Empress Dowager Longyu


Empress Xiao Ding Jing
Yehenara, the Long Yu Empress Dowager
Xiao Ding Jing.jpg
Born 1868
Died 1913 (aged 44)
Inside the Forbidden City, Beijing.
Consort to The Guangxu Emperor

Yehenara, Empress Xiao Ding Jing (1868 – 1913), is better known as the Empress Long Yu. Xiao Ding Jing was the Qing Dynasty Empress Consort of the Guangxu Emperor of China. Empress Xiao Ding Jing came from the Manchu Yehenara clan and was also a cousin of Guangxu Emperor, who reigned from 1875 to 1908. She was also a niece of the Empress Dowager Cixi. She was de facto regent of China from her husband's death in 1908, when her adopted son, the child Puyi (1906-1967) (known as the Last Emperor of China) was emperor until the office of emperor was officially abolished in 1911. However, the imperial family continued to enjoy their titles, and to reside in the Forbidden City and to run it as if they still held power. She was 46 years old when she died.

Long Yu did what she could to preserve and protect the imperial heritage of China in a time of great change, when democratic and republican ideals were taking root. She placed great value on the ceremonial significance of the emperor as a symbol of Chinese unity. The imperial system had become too isolated from national and from international politics to survive, however, and two thousand years of imperial rule came to its end.[1]

Empress Dowager Longyu's contribution to the nation seems to be minimal, as she was so preoccupied with court politics that the affairs of the nation were not her priority. Living completely insulated from the world in the Forbidden City, she was unable to sense the tide of history or adjust to its changing times. Had her husband's reforms succeeded, which she opposed, China might have transformed itself into a constitutional monarchy such as the United Kingdom or Denmark, but she wanted to preserve the ancient traditions, not to initiate change. The result was not only the downfall of her dynasty, but of the entire tradition of imperial government.

Contents

Life

Lady Yehenara was chosen as the Empress Consort because her aunt, the Empress Dowager Cixi wanted to strengthen the power of her own family. She married the Guangxu Emperor on February 26, 1889, and became his Empress directly after the wedding ceremony.

Yehenara was detested and ignored by the Guangxu Emperor, who favored the Imperial Consort Zhen of the Tatala clan. She undermined Consort Zhen by reporting and exaggerating stories about Zhen's rebellious nature to the Empress Dowager Cixi. Consort Zhen in turn urged the Guangxu Emperor to be more independent and capable. The Imperial Consort Zhen also supported the new political reforms. Empress Dowager Cixi eventually grew more hostile to the Imperial Consort Zhen and sent her to a "cold palace," a place reserved for an emperor's disfavored consorts. After learning that the Consort Zhen had secretly supported and cooperated with the Guangxu Emperor's attempt to gain power from the Empress Dowager Cixi's hand, Cixi had her drowned in a palace well before the imperial court fled to the City of Xi'an when Beijing became occupied by the foreign armies of the 8-Nation Alliance (1901). Guangxu had established a modern University and started to reform the civil service and military with the idea of transforming China into a Western-style constitutional monarchy. This was much to ambitious and radical for his own adoptive mother, Cixi, who declared him incompetent and had him imprisoned by the Empress Dowager on an island in the middle of a lagoon inside the former Imperial Residence.

De Facto regency

The Emperor remained under house arrest until his death. Empress Yehenara would frequently spy on the Emperor and report his every action to Empress Dowager Cixi. In 1908, when both the Guangxu Emperor and Cixi died within three days, Empress Yehenara was made Empress Dowager with the same honorable titles Long Yu, meaning "Auspicious and Prosperous."

As an Empress Dowager, Yehenara adopted the Xuan Tong Emperor Puyi as her son. The Empress Dowager Cixi had maintained before her death that the Qing Dynasty would never again allow the regency of women, but that Long Yu would remain the leading respected figure, and therefore must be consulted on all major decisions. This decision was in many ways contradictory, and when Long Yu assumed the title of Empress Dowager, in theory, she was in a position to make all the most important decisions, but in practice, because of her inexperience in politics, in the first few years the Imperial Court was dominated by the young regent Zai Feng, and then by Yuan Shikai, she was dependent on both.

Under Yuan's advice in the fall of 1911, Long Yu agreed to sign an abdication of the Xuan Tong Emperor, while providing the conditions that the Imperial Family would continue to live in the Forbidden City, and would keep its assets, titles, and servants. In 1912, the Qing Dynasty was abolished, making way for the new Republic of China.

Death

Within a few months after the fall of the Qing Dynasty, Long Yu died in Beijing following an illness. She was 46 years old, and she was the only Empress of China whose coffin was transported from the Forbidden City to her tomb by train. On her funeral, the President of the Republic of China, Li Yuanhong, praised Long Yu as the "most excellent among women."

Significance

Lynch argues that by accepting abdication, rather than the only other option, which would have been removal by force, Longyu at least preserved what remained of the imperial families' dignity. He points out, though, that while on the one hand the Republic government claimed to have inherited the traditional Mandate of Heaven, on the other it introduced few real changes and was republican in name only; "Many of the imperial officials remained in post, and corruption continued to dominate Chinese public life."[2] Effectively, nobody occupied the vacuum left by the abolition of the monarchy and China faced years of civil strife and war-lord rivalry. As Bailey points out, the Chinese imperial family, however, escaped the fate of the French and Russian royalty after Republican revolutions in France and Russia, which can be credited to Longyu's decision to announce her six-year old ward's abdication.[3]

Succession

Preceded by:
Lady Alute, the Empress Xiao Zhe Yi
Empress of China
1868 - I913
Succeeded by:
Gobele, the Empress Xiao Ke Min

Notes

  1. Bernardo Bertolucci, The Last Emperor.
  2. Lynch, 16.
  3. Bailey, 15.

References

  • Bauley, John Paul. China in the Twentieth Century, 2nd edition. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Limited, 2001. ISBN 978-0631203285.
  • Lynch, Michael. Mao. London: Routledge, 2004. ISBN 978-0415215787.
  • Rawski, Evelyn S. The Last Emperors: A Social History of Qing Imperial Institutions. Berkely, CA: University of California Press, 2001. ISBN 978-0520228375.

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