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The Reign of the Xianfeng Emperor (approx. 1851-1861)
Xinhai Year (approx. 1851)
Xianfeng Reign, 1st Year
The Xianfeng Emperor receives enthronement congratulations in the Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihe dian).
The Taiping rebels begin their assault on Jiangning (present-day Nanjing). They will eventually establish the city as their capital and change its name to the Heavenly Capital (Tianjing).
The emperor inspects archers at the Belvedere of Imperial Effulgence (Ziguang ge). One million taels of silver are allocated for the suppression of the Taiping rebels in Guangxi.
The British Secretary of State of Foreign Affairs Henry John Temple, the Third Viscount Palmerston, instructs the British consulate against hindering British smugglers in China.
The Taiping rebels continue their assault against Jiangning (Nanjing).
The Xianfeng Emperor personally writes Sacred Edict with Amplified Instruction (Shengyu guangxun) and orders the press at the Hall of Martial Valor (Wuying dian) to print the imperial work for distribution throughout the empire and scholarly cultivation.
Lady Yehe Nara—the daughter of Circuit Attendant Huizheng of the An-Hui- Ning-Chi-Tai-Guang Circuit—is selected to live in the palace and is officially named as Worthy Lady Lan (lit. "Orchid" or "Magnolia"). (She will later be known as Empress Dowager Cixi.)
Rutherford Alcock of the British consulate at Shanghai writes to Governor George Bonham in Hong Kong suggesting the British seek further privileges by taking advantage of the predicament of the Qing court caused by the Taiping uprising.
This year, gangs of dissenters gather in Henan and rise in rebellion. (This uprising is known as the Nian Rebellion.)
Renzi Year (approx. 1852)
Xianfeng Reign, 2nd Year
Lady Niohuru, daughter of Muyangga, the circuit intendant of Youjiang Circuit of Guangxi Province, is officially named as Consort Zhen (lit. "Pure"; an imperial concubine of the fourth rank, pin)
The late Daoguang Emperor, posthumously known as Xuanzong, is laid to rest in the Mu Tomb.
Having been officially named as the Prince of Gong, the sixth imperial younger brother Yixin is given a palatial residence and permitted free access to the inner court of the Forbidden City.
Concubine Zhen is promoted as Honored Consort Zhen.
The Russians station troops at Buryatia (north of present-day Mongolia) at a border inspection-post. The emperor sends the General of Heilongjiang and his troops as a cautionary measure.
Honored Consort Zhen, née Niohuru, is appointed as the empress.
Officials and troops of the Eight Banners are commanded to follow the precedents for leave and provisions established by the Green Standard Army.
Saišangga shows no success in defeating the Taiping rebels. He is dismissed from office and investigated. His property is confiscated.
Guichou Year (approx. 1853)
Xianfeng Reign, 3rd Year
Vice Minister Zeng Guofan assists in organizing a company of militiamen in Hunan Province. (This group becomes the Xiang Army.)
The Taiping rebels successfully capture Jiangning (Nanjing) and establish the city as their capital. They send troops upstream along the Yangtze River to further establish their control of the region in the west.
The Dagger Society rises in revolt at Shanghai.
The British Consul Rutherford Alcock in agreement with the American Commissioner Humphrey Marshall declares the Shanghai customs house under the authority of the British and American consulates.
Taiping rebels reach as far as Zhangdeng (in present-day Hebei Province) in their northern expansion. The people of the capital are gripped with fear.
The Qing court begins to issue paper currency.
This year, the insurgent Taiping government distributes Field-Acreage System of the Heavenly Dynasty (Tianchao tianmu zhidu). The Qing court permits regional governments to collect transit taxes (lijin) to fund military campaigns against the Taiping rebels.
Jiayin Year (approx. 1854)
Xianfeng Reign, 4th Year
The Qing court sends 300,000 taels of silver to support the army and the fight against the Taiping rebels.
The Xiang Army organized by Zeng Guofan is ready for war. They gather at Xiangtan, issue A Call to Arms Against the Guangxi Bandits (Tao Yuefei xi), and begin their assault on the Taiping rebels.
The Qing court and Britain, France, and the United States issue Regulations for Tariff Collection at the Shanghai Customshouse (Shanghai haiguan zhengshui guize). The consulates of the three foreign powers each send an administrator to manage the collection of tariffs. The Shanghai customshouse is completely under the control of foreign powers.
