The Last Empress Dowager

December 14, 2010

The Last Empress of China ruled the Qing Dynasty as a coregent after her husband, The Xianfeng Emperor died in 1861, and her son, The Tongzhi Emperor (1856 – 1875), was too young to rule China.

Technically, The Empress Dowanger Tzu Hsi (Cixi) wasn’t the last empress.

However, she was the last empress to rule China as a regent for her son then her nephew after her son died at 19.

Sterling Seagrave, the author of Dragon Lady, writes, “absurdly little was known about her life. The New York Times printed a long, error filled obituary calling her Tzu An, the title of her coregent who had died twenty-seven years earlier.”

Many current history texts have slandered the Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi (1835 – 1908) without much evidence as one of history’s most monstrous women—a ruthless Manchu concubine who seduced and murdered her way to the throne in 1861 to rule China through prevision, corruption and intrigue.

This is how many still think of Tzu Hsi.

She has been accused of murdering her son then years later her nephew, who died the day before she did.

Instead, her son may have died of syphilis because it was rumored he preferred prostitutes to his virgin concubines.

Some rumors claim that Tzu Hsi had her nephew poisoned, but Yuan Shikai may also have poisoned him. There is no evidence to support either theory.

How did the Tzu Hsi earn such a bad reputation? It seems that she earned this reputation similar to how today’s China has been smeared in the Western media.

To understand how this came about, I will make a comparison to Jayson Blair, a young reporter for the New York Times that wrote more than 600 articles for the newspaper. During his short career with the New York Times, Blair committed repeated “acts of journalistic fraud”, including stealing material from other papers and inventing quotes.

Blair’s fraud was revealed in 2003 while he still worked for the newspaper. Source: BBC News 

However, Jayson Blair was not the first reporter to commit “acts of journalistic fraud”.

Edmund Backhouse did the same writing about the Tzu Hsi at the beginning of the 20th century, and his lies and deceit wouldn’t be discovered until Sterling Seagrave was researching Dragon Lady decades later.

Backhouse’s journalistic fraud served as the foundation for most history texts that have slandered Tzu Hsi.

To do Tzu Hsi justice and to discover the truth, one should read Seagrave’s Dragon Lady, The Life and Legend of the Last Empress of China

To learn whom the real woman was we may want to consider what Robert Hart had to say about Hzu Hsi in his letters and journals.  Robert Hart arrived in China from Ireland in 1854. He returned to England in 1908.

For most of his stay in China, Hart was Inspector General of Chinese Maritime Customs and worked closely with the Imperial ministers and Manchu princes. Before returning to England, Hart met with the Dowager Empress in a private audience.

Hart referred to Tzu Hsi as “the Buddha” and later “the old Buddha” since she was a devout Buddhist and it is obvious that he thought of her with affection and admiration.

In fact, Hart, who is considered the Godfather of China’s modernization, at no time indicated in anything he wrote that Tzu Hsi was conspiratorial, sinister or manipulative. However, he did indicate that she was strong-willed and hot-tempered but she was clever and had ability.

Tzu Hsi died in 1908 a few weeks after Robert Hart left China. The Qing Dynasty collapsed in 1911.

Discover more of The Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911)

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

If you want to subscribe to iLook China, there is a “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar.


The Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911) – Part 2/2

December 14, 2010

The Yongzheng Emperor ruled from 1722 to 1735. He was frugal like his father, the Kangxi Emperor.

Yongzheng created an effective government and used military force to preserve the dynasty’s position as his father had. Under his leadership, he continued the era of peace and prosperity by cracking down on corruption and waste while reforming the financial administration of the empire.

The Qianlong Emperor (birth/death 1711 – 1799) ruled China for much of the 18th century (1735 – 1796). He subdued about ten rebellions known as the “ten successful campaigns”, which drained the Qing Dynasty’s treasury. These rebellions stretched from 1747 to 1792.

However, when the Qianlong Emperor died, China was unified, at peace and strong. He was a brilliant military leader and expanded the empire further into Mongolia and Tibet.

During the rule of the Qianlong Emperor, Manchu and Chinese armies proved the Qing sovereignty over Burma and Nepal.

Chinese settlers in Yunnan, Guizhou, Sichuan and Taiwan dealt with rebellions of the aboriginal tribes that could only be subdued by military force. Muslim people also resisted the Qing regime in Gansu and Xinjiang.

During the 19th century, the two Opium Wars started by Britain and France weakened the Qing Dynasty.

Besides the Opium Wars, there was also the Taiping Rebellion, which lasted more than a decade and cost about 20 million lives.

