Tongzhi Emperor

Tongzhi Emperor
10th Qing Emperor of China
Reign 11 November 1861 – 12 January 1875
Predecessor Xianfeng Emperor
Successor Guangxu Emperor
Regents Sushun, Zaiyuan, Duanhua and five other officials (1861)
Empress Dowager Ci'an and Empress Dowager Cixi (1861–1875)
Born (1856-04-27)27 April 1856
Forbidden City, Beijing, China
Died 12 January 1875(1875-01-12) (aged 18)
Forbidden City, Beijing, China
Burial Eastern Qing Tombs, Zunhua, China
Empress Empress Xiaozheyi
Full name
Chinese: 愛新覺羅·載淳; pinyin: Àixīn-Juéluó Zǎichún
Manchu: Aisin-Gioro Dzai Šun
Era name and dates
Qixiang (祺祥) (not used)
Tongzhi (同治)
Manchu: Yooningga dasan
Mongolian: Burintu Zasagchi Khagan: 30 January 1862 – 5 February 1875
Posthumous name
Emperor Jitian Kaiyun Shouzhong Juzheng Baoda Dinggong Shengzhi Chengxiao Xinmin Gongkuan Yi
Temple name
Qing Muzong (清穆宗)
House Aisin Gioro
Father Xianfeng Emperor
Mother Empress Dowager Cixi
Tongzhi Emperor
Chinese 同治帝

The Tongzhi Emperor (27 April 1856  12 January 1875), born Zaichun of the Aisin Gioro clan,[1] was the tenth emperor of the Manchu-led Qing dynasty, and the eighth Qing emperor to rule over China. 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 (祺祥; Manchu: Fengšengge Sabingga), but this name was later abandoned by Cixi in favour of "Tongzhi", a contraction of the classical phrase tong gui yu zhi (同归与治; 同歸與治), which means "restoring order together". An alternate interpretation reads it as "mother and son co-emperors" (母子同治天下), 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" (垂帘听政; 垂簾聽政; chuí lián tīng 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 empress dowagers 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 it clear their annoyance of being received at 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 Empress Dowagers 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 empress dowagers 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 Empress Dowagers Ci'an and Cixi resuming their roles as regents. The Tongzhi Emperor's empress died a few months later.


Title / Posthumous title Name Born Died Father Notes
Empress Xiaozheyi
Lady Alute
25 July 1854 27 March 1875 Coci (崇綺; 1829–1900) of the Alute clan Married the Tongzhi Emperor and became Empress in 1872;
Also known as the Jiashun Empress (嘉順皇后)
Imperial Noble Consort Shushen
Lady Fuca
24 December 1859 13 April 1904 Fengxiu (鳳秀) of the Fuca clan Became Consort Hui (慧妃) in 1872;
Promoted to Imperial Noble Consort Dunyi (敦宜皇貴妃) in 1874;
Honoured as Imperial Noble Consort Dunyi Rongqing (敦宜榮慶皇貴妃) in 1894
Imperial Noble Consort Gongsu
Lady Alute
20 September 1857 14 April 1921 Saišangga (賽尚阿; 1794–1875) of the Alute clan Imperial Noble Consort Zhuanghe was actually Empress Xiaozheyi's aunt even though she was three years younger than the Empress;
Became Imperial Concubine Xun (珣嬪) in 1872;
Promoted to Consort Xun (珣妃) in 1874 by the Guangxu Emperor;
Promoted to Noble Consort Xun (珣貴妃) in 1894;
Promoted to Dowager Imperial Noble Consort Xun (皇考珣皇貴妃) in 1908 by the Xuantong Emperor;
Honoured as Dowager Imperial Noble Consort Zhuanghe (皇考莊和皇貴妃) in 1913
Imperial Noble Consort Xianzhe
Lady Hešeri
2 July 1856 5 February 1932 Chongling (崇齡) of the Hešeri clan Became Imperial Concubine Yu (瑜嬪) in 1872;
Promoted to Consort Yu (瑜妃) in 1874 by the Guangxu Emperor;
Promoted to Noble Consort Yu (瑜貴妃) in 1894;
Promoted to Dowager Imperial Noble Consort Yu (皇考瑜皇貴妃) in 1908 by the Xuantong Emperor;
Honoured as Dowager Imperial Noble Consort Jingyi (皇考敬懿皇貴妃) in 1913;
A daily routine of the concubine is recorded in a memoir of a palace eunuch[4]
Imperial Noble Consort Dunhui
Lady Silin-Gioro
6 September 1856 18 May 1933 Luolin (羅霖) of the Silin-Gioro clan Became Noble Lady Jin (瑨貴人) in 1872;
Promoted to Imperial Concubine Jin (瑨嬪) in 1874 by the Guangxu Emperor;
Promoted to Consort Jin (瑨妃) in 1895;
Promoted to Dowager Noble Consort Jin (皇考瑨貴妃) in 1908 by the Xuantong Emperor;
Promoted to Dowager Imperial Noble Consort Ronghui (皇考榮惠皇貴太妃) in 1913


Adopted son
Title / Posthumous title Name Born Died Father Notes
Xuantong Emperor
7 February 1906 17 October 1967 Zaifeng Born after the Tongzhi Emperor died, but was symbolically adopted in 1908 as a son and heir to both the Tongzhi Emperor and Guangxu Emperor;
Enthroned on 2 December 1908



See also



  2. Seagrave, Sterling Dragon Lady: the Life and Legend of the Last Empress of China (Knopf, 1992), pg. 130-131
  3. Seagrave, pg. 131
  4. Forbidden City: The Great Within, Second Edition. May Holdsworth, Caroline Courtauld. ISBN 962-217-792-1.
  5. Qing Shi Gao vol. 214.


Further reading

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Tongzhi Emperor
Born: 27 April 1856 Died: 12 January 1875
Regnal titles
Preceded by
The Xianfeng Emperor
Emperor of China
Succeeded by
The Guangxu Emperor
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