Worthy Lady Lan, née Yehe Nara, is promoted as Concubine Yi (an imperial concubine of the fourth rank, pin).
Worthy Lady Li (lit. "Beautiful")—née Tatara, the daughter of Secretary Qinghai—is promoted as Concubine Li (an imperial concubine of the fourth rank, pin). Worthy Lady Wan (lit. "Graceful")—née Socolo, the daughter of Left Censor-in-chief Kuizhao—is promoted as Concubine Wan (an imperial concubine of the fourth rank, pin).
Yimao Year (approx. 1855)
Xianfeng Reign, 5th Year
Yixin, the Prince of Gong is commanded to administrate the affairs of the military's mobile encampments.
After several infractions of etiquette, the fifth imperial son, Yicong, is dismissed from all of his official duties and ordered to return to the Imperial Study.
The emperor visits the Western Qing Tombs.
Concubine Li (an imperial concubine of the fourth rank, pin) is promoted as Consort-in-ordinary Li (an imperial concubine of the third rank, fei).
Zhang Xiumei leads Miao rebels in an uprising at Taigong Subprefecture in Guizhou.
Great Consort Jing (taifei)—the biological mother of Yixin, the Prince of Gong—is honored as empress dowager; she dies shortly after receiving this honor.
Yixin, the Prince of Gong is dismissed from his military duties and ordered to return to the Imperial Study.
The troops of the Nian Rebellion gather at Zhiheji (present-day Manyang in Anhui Province) and elevate Zhang Lexing as their leader; they call him their Lord of the Great Han Alliance (Dahan mengzhu).
Bingchen Year (approx. 1856)
Xianfeng Reign, 6th Year
An incident occurs in Xilin County, Guangxi Province, involving the arrest, denunciation, and beheading of Father Auguste Chapdelaine (Chinese name Ma Lai). (This incident will later be known as the Xilin Religious Incident or Xilin jiaoan). The French use this incident as a reason for war and, with the British, incite the Second Opium War.
The emperor's first son, Zaichun (the future Tongzhi Emperor), is born in the Palace of Gathered Elegance (Chuxiu gong) to Concubine Yi (an imperial concubine of the fourth rank, pin). Concubine Yi (an imperial concubine of the fourth rank, pin) is promoted as Consort-in-ordinary Yi (an imperial concubine of the third rank, fei).
The Taiping rebels are plagued by internal dissension, and Wei Changhui kills Yang Xiuqing and others.
The British use the incident involving the Arrow (a sailing vessel) as a reason for war. They attack Guangzhou and incite the Second Opium War (also known as the Second Anglo-Chinese War).
The Hui (Chinese Muslims) in Yunnan quarrel with the Han over mining issues. The local Qing officials oppress and slaughter Hui people. This persecution incites the Hui to revolt with Du Wenxiu leading rebels to capture Dali.
This year, Miao Peilin organizes a company of militiamen in Anhui. This militia shifts loyalties between the Qing army and the Taiping rebels.
Dingsi Year (approx. 1857)
Xianfeng Reign, 7th Year
Consort-in-ordinary Yi (an imperial concubine of the third rank, fei) is promoted as Honored Consort Yi.
Representatives from the Qing court and Britain sign the Treaty of Tianjin, which also involves Russia, France, and the United States.
British and French forces invade Guangzhou.
Wuwu Year (approx. 1858)
Xianfeng Reign, 8th Year
British and French forces attack the Qing fortifications at Dagu (Tianjin).
Worthy Lady Mei (mei being a type of jade) is promoted as Concubine Mei (an imperial concubine of the fourth rank, pin). Lady Donggiya is officially named as Concubine Qi (lit. "Auspicious"; an imperial concubine of the fourth rank, pin).
Gengshen Year (approx. 1860)
Xianfeng Reign, 10th Year
In advance of the emperor's thirtieth birthday celebrations, the court ends the practice of vassal functionaries and officials visiting the capital to offer their congratulations for imperial longevity; this decision is announced via an edict circulated among imperial officials.
The Qing army besieges the city of Anqing (in present-day Anhui Province). The Taiping rebels fight to protect their stronghold.
Anglo-French forces attack the Qing fortifications at Beitang on the Bohai Sea.
The Xianfeng Emperor personally writes to General Sengge Rinchen saying, "The foundation of the empire is located here in the capital, not at the ports. Were ports lost, you would withdraw so as to defense Tianjin and Tongzhou. You must not linger on the cannon fortifications. This is the comprehensive strategy. We write in great distress; you must heed Our orders".
