artificial island in the Forbidden City and forced him to abdicate. For the first time, she openly took the throne, with no "bamboo curtain" between her and the power. Quickly she abolished all the reforms except those that dealt with the military.

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