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Pair of Seals: "Hall of Alignment with the Dao" and "Imperially Appreciated"

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Period: Xianfeng reign (1851-1861), Qing dynasty (1644-1911)
Medium: Qingtian stone and Shoushan stone
Date: undated
Dimensions: "Hall of Alignment with the Dao" (Tongdao tang) seal: height: 8 cm, seal surface: 2 × 2 cm, "Imperially Appreciated" (Yu shang) seal: height: 5 cm, seal surface: 2 × 1 cm

The Hall of Alignment with the Dao (Tongdao tang) was the rear portion of the Palace of Universal Happiness (Xianfu gong), one of the west palaces of the Inner Court. These two unofficial seals which were made for the Xianfeng Emperor (r. 1851-1861) became symbols of imperial authority. In the seventh lunar month of 1861, the Xianfeng Emperor died of illness at the Mountain Villa to Escape the Heat (Bishu shanzhuang), the imperial summer resort in Hebei province. He had appointed his six-year-old son Zaichun as his successor, and had assigned eight officials as assisting ministers. The dying emperor bestowed on the crown prince the seal "Hall of Alignment with the Dao " (Tongdao tang), and bestowed on his chief consort surnamed Niuhulu [later in 1862 she was promoted to Empress Ci'an] "Imperially Appreciated" (Yu shang). To avoid fraud, new imperial edicts would only be valid with impressions of both the seals.

  History was complicated by another consort of the Xianfeng Emperor and the biological mother of Zaichun. Shortly after her husband's death this ambitious consort in 1861 plotted the Xinyou Coup with Prince Yixin and got rid of the eight ministers. In 1862 when Zaichun ascended the throne, she arranged to be promoted as Empress Dowager Cixi, and due to her son's youth, she kept the seal and affixed it whenever she deemed necessary. With the seal "Hall of Alignment with the Dao", she began to interfere with the state's political affairs and finally usurped actual executive authority at a time when women gaining power was strictly forbidden in the patriarchal society of traditional China.   
  The two seals were in use from the seventeenth day of the seventh lunar month, the eleventh year of the Xianfeng period [1861] to the twelfth year of the Tongzhi period [1873]. They are testimony to late Qing dynasty political intrigues.

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