Tongzhi Emperor
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Tongzhi Emperor
Tongzhi Emperor
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10th Emperor of the Qing dynasty
Reign11 November 1861 - 12 January 1875
PredecessorXianfeng Emperor
SuccessorGuangxu Emperor
RegentsZaiyuan (1861)
Duanhua (1861)
Sushun (1861)
Empress Dowager Ci'an (1861-1881)
Empress Dowager Cixi (1861-1908)
BornAisin Gioro Zaichun
(? )
(1856-04-27)27 April 1856
(? ?)
Chuxiu Palace, Forbidden City
Died12 January 1875(1875-01-12) (aged 18)
( )
Hall of Mental Cultivation
Hui Mausoleum, Eastern Qing tombs
Empress Xiaozheyi (m. 1872⁠–⁠1875)
Full name
Aisin Gioro Zaichun
(? )
Manchu: Dzai ?un ( )
Era dates
(; 30 January 1862 - 5 February 1875)
Manchu: Yooningga dasan ( )
Mongolian? ( ?)
Posthumous name
Emperor Jitian Kaiyun Shouzhong Juzheng Baoda Dinggong Shengzhi Chengxiao Xinmin Gongkuan Mingsu Yi
Manchu: Filingga h?wangdi (?
Temple name
Manchu: Mudzung (?)
HouseAisin Gioro
FatherXianfeng Emperor
MotherEmpress Xiaoqinxian

The Tongzhi Emperor (27 April 1856 - 12 January 1875), born Zaichun of the Aisin Gioro clan,[1] was the 10th Emperor of the Qing dynasty, and the eighth Qing emperor to rule over China proper. His reign, from 1861 to 1875, which effectively lasted through his adolescence, was largely overshadowed by the rule of his mother, Empress Dowager Cixi. Although he had little influence over state affairs, the events of his reign gave rise to what historians call the "Tongzhi Restoration", an unsuccessful attempt to stabilise and modernise China.


The only surviving son of the Xianfeng Emperor and Empress Dowager Cixi, the Tongzhi Emperor attempted political reform in the period of the Tongzhi Restoration. His first regnal name was Qixiang (; Manchu: Feng?engge sabingga), but this name was later abandoned by Cixi in favour of "Tongzhi", a contraction of the classical phrase tong gui yu zhi (?; ?), which means "restoring order together".[] An alternative interpretation reads it as "mother and son co-emperors" (),[] which fits the state of affairs, as the empress dowager wielded real power and ruled behind the scenes. The traditional Chinese political phrase "attending audiences behind a curtain" (?; ?; chuí lián t?ng zhèng) was coined to describe Cixi's rule through her son.

The Tongzhi Emperor became emperor at the age of five upon the death of his father, the Xianfeng Emperor. His father's choice of regent, Sushun, was removed in favour of a partnership between his mother Empress Dowager Cixi, Empress Dowager Ci'an, and his sixth uncle Prince Gong.

While there had most likely been hopes that the Tongzhi Emperor would become a leader like the Kangxi Emperor (who ascended the throne as a child in 1661), those hopes would soon come to naught, as the Tongzhi Emperor grew up to become an obstinate and dissolute young man.

In the fall of 1872, the teenage emperor married Empress Xiaozheyi and several concubines. The Tongzhi Emperor apparently had wanted to take up power immediately, prompting a quarrel at court regarding the dismantling of the regency and the timing of it. However, the two empresses dowager stuck by the intended date of February 23, 1873.[2]

The day after the Tongzhi Emperor took up the reins of power, the foreign powers requested an audience with the teenage emperor. The request precipitated a sharp disagreement between the ministers at the foreign legations, who made it clear that they would not perform the ritual kowtow to the emperor, and the Zongli Yamen (foreign affairs ministry), regarding the protocol to be observed. The Qing government was also loath to hold the audience within the confines of the Forbidden City, eventually settling on the "Pavilion of Purple Light" at one of the lakeside palaces to the west of the Forbidden City, which is now part of Zhongnanhai.[3] The audience was finally held on 29 June 1873. After the audience, however, the foreign representatives made clear their annoyance at being received in a hall initially used by the Qing emperors to receive envoys of tributary states.

In the fall of 1874, the Tongzhi Emperor got into a clash with his ministers, which included his two uncles, Prince Gong and Prince Chun, largely over the emperor's plans to rebuild the Old Summer Palace at a time in which the empire was bankrupt, and over his dissolute behavior. The emperor reacted by firing the ministers, but Empresses Dowager Ci'an and Cixi intervened, and he had them reinstated. That December, it was announced that he was ill with smallpox, and the Empress Dowagers resumed the regency. He died on 12 January 1875, leaving no sons to succeed him.

The Tongzhi Emperor's death left the court in a succession crisis, as, although he was childless, his empress was reportedly pregnant. Eventually, the empresses dowager designated the Tongzhi Emperor's three-year-old cousin, Zaitian, as the heir to the throne. Zaitian was biologically Prince Chun's son, but was symbolically adopted as the Xianfeng Emperor's son to make him eligible to succeed the Tongzhi Emperor. Zaitian was thus enthroned as the Guangxu Emperor, with Empresses Dowager Ci'an and Cixi resuming their roles as regents. The Tongzhi Emperor's empress died a few months later.

