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The Reign of the Tongzhi Emperor (approx. 1862-1873)
Renxu Year (approx. 1862)
Tongzhi Reign, 1st Year
In accordance with the edict of the empress dowager, the Tongzhi Emperor begins his education at the Hall of Promoting Virtue (Hongde dian) under the tutelage of Qi Junzao and Weng Xincun.
Court scribes complete the compilation of A Precious Mirror for Governing the Peace (Zhiping baojian), a book of historical precedents for imperial governance and regency by earlier empresses dowager.
The School of Combined Learning (Tongwen guan) is established in the capital as an affiliated institution to the Foreign Office. Intended to train specialists in the field of translation, the school promotes the interests of the Self-Strengthening Movement (Yangwu yundong).
Kuihai Year (approx. 1863)
Tongzhi Reign, 2nd Year
The Prince of Hui, Mianyu, is ordered to undertake the tutelage of the Tongzhi Emperor at the Hall of Promoting Virtue (Hongde dian), while the prince's sons, Yixiang and Yixun, are to accompany the emperor in his studies.
Jiazi Year (approx. 1864)
Tongzhi Reign, 3rd Year
In accordance with an edict by the empress dowager, exhaustive lectures regarding A Precious Mirror for Governing the Peace (Zhiping baojian) are held at the palace.
Unable to resist the collaborative efforts by the militaries of the Qing government and Western powers, the Taiping Rebellion ultimately fails.
Yichou Year (approx. 1865)
Tongzhi Reign, 4th Year
Conflicts arise between local residents and a group of local converts and French missionaries in Youyang County, Sichuan Province due to aggressive tactics by the church administration. These conflicts end in a riot and the destruction of a church building. (Historians know this incident as the Youyang Anti-missionary Riot, Youyang jiaoan, or lit. the "Youyang Religious Case".)
The British Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) opens a branch in Shanghai. At this stage, foreign banks start to prevail in the Chinese financial market.
Mohammad Yaqub—the beg or leader of the Central Asian Khanate of Kokand—takes advantage of the Hui uprising in Xinjiang and invades that western region.
The Prince of Chun, Yixuan, is ordered to supervise the Tongzhi Emperor’s education at the Hall of Promoting Virtue (Hongde dian). The Prince of Gong, Yixin, is removed from his office as a grand minister of state and a participant in court deliberation. Wenxiang is appointed to the Foreign Office to deal with international affairs.
Lai Wenguang and the Nian rebels under his control defeat Qing troops led by Sengge Rinchen (Sengge Linqin) in Shandong Province. Sengge Rinchen is killed in his attempt to break through enemy lines.
Li Hongzhang founds the Jiangnan Arsenal (Jiangnan zhizao zongju), marking the beginning of the military industry reform during the Self-Strengthening Movement.
Censor Cai Shouqi is removed from office for speaking recklessly.
The British establish the Surveillance Commission (Ancha shishu, also known as the British Supreme Court for China) in the British concession of Shanghai.
The late Xianfeng Emperor is entombed at the Qing Ding Tomb, which is part of the Eastern Qing Tombs.
Wuchen Year (approx. 1868)
Tongzhi Reign, 7th Year
After retiring from his position as the United States minister to China, Anson Burlingame leads a Chinese envoy to visit the United States, Britain, Russia, France, and Prussia. This is the first visit to foreign countries by a Chinese delegation during late Qing period.
Censor Detai is removed from office because of a memorial he submitted asking to renovate the Garden of Perfect Brightness.
Xinwei Year (approx. 1871)
Tongzhi Reign, 10th Year
Conflicts arise regarding religion in Tianjin. (This is known by some historians as the Tianjin Religious Case.)
Renshen Year (approx. 1872)
Tongzhi Reign, 11th Year
Li Hongzhang founds China Merchants Steam Navigation Company (Lunchuan zhaoshang ju), the earliest private merchant undertaking during the Self-Strengthening Movement.
The Tongzhi Emperor weds Lady Arute, the daughter of Minister Chongqi of the Ministry of Revenue. The nineteen-year-old (in sui) bride is thus appointed as the empress. Lady Fuca—the daughter of Vice Minister Fengxiu of the Ministry of Justice—is established as Consort-in-ordinary Hui (an imperial concubine of the third rank, fei).
Lady Hešeri—the daughter of District Magistrate Chongling—is established as Concubine Yu (an imperial concubine of the fourth rank, pin). The daughter of Saišangga and aunt of the empress is appointed as Concubine Xun (an imperial concubine of the fourth rank, pin).
