The Life of Empress Cixi
Empress Dowager Cixi"s Early Life
Dowager Cixi was born on the 29th November 1835, the daughter of an ordinary official. Her Manchu name was Yehonala, which originated from the combined name of two tribes, Yeho and Nala. Her father died when she was very young. As the eldest child, she felt mistreated, neglected and unloved. She once said "Ever since I was a young girl, I had a very hard life. I was not happy with my parents, as I was not a favourite. My sisters had everything they wanted, while I was, to a great extent, ignored altogether." At the age of fourteen, she was nominated as a candidate-concubine. It was both an honour for her, and also a chance to escape from the misery she felt at her family home. At sixteen, she was chosen to be one of the concubines to Emperor Xianfeng, and on turning eighteen, she completed the ritual preparations necessary to become a royal concubine. Even during her early years, Cixi proved to be strong-willed. Her unhappy and competitive childhood inspired her determination to rise above her peers and head towards her dream of prowess.
Cixi"s Rise to Royalty
Emperor Xianfeng had many wives and concubines, but it was only Cixi who bore a son. After his birth she was soon raised in rank from a third-level concubine to a first-level one. When her son turned one, Cixi became a secondary consort - one of the emperor"s wives. Cixi was now called the Empress of the Western Palace. And the emperor trusted her judgement and consulted her constantly on affairs of state.
However, Emperor Xianfeng died in 1861 at the age of 30. His primary wife, Cixi"s cousin Ci An, had a daughter, but no sons. Therefore Cixi"s five year old son Tongzhi became the emperor. From then her greed for power became insatiable and finally in 1865 she seized the throne, removing another faction from the helm of politics. She was a strong ruler and put down the rebellions which endlessly threatened her. During her years in power, the Western nations gained great influence in China. Many people thought that the best way to stop the outsiders from taking over completely was to strengthen China with modern inventions like trains and telegraphs. However, Empress Cixi and her advisors were conservative and resisted these changes.