Critical Essay on Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine who Launched the Modern China

Paper Type:  Literature review
Pages:  6
Wordcount:  1646 Words
Date:  2022-04-14


The ability to lead people in the direction which results in peace and economic growth is what matters in the society. However, most people outlook such character and end up electing leaders that are selfish and are only interested in grabbing the public property to sustain their families. Additionally, women have been declined the opportunity to rule because men view them as their subordinates and caregivers that should be taking care of the family. For that reason, Empress Dowager Cixi's son had to take over the throne at a tender age of five years despite his mother being firm with the ability to rule just like her husband. Therefore, it's essential as a community to look beyond being famous and friendly to a person that prioritizes the development of the country.

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Up to date most society that practice kingship ruling does not permit women to rule after the death of their husband but force their male sons to lead regardless of their age and dreams of being leaders. Due to such reasons, empresses are forced to call for palace coup to overturn such judgment. This paper expatriates on the theme of bravery and forward-thinking, which is portrayed by Cixi characters and how she was able to change China despite being left in unstable condition after Second Opium War.

What I found so intriguing about Cixi leadership was her remarks, "Even though I have heard much about Queen Victoria, I do not believe her life is half fascinating as well as eventful as mine"(429). Such statement illustrated her passion for power and leadership to the extent of killing her family members. Notwithstanding the fact that Cixi was not a stateswoman like Queen Victoria, she defended her world beyond the Forbidden City by consulting eunuchs and her predecessors. Despite knowing little about the leadership, Cixi went out of her way to ensure that any other nation such as Japan did not rule China.

During the Second Opium War in China, the then Emperor Xianfeng died at Rehe Travelling Palace whereby him and his imperial fled to hide when the Anglo-French forces closed the Forbidden City. Therefore, his young son Tonngzi had to succeed him for he was the only male child in the family of the Xianfend Emperor. However, a disagreement arose between the regents, Tongzhi Emperor's mother, Cixi as well as empresses Cian. At his deathbed, Xianfeng had appointed regents to rule before his son was old enough to lead. With help from Lady Niohuru also known as Cian, Cixi was able to conduct a coup that led to the defeat of the regents, and she ruled on behalf of her son until he was old enough to rule the empire. By having the courage to stage a coup that led to the surrender of the regents illustrates the bravery possessed by both women, Cixi and Lady Nohour.

What interests me the most was the passion of leadership and resilience these two empresses possessed to the extent of hiding behind the court's curtain while attending the imperial court sessions. These two women had to find a way of listening by hiding behind the curtain to hear what the court was discussing about to Tongzhi because women were not allowed in the court. Unlike Cian was also known as Lady Nohour was self -effacing and rarely intervened in politics, Cixi was determined to control the imperial court to the extent of studying history of China. Besides, Cixi consulted the records of their Manchu predecessors for about two years, after, which she had enough knowledge to rule without any assistance.

Some of the plot twists that interested me included the killing of Gaungu, the nephew by Cixi, who advocated for other forms of punishment rather than killing with thousands of cuts. According to Change, Cixi was a forward-thinking reformist who went as far as ordering for the death of his nephew and adopted son Emperor Guangu for he had been made a puppet-leader by Japan as they try to dominate the whole China. Although, Cixi was ruthless by killing her nephew to protect China from being controlled by Japan, Cixi ensured that killing of people as a form of punishment was abolished and the law dwelt with offenders. Besides ordering for the death of her nephew, Cixi ordered the eunuchs to kill the Pearl Concubine of Emperor Guangxu since she disobeyed her order of staying back while she was leaving." But before everything else, the day after, which she returned from deport, Cixi honored Imperial Concubine Pearl, whom she had to obscure in a well just before she fled"(434). Such acts illustrate the primitive nature of a leader that has extra time to fright her citizens; hence, murdering citizens is not protecting one reputation but harming the community.

