Chinese Historical Biography: Tsze Hsi An

Tsze Hsi An was the famous empress dowager of China in the 19th century. Information on her power, life and influences.

One of the most powerful women in the nineteenth century was Tsze Hsi An, empress of China. She was likely the shrewdest woman of all of Asia during her era. She was considered by many at that time as "the only man in China" and probably exercised more power than any woman in her world. While queen Victoria had influence, Tsze Hsi An had power and it was power she fought for and won for herself.

Tsze Hsi An's full name was Tszehi Toanyu Kangi Chaoyu Chuangcheng Shokung Chinhein Chungish. Though she was born in Peking, she was not actually Chineese, but a Manchu. You will recall that in 1644 the Manchu Tartars seized the throne of the Chinese Empire and kept it until 1912.

While we are looking at the life of Tszhe Hsi An., we must not over look another women, Tsze Hi, who became the principal wife of Prince Chun, the emperor's brother, while Tsze Hsi An, became the secondary wife of Emperor Hienfung. The emperor had no children, but his brother's wife gave birth to a son and Tsze Hi was raised to the rank of empress, though in reality still obliged to yield precedence to Tsze Hsi An. Tumultuous times came to China and the royal family had to flee to Tartary. In exile, the emperor died, leaving his frail throne to the son of Tsze Hi.

Tze Hsi An, now made herself felt in the game of royalty. By an unwritten law of China, she should have killed herself as a mark of respect for being childless. But she ignored that law and followed another law which required the children of inferior wives to regard the chief wife as their mother. Tsze Hsi An thus found a way not to die and the boy came under the joint control of the two matrons.

In due time, the prince was proclaimed emperor and the two mothers as regents. Having arrived at the proper age, he assumed the reins of government and the ladies retired to the background. In 1874, the new emperor died of small pox, and the two dowagers once again came forward.

Being women, they could not rule in their own right, so they looked for a child to adopt. They found a nephew of Tsze Hi, who was three years old. That child became Emperor Kuangsii. When Kuangsii was about eight years old, Tsze Hi died, and Tsze Hsi An was left as sole dowager, master of the child and the empire. The young prince became of age in 1889 and was crowned emperor, but he was little more than a puppet in the hands of Tsze Hsi An.

At the beginning of the war with Japan, Tsze Hsi An stepped in and sent her old favorite Li Hung Chang to Japan to make peace. Later, when the emperor was starting out on a series of reforms by the adoption of Western ideas, she assumed control of the affairs and in one sweep all the decrees of the emperor were annulled and six leaders of the reform party were executed. Among them was Chang Yin Yuan, the president of the Board of Revenue and former ambassador to the United States.

After this, it was announced that Emperor Kuangsii had committed suicide, which was the Chinese form of execution. This announcement proved to be false. Kuangsii was kept alive by Tsze Hsi An as a puppet emperor so that she could continue to rule China with her iron hand.

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