Sengge Rinchen retreats from the fortifications at Tianjin to protect Tongzhou. The Anglo-French forces advance to Baliqiao (lit. "Eight-Li Bridge", li being a unit of distance). Tianjin falls to the Anglo-French forces.
The Xianfeng Emperor retreats to the mountain villa at Jehol with his empress, consorts, and sons. Yixin, the Prince of Gong, is appointed as an imperially commissioned grand minister to enlist troops to protect the capital and manage affairs. The Anglo-French troops invade the capital and set fire to the Garden of Perfect Brightness (Yuanming yuan, currently known as the Old Summer Palace).
Yixin, the Prince of Gong, reports in a memorial to the emperor of the Anglo-French troops retreat to Tianjin.
The Convention of Beijing (Peking) is established with three unequal treaties between the Qing court and Britain, France, and Russia, respectively.
The Qing court establishes the Foreign Office (Zongli waiguo shiwu yamen) with Yixin, Guiliang, and Wenxiang as administers and negotiators involving foreign affairs.
Xinyou Year (approx. 1861)
Xianfeng Reign, 11th Year
The emperor receives congratulations in the Hall of Pacific Fulfillment (Suicheng dian) in the imperial mountain villa a Jehol.
Yixin, the Prince of Gong, is denied permission to reside with the emperor at Jehol.
The eldest imperial son, Zaichun, begins his formal education under Li Hongzao on the seventh day of the fourth lunar month.
The Xianfeng Emperor is gravely ill. He summons Grand Ministers in Attendance Zaiyuan, Duanhua, Jingshou, and Šušun (Chinese name, Sushun) and Grand Ministers of State Muyin, Kuang Yuan, Du Han, and Jiao Youying and announces his appointment of Zaichun as heir apparent. He commands these eight grand ministers to serve as regents of imperial affairs. The emperor dies shortly after this appointment.
The empress, née Niohuru, is named as empress dowager (muhou huangtaihou, lit. "Mother Empress, Empress Dowager"), and Honored Consort Yi—née Yehe Nara, the biological mother of Zaichun—is also named as empress dowager (shengmu huangtaihou, lit. "Sacred Mother, Empress Dowager").
The Grand Council of State is ordered to sign each memorial with the mark of the eight regents (i.e., Zanxiang zhengwu dachen, lit. "Grand Ministers Assisting in Imperial Governance").
The Prince of Gong, Yixin, is permitted to pay his respects before the coffin of the deceased emperor.
The next year established as the first year of the reign of the Qixiang Emperor.
The American Frederick Townsend Ward becomes a subject of the Qing empire (sometimes referred to as a Chinese citizen). He is responsible for reorganizing the Foreign Army Corps that assisted the Qing army in defeating the Taiping rebels. In recognition of the contributions by the Corps, the Qing court bestows the honorary title Ever-Victorious Army (Changsheng jun) upon the troop of foreign soldiers.
Censor Dong Yuanchun requests for the empress dowager to assume authority over the imperial court with some assistant princes (qinwang, prince of the blood of the first degree).
The late Xianfeng Emperor is given his posthumous title Xian (lit. "Manifest"). His temple name is Wenzong (lit. "Literary Ancestor").
The empresses dowager are given honorific titles, Cian (lit. "Benevolent Peace") for the former empress of the late emperor and Cixi (lit. "Benevolent Joy") for the former honored consort and biological mother of the new emperor. The two empresses dowager accompany the remains of the late emperor as the coffin is relocated to the capital.
Empresse Dowager Cixi and Yixin collude in claiming control of the palace court administration. (Historians know this event as the Xinyou Coup or Qixiang Coup.) Grand Ministers Zaiyuan, Duanhua, Jingshou, Šušun (Chinese name, Sushun), Muyin, Kuang Yuan, Du Han, and Jiao Youying are deposed. Yixin, the Prince of Gong, is ordered to assemble the grand secretaries, ministers of the Six Ministries, and the nine chief ministers. The supervising secretaries and censors of the Hanlin Academy and Household Administration of the Heir Apparent inspect memorials according to regulation. Zhou Zupei and other officials discuss etiquette concerning the empress dowager's audiences with ministers and regulations for administrative affairs. Shengbao requests the empress dowager to personally administrate the imperial government and diminish the power of the prince (qinwang, prince of the blood of the first degree) as assistant. Zaiyuan, Duanhua, and Šušun are stripped of their official titles, arrested, and charged with crimes. Renshou, the Prince of Rui, and Yixuan, the Commandery Prince of Chun, are delegated to handle the arrested Šušun.
