In this book the concubine who launched modern China, the theme of the power of woman and change has been well portrayed. Cixi is one of the most important character in this book who plays an important role. She is portrayed by the writer as an important woman in Chinese history who brought a medieval empire into the modern age. (Chang, Jung, 76)
According to Chang who is the writer claims that Cixi was brought to the Forbidden City in year eighteen fifty two at the age of sixteen as an imperial concubine. She was then forced to escape Beijing the year eighteen sixty with the Xianfeng emperor as the western forces approached to attack and burn the magnificent summer palace. Chang further claims that despite Cixi's indignation at foreign treatment of china, she quickly managed to distinguish the dead end into which China had been pushed by the emperors who hated most foreigners and the closed door policy of the previous century. By the time the emperor perished in eighteen sixty one, Cixi had come into her own understanding the urgent necessity of reform of opening up to the outside world. Soon there afterwards Cixi launched a coup against the conservative Confucian regency where she intended on taking power on herself. ( Hong, Fan 67) In her effort to make China strong, She wrote," is the only way to ensure that foreign countries will not start a conflict against us or even look down on us," Over the following decades , She sought to guide China's new efforts at what came to be known as 'self-strengthening'. In Chang's view, despite all the challenges and obstacles Cixi went through, she managed to become a strategically astute and successful reformer. According to Chang, after Cixi's son became an adult, she turned the throne over to him, and when his successor, her adopted son, the Guangxu emperor, came of age she retired to her sumptuous new summer palace. It was then when he became obsessed with the group radical reformers and began distributing series of decrees that deeply antagonized other officials that Cixi planned another coup and returned to power again to rule till her death. But, the writer argues that Cixi governed with an impressive, self-confidence and authority that belied the prejudice so many foreigners continued to harbor against her.
The theme of power of woman is well displayed when Cixi managed to bring her great grandfather out of prison. Emperor Daoguang who was desperate for funds after defeated by china, he went ahead and hold the traditional presents for his sons' brides, scaled down and even cancelled all celebrations .The emperor himself even went on surprise raids for his concubines to check they were hiding anything against his orders .In his effort to fight corruption and theft, an investigation was done of the state coffer which discovered that more than nine million taels of silver were missing. The emperor ordered all the head keepers and inspectors of the silver reserve to pay the fines so as to make up for the loss whether they were guilty or not. It happened that Cixis' great grandfather was serving as one of the keepers and they had to pay the fine of forty three thousand and two hundred taels of silver. Cixi had to undergo a lot of trouble to raise the sum. (Hong, Fan 178) After three years of struggle to raise the money, Cixi's grandfather had only managed to raise one thousand eight hundred taels. The life of the family suddenly tangled when Cixi's grandfather failed to raise the rest of the money and was jailed. Cixi being the eldest of the two daughters and the three sons her father approached her and she rose to the occasion. She managed to share great ideas with the family which were highly considered; what properties to sell, what valuables to pledge, whom to turn to for loans and how to approach them. At long last, the family managed to raise sixty percent of the sum which was enough to get her grandfather out prison. The young wise Cixi's contribution to solving the disaster made her become the legend. Her father was so a proud of her complimented her despite being a daughter she was more than like a son.
The Manchu Empress Dowager Cixi is generally thought of as a conservative figure in Chinese history, incapable of defending China's interest in the second half of the 19th century when China lost its position as the world largest economy. During Cixis rule in China, China managed to build its first rail road. The Beijing-Canton rail road still remains to China's key artery in the modern economy. (Chang, Jung 106) Cixi also managed to install telegraphs, familiarized electricity, steam boats, modern mining, newspapers, established the state bank and encouraged the freedom of religion. The theme of power of woman and change is also well displayed by the changes she made to China. She initiated a constitutional system. Chang writes that Cixi included modern laws, commercial, civil, criminal and judicial and the establishment of law schools. She also fought for the rights of women. In the Chinese culture women were looked down upon. In the early twentieth century, Cixi allowed women to appear in the republic which was considered illegal by the Chinese culture. She also abolished the foot binding culture which was a custom in china of applying tight binding to the feet of young girls to modify the shape of their feet. She also lifted the ban on Han-Manchu intermarriage, this was rule whereby the only Hans who could marry Manchus were in fact those of the banners. At least until around the last fifteen years or so before they fell. She also decreed that girls should be educated. It's quite true that Cixi depicted as unusually wise for her time and age, Chang write that "instinctively she seems to have known that a government needs dissenting voices," turning her into a sort of Chinese counterpart India's sage Mughal Emperor Akbar, who promoted religious tolerance during his long reign in the sixth and seventh century.
Liang is described by the writer as Kang's right hand man. He is a complex character and Cixi's main rival, is depicted rather crudely as power hungry plotter, yet he had many ideas about how to reform china. Liang never believed that the trade with the west could strengthen China. Contrary to her predecessor, Cixi believed that the trade with west would make China more strong. In a brave move Cixi employed large number of foreigners in the civil service to revolutionize the administrative structures. (Hong, Fan 134) She also tried to introduce science to China's school system a move that required hiring western teachers. Cixi also promoted Hsu Chi-she, the first scholar to claim that China was not the center of the world but was just one of the many countries .Extraordinary in china, she urged her temporary successor, Emperor Guangxu to learn speaking English. All these arrangements took place against the resistance of a conservative establishment that the continuously plotted against her sought to remove the foreigners from Chinese territory. This book also cites the diaries of the first Chinese official who travelled to the west in the nineteenth century, the majority of who were deeply overwhelmed by democracy and the technological progress they saw. One of the officials wrote," If we are able to do what they are doing, there is no question that we too can be rich and strong, ". Cixi made an effort to use these accounts to convince China's elite that the change was necessary. It was under her regime that formal Chinese diplomacy had come into existence. Remarkably enough, an early diplomatic encounter apart from the rise of japan was to aid and improve the conditions of Chinese slave who were Cuba and Peru.
The theme of power of woman and change can be seen also when Chang (the writer) Claims that Cixi was the first Chinese leader who embraced modernity and sought to learn from the west. One may also debate that there was little else the Empress could do, after all, it was under her that western modernity was enforced upon where Cixi promoted adaption only when she realized that continued isolation would have led to china's breakdown. Japan on the other hand embraced change much more whole-heartedly, and as a consequence, was able to defeat China military later on, despite Japan's massively smaller in size compared to China. (Chang, Jung 198)
Chang, Jung. Empress Dowager Cixi: the concubine who launched modern China. Random House, 2016.
Hong, Fan. Foot binding, feminism and freedom: The liberation of women's bodies in modern China. Routledge, 2015.
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