Kuiyou Year (approx. 1873)
Tongzhi Reign, 12th Year
Upon the Tongzhi Emperor’s coming of age to manage state affairs, Empresses Dowager Cian and Cixi advise the emperor to respectfully continue in the imperial family's established practices, scrupulously appoint qualified officials for state administration, and not squander his studies. A grand ceremony is held on the occasion of the Tongzhi Emperor’s commencement to personally govern the empire.
Jiaxu Year (approx. 1874)
Tongzhi Reign, 13th Year
Using the Mudan Incident of 1871 as a pretext, Japan dispatches troops to Taiwan.
Japanese troops invade Taiwan.
On the occasion of Empress Dowager Cixi’s birthday, officials in the Banners over sixty years old (in sui) in Beijing are rewarded.
Weng Tonghe is appointed at the Hall of Promoting Virtue (Hongde dian)
It is ordered that memorials concerned with palace and state affairs be sent to both the empress dowager and the emperor for review.
Corsort Hui is honored with the title imperial honored consort. Concubine Xun (an imperial concubine of the fourth rank, pin) is promoted as Consort-in-ordinary Xun (an imperial concubine of the third rank, fei).
The Tongzhi Emperor (given name Zaichun) dies in the Hall of Mental Cultivation (Yangxin dian) at the age of nineteen (in sui).
Empress Dowagers Cian and Cixi summon the Prince of Dun, Yicong; the Prince of Gong, Yixin; the Prince of Chun, Yixuan; and others. They announce an edict ordering that Zaitian, the son of the Prince of Chun, become the named heir of the late Xianfeng Emperor and named successor to the throne, and that when he begets a son, that son will be made the heir of the late Tongzhi Emperor. Yixuan, the Prince of Chun, is granted a hereditary title and allowed to participate in the court assembly without formally saluting the emperor. Carrying with them the edict issued by the late Tongzhi Emperor before he died, imperial princes and ministers greet Zaitian at the residence of the Prince of Chun near Taiping Lake. Empress Dowagers Cian and Cixi reside in the Palace of Accumulated Purity and the Palace of Eternal Spring, respectively. The two empress dowagers begin their reign from behind the curtain (so named because they would preside over the imperial court from behind a curtain).
The construction project at the Three Lakes is ordered to pause.
The following year is to be the first year of the Guangxu reign.
The late Tongzhi Emperor receives his posthumous title, Yi (lit. “Firm”), and temple name, Muzong (lit. “Solemn Ancestor”). The empress receives the honorific title Jiashun, (lit. “excellent and meek”). The imperial honored consort is given the honorific title Dunyi, (lit. “gentle and mild”).
Translator: Kang Shitong
Editors: Adam J. Ensign, Li Yang
The Tongzhi Emperor (r. 1862-1874)
The Tongzhi Emperor, Aisin Gioro, was the only son of the late Xianfeng Emperor (r. 1851-1861). He was born by Lady Yehenara (the future Empress Dowager Cixi) on the twenty-third day of the third lunar month of 1856 in the Palace of Gathered Elegance (Chuxiu gong) of the Forbidden City. In 1861 Zaichun was designated the “Heir Apparent” after the deathbed will of his father in the Qing imperial resort “Mountain Villa to Escape the Heat” in Jehol (today’s Chengde in Hebei province). On the ninth day of the tenth lunar month, he returned from Jehol to Beijing and ascended the throne. His reign is named “Tongzhi”.
When he ascended the throne, Zaichun was a boy of six sui (by traditional account) boy, who was therefore suddenly thrown into the complicated political environment. The late Xianfeng Emperor authorized four adjutant generals and four grand councilors to advise and assist the child monarch on his deathbed. Whereas to restrain the power of them from growing too big, he also bestowed two imperial seals which would substitute for the usual “vermilion endorsements” respectively upon his heir Zaichun and his widow empress Lady Niuhuru (who was later promoted as the Empress Dowager Ci’an on the enthronement of the Tongzhi Emperor). Due to the minority of Zaichun, his biological mother Yehenara (later promoted as the Empress Dowager Cixi) sought the opportunity to govern court affairs by herself (in the way of “attending to government affairs from behind the screen”, or Chuilian tingzheng). The politically-ambitious Yehenara schemed and carried out a coup d'état with Prince Gong (Aisin Gioro Yixin), who had been pushed out of the coterie of eight advisers. Because of the coup d'état they managed to get rid of the eight advisers by decapitation, suicidal penalty, and banishment, and thus held the real power.