Yixin, the Prince of Gong, is appointed as a grand minister of the Deliberative Council in the Grand Council of State. The title of the emperor's reign is changed from Qixiang to Tongzhi. Censor Dong Yuanchun and Vice-minister of War Shengbao request in a memorial to the court that the two empresses dowager preside over the court from behind a curtain.
Zaiyuan and Duanhua are ordered to commit suicide, and Šušun is executed. Jingshou, Muyin, Kuang Yuan, Du Han, and Jiao Youying are stripped of their official titles. Muyin is banished to serve at a distant garrison.
Zaichun takes his place as emperor upon the throne in the Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihe dian). The next year is established as the first year of the Tongzhi reign. Hanlin scholars in the Southern Study (Nan shufang) and Imperial Study (Shang shufang) are ordered to compile instances of empresses dowager presiding over court in dynastic history.
The two empresses dowager preside over the imperial court from behind the curtain.
Translator: Adam J. Ensign
Editor: Li Yang
The Xianfeng Emperor (r. 1851-1861)
The Xianfeng Emperor, Aisin Gioro Yining, was the fourth son of the Daoguang Emperor (r. 1821-1850). He was born by Lady Niuhulu on the ninth day of the sixth lunar month, 1831, in the Garden of Perfect Brightness (Yuanming yuan). In 1846 (the twentieth year of the Daoguang reign), he was secretly designated the heir apparent and ascended the throne in the first lunar month of 1850. His reign is known as “Xianfeng”.
The Xianfeng reign was plagued by domestic upheavals and foreign aggression. During the eleven-year reign, the “Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace” (Taiping tianguo) rebellion (1851-1864) broke out in Guangxi, China’s southern-most frontier province. The rebel troops marched north into Hunan and Hupei provinces northeast of Guangxi. In 1853 (the third year of the Xianfeng reign), they seized Nanjing and established it, as the base of the Heavenly Kingdom acting as equals to the Qing central government. At the same time, Western powers used the excuse of “amending treaties” to launch a new wave of invasions. Neither was the northern frontier quiet; Czarist Russia was encroaching on a large area of territory north of the Amur River (in Chinese “The Heilong River”).
To tackle the multiple crises, the Xianfeng Emperor spared no effort in seeking approaches to effective governing to eliminate social ills. He employed capable men and eliminated the corrupt in an attempt to restore social order and law. He assigned the Han Chinese official Zeng Guofan with important tasks, commissioning him to crack down on the “Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace” rebellion (which had broken out in south China) and the Nian rebellion (which had broken out in north China). Zeng personally recruited and directed the Hunan army (local armed forces for defense). While the Emperor promoted the able minister Su Shun who supported him to eradicate corruption from the administration, he demoted Mu Zhang’a and executed Qi Ying. The former was a notorious official who placed his own well-being and status above China’s interest; the latter was a pro-surrender official who advocated capitulation in the Opium War (1839-1842) and acted in a cowardly way as the Qing government delegate to the treaty-settlement negotiation with Western powers.
In 1856, the sixth year of the Xianfeng reign, the Anglo-French alliance waged the Second Opium War in China, occupying Guangzhou. Two years later in 1858, the allied naval forces seized the Dagu Forts at the mouth of the Haihe River below Tianjin. The Emperor sent Guiliang (1785-1862) and Huashana (1806-1859) to Tianjin for a treaty settlement. There the Qing delegation signed the Treaty of Tianjin with Britain, France, Russia, and the United States. But the invaders still not satisfied with the privileges they had already secured, schemed against the Qing government by armed aggression. On the other hand, the Xianfeng Emperor demanded strengthening of defense in the strategically important Dagu Forts. In 1859, Anglo-French forces deliberately provoked a conflict at the Dagu Forts. However, the allied invasion troops were defeated. In 1860 (the tenth year of the Xianfeng period), British and French troops allied again to invade China on an even larger scale. While the Qing imperial army was fighting fiercely with the invaders, the Emperor commanded withdrawal of the commander-in-chief. Consequently, the Dagu Forts were occupied again. The Anglo-French forces took Tianjin and immediately marched to Beijing. The Xianfeng Emperor sent Prince Yi (Zaiyuan) and the Minister of War, Mu Yin, as imperial commissioners to conduct peace negotiations with them in Tongzhou, an eastern suburb of Beijing. The Anglo-French troops took the opportunity of negotiations to continue to invade the capital, and succeeded in entering the city after overcoming Qing resistance in Baliqiao, Tongzhou. The allied troops looted and burned the imperial resorts, the Garden of Perfect Brightness (Yuanming yuan) and the Garden of Clear Ripples (Qingyi yuan, later was restored and renamed Yihe yuan, the Summer Palace) in the northwestern suburb of Beijing.