In 1900, The so-called Boxer Rebellion (known as “I-ho Chuan” or the “Righteous and Harmonious Fists”) was originally started against the Manchu Qing Dynasty but the Qing government managed to redirect this rebellion against the foreigner invaders that had defeated China during the earlier Opium Wars.

This ended in a worse defeat after the foreign powers formed an alliance and marched on Beijing slaughtering the rebels.

The driving force behind the revolution of 1911 that ended the Qing Dynasty was Dr. Sun Yat-sen.

However, once the Qing Dynasty fell, warlords tore China apart and it would take years of struggle to reunify China under one government in 1949 after the Communist Party defeated the Nationalists, who fled to Taiwan with much of China’s imperial treasures and gold.

Return to The Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911) – Part 1

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

If you want to subscribe to iLook China, there is a “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar.


The Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911) – Part 1/2

December 13, 2010

Since the Qing Dynasty was the last imperial dynasty to rule China, I searched for a YouTube video that would do it justice.

A student for a history class produced the best YouTube video I discovered. 

The student narrator spends about two-and-a-half minutes in the first segment summarizing China’s history from Qin Shi Huangdi, China’s first emperor, to the fall of the Ming Dynasty.

The Qing Dynasty had its roots from the 1580s when a Manchurian chieftain Nurachi (1558–1626) unified the Jurchen tribes of the region.

Over the next several decades, Nurachi took control over most of Manchuria.

In 1616, he declared himself khan, and founded the Later Jin Dynasty (which his successors renamed in 1636 to the Qing Dynasty).

The Chinese peasant revolt that ended the Ming Dynasty (1368-1643) was quickly defeated by the Manchurian Qing Dynasty in 1644.

However, the Chinese fought hard to drive the Manchurians from China and continued resistance in southern China until crushed.

The Kangxi Emperor (1654 – 1722) ruled for 62 years and is considered by many historians one of the ablest emperors to govern the vast Chinese empire. He laid the foundation for a long period of political stability and economic prosperity for China.

The rebellions he put down was called the Rebellion of the Three Feudatories, which lasted from 1673 to 1681.

Then there was the pirate-merchant Zheng Chenggong, who set up an independent kingdom on the island of Taiwan. Eventually, that kingdom was defeated and brought back into the Qing empire.

The Kangxi emperor also fought wars with Russia from 1685 until 1689 when the Treaty of Nerchinsk was signed.

Then there were campaigns against the Mongols until they were defeated. In 1720, the Qing Dynasty occupied Tibet and incorporated that country into the empire.

However, even in times of war, the Kangxi emperor provided tax relief for the people, and he was a frugal and wise leader. He left China strong and in good financial condition.

Discover more about the lifestyles of The Qing – China’s Last Dynasty

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

If you want to subscribe to iLook China, there is a “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar.


The Qing – China’s Last Dynasty – Part 3/3

December 12, 2010

The last travelogue segment takes us on a tour of the Qiao family’s grand courtyard and residence located in Jinzhong, a prefecture in the center of Shanxi Province. Today, this prefecture is home to more than 2.5 million people.

The Qiao family complex shows the blending of the mansion’s practical functions, artistic design and ancient architectural techniques to create complex art in a simple plan.

The details show the glamour of China’s ancient residential house culture in northern China. Each engraving in the mansion is detailed artwork telling a story of life’s philosophy.

The narrator takes us on a tour of a Qiao family courtyard made famous by Zhang Yimou when he directed Raise the Red Lantern. Zhang Yimou won two awards for this 1991 film at the Venice Film Festival.

Raise the Red Lantern also turned the Qiao family’s mansion into a popular tourist attraction. The mansion covers 8,000 square meters (almost 10,000 square yards) of land with 313 rooms.

For security reasons, the roofs are connected.

To build family mansions of this size and scope takes generations of successful businessmen working together as a collective family unit.

However, if a family loses its moral compass, the fortune and land were often lost over time.

These mansions also represent the feudal culture of ancient China.

The last of the three mansions covered in this travelogue was the Chang Mansion, which demonstrates the poetry of a Chinese garden.

Large families such as the Changs built elaborate mansions and gardens. However, the mansions and gardens were built according to rules and guidelines.

Shaanxi province is considered a treasure trove of ancient Chinese architecture.

There are 106 family compounds similar to the four in this travelogue and some date to before the Sung Dynasty (960 to 1276 AD) representing about 70% of China’s surviving ancient wood built architecture.

Return to China’s Last Dynasty – Part 2 or start with Part 1

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of “The Concubine Saga”, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

To subscribe to “iLook China”, look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar, click on it then follow directions.


The Qing – China’s Last Dynasty – Part 2/3

December 12, 2010

This segment of the travelogue takes us to the Wong family compound in Lingshi county, Shanxi province. The Wong mansion offers another example of China’s ancient collective culture.