Soon after the young emperor was enthroned under the new reign title of Tongzhi on the ninth day of the tenth lunar month of 1861, the two empresses held court for the first time, sitting behind a screen of yellow gauze at the back of the imperial throne upon which Zaichun was seated.
Faced with both internal uprisings and external aggressions, the Qing government adopted a policy of “pacify the interior as the precondition for resisting foreign aggression” (rangwai bixian annei) “. The Tongzhi reign saw the successive suppression of the Taiping rebellion, the Nien rebellion, the Muslim rebellion in Yunnan province, and the Miao ethnic rebellion in Guizhou province. Ironically, foreign aggressors stood neutral from China’s domestic chaos, for they had benefited significantly from the treaties signed since the first Opium War as well as the Qing government’s diplomatic policy of appeasement. Some historians euphemistically call this period “The Tongzhi Restoration”, but in fact, in the 1860s, the Tongzhi Emperor did not engage in any military decision-making rather he was only studying.
In the eleventh year of the Tongzhi reign (1872), Zaichun was seventeen years old (by traditional account), gaining his majority. It was the time for the two empress dowagers to hand over power to him. However, Empress Dowager Cixi was reluctant, and continued to wield influence over the court. The Tongzhi Emperor planed to rebuild the summer palace “Garden of Perfect Brightness” (Yuanming yuan) for Cixi to live and enjoy while ridding himself of her intervention in governmental affairs. Because there were insufficient funds in the state coffers to finance such a colossal renovation project, the plan was widely criticized by high officials and imperial kinsmen as extravagant and indiscreet. However, the project went forth but was halted in less than two years due to the Tongzhi Emperor’s death. Ironically, the reconstruction project was the only decision that Zaichun was able to make during his short reign.
The Tongzhi Emperor was infected with smallpox in 1874 (the thirteenth year of his reign) and succumbed on the fifth day of the twelfth lunar month of that year at the tender age of nineteen. His temple name is “Muzong” (Respectable Ancestor). He is buried in the Hui Mausoleum of the Eastern Qing Tombs in Zunhua county, Hebei province.
Lady Alute, Empress Xiaozhe
Introduction: Coming from a cultured family, lady Alute received education since childhood. Although the Qing court granted her the title of Empress, she was merely an innocent victim of the rule of the Empress Dowager Cixi.
Lady Alute (1854-1875) came from a cultured family. She received a fine education since childhood. Her father Chongqi was the first Manchu Principal Graduate (zhuan yuan) in the Palace Examination (dian shi).
Ever since his accession to the throne, the five-year-old Tongzhi Emperor (r. 1862-1874) had been under the control of the Empress Dowagers Cixi and Ci’an who managed politics from behind the screen. Three years passed the age when an emperor was officially allowed to personally handle political affairs, the two empress dowagers finally agreed to hand over authority to rule when he was seventeen years old. His official marriage could not be further delayed. However, Yehenara and Niuhuru disagreed on a suitable candidate. Lady Niuhuru wanted to designate lady Alute but Yehenara bore a grudge because Alute was the granddaughter of Prince Zheng, one of the eight regent ministers she had had murdered during the Xinyou coup of 1860. To settle the conflict, the final say went to the Tongzhi emperor himself. Showing his resentment against Yehenara’s manipulation, the emperor chose Alute as his empress.
In the memoir by Puyi, the last emperor of the Qing dynasty, he recalled how much the Empress Dowager Cixi disliked lady Alute. Hearing of that Alute had a confidential talk with the ailing Tongzhi Emperor, the Empress Dowager Cixi became furious. She broke into the emperor’s chamber and asked the eunuchs to bring the punishment sticks. It was only because the Tongzhi Emperor was scared out of his wits that the Empress Dowager Cixi desisted in the harsh punishment of Alute.
After the death of the Tongzhi Emperor, the fire-spitting Empress Dowager Cixi designated his half-brother Zaitian as the successor so that she could continue to monopolize rule. Given the title of Empress Jiashun, the bereaved empress lady Alute became a powerless, widowed sister-in-law of the new emperor. Alute died suddenly in the second month of 1875, just seventy-five days after the death of the Tongzhi Emperor. She was given the posthumous title Xiaozhe, and was interred in 1879 in Huiling in the Eastern Qing Tomb Complex, Hebei province.