However, Chang believed that the apparent reason for Cixi to kill both Emperor Ganguxu and his Pearl Concubine was a clear sign of threatening western powers such as the United States and Britain among other. Chang defended Cixi by stating that" Beyond all, perhaps, Cixi was making a signal to the western influence, who had been horrified by the murder"(432). Another interesting character possessed by Cixi was that of being a revisionist, after the massive loss in the Second Opium War due to outdated weaponry as well as weak military strategies, Cixi decided to learn from her enemies the West powers through importing their knowledge plus technology. Additionally, Cixi began university-based institutions in Beijing and imported foreign teachers to teach kids astronomy, mathematics, different languages and engineering among other subjects while she sent some children to study in the United States of America.

What caught my attention about Cixi's character as a revisionist; was the fact that Cixi refused to acknowledge the construction of the railway with an alleged reason that it was so loud and would disturb the Emperor's graves. As a result of her primitiveness and conservative attitude Cixi felt that liberal reasoning of individuals that she had sent abroad to study posed a threat to her power; hence, she stop funding kids to study overseas and employing foreigners as teachers. Although she became sort of a dictator in her ruling, Jung Chang intensely portrayed Cixi as a fighter, who fought against a monumental obstacle to change China.Under her leadership, China turned to a modern state with industries, electricity, conventional weaponry, and telegraph among others. Besides, Cixi abolished penalties such as death by a thousand cuts as well as foot-binding. According to Chang, Cixi was a conformist who launched women's liberation and introduced parliamentary elections to China.

Due to her influential as well as charismatic figure, Cixi was able to practice almost full control over the court under the nominal leadership of her young son as well as her nephew Guangxu. Therefore, when his son and nephew failed in their ruling, Cixi instigated another coup to fight against radical reformers for they did not want her to rule for the second time. However, Cixi was able to compete against them and ruled until her death. Due to her bravery, Cixi was able to rule with a remarkable self-confidence as well as authority, which disproved the chauvinism as most foreigners continued to fight her.

Owing to her forward-thinking, Cixi resulted in allying the dynasty with an anti-Christian, anti-foreign cult referred to as Boxers to attack missionaries as well as ambassadors. However, the group, later on, turned her against her after realizing that the foreigners had no ill intention making Cixi remorseful for her action. She states that "Its only by implementing what is superior concerning foreign countries to correct what is inadequate in China." (436). Out of her courageous, she was able to ask for forgiveness from the foreigners for they had helped in the development of China.


In summary, by the time Cixi was leading she understood the need of opening up to the outside world for they had ideas and equipment necessary to develop and make China strong. Cixi wrote that " to make China strong is the only method to ensure that foreign nations will not start a disagreement against us or look down on us."(435). Therefore, Cixi was able to rule indirectly using the two young heirs under her custody despite the traditional Confucian political culture that restricted women from ruling. Chang's version of Cixi leadership is vented on the fact that she ended the custom of foot-binding. Chang explained how her grandmother had bound feet, but after the administration of Cixi, the punishment was banned by Cixi at the being of the 20th century. Apart from being a forward thinker, Cixi was able to create time to learn new ideas and the history of her people to enable her lead without numerous errors. Such an outstanding character found in most leaders was among the significant method that Cixi had China greater during revolution.

As a resilient leader, Cixi was able to recover after the group she had trusted to protect China from foreigners betrayed her and joined the enemies. Although the group was right not to engage in fight against foreigners, Cixi was flexible enough to accept her mistakes and lower her pride by apologizing and returning back to her leadership position. Such resilience made her strong as each day came with new challenges and immediate changes were highly needed to revolutionize China. With all these characters in mind, leaders need to be humble and learn each action and understand the consequences of every agreement they sign with foreigners or within their government. Being humble assisted Cixi to learn from her eunuchs' as well as the teachers whom she had imported to teach kids in China; hence, she was not easily cheated on by Japan who wanted to rule over China when she left her nephew in leadership.

Works Cited

Chang, Jung. Empress Dowager Cixi: the concubine who launched modern China. Random House, 2013.430-436

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Critical Essay on Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine who Launched the Modern China. (2022, Apr 14). Retrieved from

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