Meanwhile, the Xianfeng Emperor fled to Jehol (today’s Chengde, Hebei province), leaving his brother Prince Gong (Yixin) to pick up the pieces. Yixin, as the representative of the Qing government, signed the Conventions of Beijing respectively with Britain, France, and Russia, and exchanged ratifications of Sino-British Treaty of Tianjin with Britain and Sino-French Treaty of Tianjin with France. In the Sino-Russian Conventions of Beijing, the Qing government recognized the Treaty of Aigun (Aihui tiaoyue) that Czarist Russia had forced Yishan, the Qing Commander-in-Chief of the Amur River, to sign in 1858.
The Xianfeng Emperor died on the seventeenth day of the seventh lunar month of 1861, the eleventh year of his reign. He passed away at the imperial resort “Mountain Villa to Escape the Heat” (Bishu shanzhuang) in Jehol, at the age of thirty-one. His temple name is “Wenzong” (Civil Ancestor). His mausoleum is located in the Ding Tomb of the Eastern Qing Tombs in Zunhua county, Hebei province.
Lady Yehenara, Empress Xiaoqin
Introduction: A power-craving woman, Lady Yehenara launched two coups and ruled from behind the screen for three periods during forty-eight years. Historians considered her rule despotic, which partially contributed to the fall of the Qing dynasty.
Lady Yehenara (1835-1908), popularly known as the Empress Dowager Cixi, entered the Forbidden City in 1852. She was given the title “Honored Person Orchid” and lived in the Palace of Gathered Elegance (Chuxiu gong). In 1856, she gave birth to Zaichun who became the Tongzhi Emperor (r. 1862-1874).
In 1860 when the allied troops of Britain and France captured Beijing, the Xianfeng Emperor (r. 1851-1861) fled with his household to the summer resort in Rehe, Hebei province. One year later, he died there of illness. According to his will, his son Zaichun was designated emperor, with eight regent ministers to assist him. With five-year-old Zaichun’s ascension to the throne as the Tongzhi Emperor, the title of “Empress Dowager Cixi” was given to his biological mother Lady Yehenara, and the higher title of “Empress Dowager Ci’an” to Lady Niuhuru, the primary consort of the late Xianfeng Emperor.
Yehenara was politically ambitious. To step upon the stage of power, she plotted the “Xinyou coup” with Prince Gong in 1861, in which he ousted the eight regent ministers and co-reigned with the Empress Dowager Ci’an from behind a screen. From then on, she got the convenience of exercising broad sway on political issues.
At the end of 1874, the Tongzhi Emperor died without leaving a male heir. The Empress Dowager Cixi designated as the successor her nephew, the toddler Zaitian, who was the son of Prince Chun and her younger sister. Zaitian became the Guangxu Emperor (r. 1875-1908). Again, Yehenara and Niuhuru “listened to politics from behind the screen.” In 1881, Lady Niuhuru died suddenly. Lady Yehenara became the de facto ruler of China.
When he came of age, the Guangxu Emperor got the upper hand in the power-struggle with Empress Dowager Cixi, and supported the reforms led by Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao. Infuriated and determined to protect her power, the Empress Dowager Cixi, in 1898 launched another coup, taking over power and putting the Guangxu Emperor under house arrest in the Ocean Terrace (Ying tai) at the Middle South Sea (Zhongnan hai).
In the tenth month of 1908, the seventy-four-year-old Empress Dowager Cixi was seriously ill. The day before she died, the Guangxu Emperor died in Ocean Terrace leading to speculation that the Empress Dowager or her cohorts had poisoned him. Before she died, she designated Puyi the new emperor of the Qing dynasty.
Lady Yehenara was interred in the Eastern Dingling in the Eastern Qing Tomb Complex, Hebei province. Her posthumous title was “Xiaoqin”.