The Life of Empress Cixi
Corruption and Competition
The empress usually put her own interests ahead of the nation"s. She squandered money on banquets, jewels, and other luxuries. She liked, for example, to be served 150 different dishes at a single banquet. She drank from a jade cup and ate with golden chopsticks. She used Navy funds to build herself a lavish summer palace. At the end of her life, her personal jewellery vault held 3,000 ebony boxes of jewels. She also let financial corruption run rampant in the Forbidden City.
Her son, Tongzhi, by the age of 15 was drinking heavily and consorting with female prostitutes. At the age of 16, he married Alute (Xiao Che), the daughter of a Manchu nobleman. Cixi is said to have been fearful that Alute would undermine her authority over Tongzhi. In order to prevent this and to keep Tongzhi busy so that she could continue to rule in his son"s name, she allegedly encouraged her son to keep concubines. Eventually the young emperor contracted smallpox. After a seeming recovery, he suddenly died - possibly from venereal disease. Soon after her husband"s death, Alute committed suicide by swallowing opium. It was rumoured that Cixi had driven her to it. Whatever the reason, Tongzhi had died and left no child to inherit the throne. Determined to maintain her power, Empress Cixi chose the new emperor - her own nephew - Guangxu, aged three years old, and who was not in direct line of succession to the throne. Soon after he became emperor, his mother - Cixi"s sister, died. And in 1881 Cixi"s co-regent, Xiao Chen, the other dowager empress also died.