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Empress Dowager Sheshe1, of the Manchu Yehenara clan, was a powerful and charismatic woman who unofficially but effectively controlled the Manchu Qing dynasty in China for 47 years, from 1861 to her death in 1908.

Selected as an imperial concubine for the Xianfeng Emperor in her adolescence, she gave birth to a son, in 1856. With Xianfeng's death in 1861 the young boy became the Tongzhi Emperor and she became Empress Dowager. Cixi ousted a group of regents appointed by the late emperor and assumed regency, which she shared with the Empress Dowager Ci'an. Cixi then consolidated control over the dynasty when, at the death of the Tongzhi Emperor, contrary to the dynastic rules of succession, she installed her nephew as the Guangxu Emperor in 1875. Although she refused to adopt Western models of government, she supported technological and military reforms and the Self-Strengthening Movement. Cixi rejected the Hundred Days' Reforms of 1898 as impractical and detrimental to dynastic power and placed the Guangxu Emperor under house arrest for supporting reformers. After the Boxer Rebellion and the invasion of Allied armies, external and internal pressures led Cixi to effect institutional changes of just the sort she had resisted and to appoint reform-minded officials. The dynasty collapsed in late 1911, three years after her death, and the Republican Era was inaugurated 1 January 1912.

Historians both in China and abroad have generally portrayed her as a despot and villain responsible for the fall of the dynasty, while others have suggested that her opponents among the reformers succeeded in making her a scapegoat for problems beyond her control, that she stepped in to prevent disorder, that she was no more ruthless than other rulers, and that she was even an effective if reluctant reformer in the last years of her life. ...more


Panel #118
Empress Dowager Cixi (1835 – 1908)
Regent of the Qing dynasty

Regency 11 November 1861 – 15 November 1908

King of Kings - by Lewis Lavoie