Taiping Rebellion

Hong Xiuquan (1814-1864) was peculiarly affected by the social instability of the Canton region. He belonged to a family of modesty well-off peasants from Hua county north of Canton, members of the Hakka community ubiquitous in the region. Hong created his own version of Christianity with a total transformation of the Chinese nation[4][5] to start his Taiping Rebellion. In late 1851, Taiping army occupied its first walled city Yongan.

Taiping break out of the Qing encirclement

When 5-year-old Tongzhi Emperor ascend the throne in 1861, the Taiping rebellion was threatening Shanghai. This move prompted several foreign missions of British, French, and Americans to the Heavenly Capital, to warn the Taiping against interference with Western commerce. Foreign neutrality was beginning to fray as Western intelligence of the Taiping revealed both its unorthodox religious ideology and its lack of understanding of the Western world. In order to save Shanghai, Tongzhi Emperor ordered Zeng Guofan to counter-attack the rebel. Zeng's appointment was the turning point in the Taiping war. Zeng was a virtual generalissimo directing a supra-provincial campaign by armies raised and led by his various lieutenants and proteges, supported by the extrodinary mobilization of revenues including the likin tax and customs revenues. His strategy was to move from the west down the Yangzi taking successive cities, while Li Hongzhang, his principal lieutenant, advanced from the east through Jiangsu toward Nanjing.

The Heavenly Capital fell in July 1864. Hong Xiuquan was already dead, on June 1, 1864. The fall of the city was followed by a great massacre. Remnant Taiping forces fled south, including Hong's son the Junior King and Hong Rengan, to continue the movement, but both were soon captured and executed. The last Taiping forces were destroyed in Guangdong in early 1866, having come geographically almost full circle in the course of fifteen years.[6]

The Self-Strengthening Movement

Tongzhi Emperor

The inspiration for the Self-Strengthening Movement from the 1840s arose from this notion that China's defense in the face of war and rebellion must come from within, as the superior man strengthens himself under imperative of Heaven's robust action. the costs of war and rebellion dictated that Qing dynasty undertake vigorous measures to ensure its survival. Moreover, the very survival of China itself was now at stake.

Self-strengthening efforts evolved in a succession of stages over a period of almost half a century. In 1840 Imperial Commissioner Lin Zexu, impressed by the power of British warships in the initial battles of the Opium War, advocated adoption of Western naval technology. The paddle-wheel steamer Nemsis had run circles around cumbersome Chinese war junks. Some Chinese at first believed the paddle-wheels were powered by men inside the ship, but soon came to appreciate the power of steam, Commissioner Lin was the first self-strengthener.

Self-strengthening enterprises, including arsenals, shipyards, and technical schools, were now established in the principal treaty ports where access to Western technology was most direct. By 1860, the overwhelming bulk of the Chinese scholarly class had become cognizant of the enormity of changes that were taking place due to the skyrocketing Western presence in China. They now proclaimed that change was irresistible and advocated for deeper studies of Western technology. Many reforms were proposed and implemented, but ultimately the failure of reforms was due to multiple factors such as political machinations.[7][8]


  • Father: Yizhu, the Xianfeng Emperor ( ; 17 July 1831 - 22 August 1861)
  • Mother: Empress Xiaoqinxian, of the Yehe Nara clan ( ; 29 November 1835 - 15 November 1908), personal name Xingzhen ()
    • Grandfather: Huizheng (; 1805-1853), held the title of a third class duke ()
    • Grandmother: Lady Fuca

See also



  1. ^'UN.html
  2. ^ Seagrave, Sterling Dragon Lady: the Life and Legend of the Last Empress of China (Knopf, 1992), pp. 130-131
  3. ^ Seagrave, pg. 131
  4. ^ Jen Yu-wen, The Taiping Revolutionary Movement 4-7 (1973)
  5. ^ C. A. Curwen, Taiping Rebel: The Deposition of Li Hsiu-ch'eng 1 (1977)
  6. ^ Jonathan,, Porter,. Imperial China, 1350-1900. Lanham. ISBN 9781442222915. OCLC 920818520.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  7. ^ Fairbank, John King (1978). The Cambridge History of China Vol. 2. Cambridge University Press. pp. 156-161. ISBN 0521220297.
  8. ^ Feuerwerker, Albert (1970). China's early industrialization: Sheng Hsuan-huai (1844-1916) and Mandarin enterprise Volume 1 of Harvard East Asian series. Atheneum/the University of Michigan. pp. 2-3, 315-324.


Further reading

  • Jung Chang, Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China, (2013) ISBN 978-0-307-27160-0.
  • Mary Clabaugh Wright. The Last Stand of Chinese Conservatism: The T'ung-Chih Restoration, 1862-1874. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1957).
Tongzhi Emperor
Born: 27 April 1856 Died: 12 January 1875
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Xianfeng Emperor
Emperor of the Qing dynasty
Emperor of China

Succeeded by
Guangxu Emperor

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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