Twenty-seven generations of the Wong family lived in this mansion for 680 years.

To build the mansion and the wall that protects it took more than fifty years.

The narrator points out that the buildings and gardens are well arranged (according to feng shui) and adapted to the geographical conditions.

Three architectural complexes were part of the Wong family compound completed during the Qing Dynasty. This included the Red Gate Fort and an ancestral temple. The area covered 45,000 square meters (almost 54 thousand square yards).

Although the narrator in the video doesn’t mention this, for more than two millennia the Chinese raised their children to follow the Chinese ethical and moral system based on the family and Confucius’s Five Great Relationships.

1. between ruler and subject
2. father and son
3. husband and wife
4. elder and younger brother
5. friend and friend

Instead of being taught from a church pulpit, these values are part of child rearing.

Of the five relationships, in each pair, one role was superior and one inferior; one role led and the other followed. Yet each involved mutual obligations and responsibilities.

When most children married, the newlyweds lived with the groom’s family. Failure to properly fulfill one’s role according to this Chinese ethical and moral system could lead to the end of the relationship.

In fact, when the ruler didn’t fulfill his role, bloody rebellions often gave rise to new dynasties after a period of chaos and violence that in some cases lasted decades or centuries.

China’s history is also littered with failed rebellions often citing the Mandate of Heaven as the right to rebel and challenge the ruling dynasty.

During the Qing Dynasty, there were several failed rebellions. The bloodiest was the Taiping Rebellion, which lasted more than a decade with more than twenty million killed.

Continued in The Qing – China’s Last Dynasty – Part 3 or return to China’s Last Dynasty – Part 1

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of “The Concubine Saga”, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

To subscribe to “iLook China”, look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar, click on it then follow directions.


The Qing – China’s Last Dynasty – Part 1/3

December 11, 2010

The Qing and/or Manchu Dynasty was established due to a revolution led by Li Tzu-cheng (1605-1645), who attacked Beijing in April 1644.

The Qing Dynasty survived from 1644 to 1911 AD.

After the rebels entered the city, the last Ming Dynasty emperor hung himself on a hill that is part of the Forbidden City.

Meanwhile, a Manchurian army led by Dorgan was allowed through the Great Wall, defeated the Chinese rebels, executed Li Tzu-cheng, and made Fu-lin, a Manchurian, the emperor of China, which was the beginning of the last imperial dynasty.

This was the second time in China’s history that foreigners ruled the Middle Kingdom. The first time was during the brief Mongol Yuan Dynasty (1277-1367 AD).

A CCTV 9 Travelogue History Special takes us on a tour of the Qing Dynasty.

During the Ming and Qing Dynasties, many wealthy businessmen built large estates on the fertile lands of Shanxi province not far from Beijing.

The Wang family’s estate is situated in Lingshi county. This mansion is an example of the architecture of the Qing Dynasty

This estate covers 150,000 square meters (about 180 thousand square yards).

There was even a school for the family’s children.

The host of this program says that walking into the estate’s courtyard is like walking into a museum.

Everywhere you look, there are works of art. Every stone carving, every statue means something. The art represents either family tradition or the Qing Dynasty culture or the social status of the family.

Continued in The Qing – China’s Last Dynasty – Part 2

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of “The Concubine Saga”, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

To subscribe to “iLook China”, look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar, click on it then follow directions.


Dream of the Red Chamber

April 28, 2010

The Dream of Red Chamber (also known as The Story of Stone) is generally considered one of four of China’s greatest classical novels. The novel has had several versions and translations and was made into a TV series in China. See Preview of TV series

From TV Series “Dream of the Red Chamber”

The author, Tsao Hsueh-chin (1715-1763) came from a powerful and wealthy family and lived a privileged life as a child in Nanjing. Later, he became poor and struggled to survive. Going from wealth to poverty provided him with the necessary experiences to write this tragic story.

Although this novel has great literary merit on many levels, there is difficulty keeping the characters straight—there are more than four hundred characters and almost thirty are major.  The plot, like most Chinese novels, meanders and doesn’t always flow in the same direction.

Book Cover

None-the-less, readers and students of Chinese history/culture should read this book to develop a better understanding of Imperial China during the Ch’ing Dynasty. The novel paints a vivid portrait of a corrupt feudal society on the verge of the capitalist, market economy we see flourishing in China today.

Another plot is the Romeo and Juliet love story between Chia Pao-yu and Lin Tai-yu, who—like Romeo and Juliet—wanted to be free to marry anyone they desired.

To learn more about China, see About Lin YuTang’s My Country and My People

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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