Guangxu Emperor

From Academic Kids

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The Guangxu Emperor (August 14, 1871November 14, 1908), born Zaitian(載湉), was the tenth emperor of the Manchu Qing dynasty, and the ninth Qing emperor to rule over China, from 1875 to 1908. He initiated the Hundred Days' Reform but was abruptly stopped when Empress Dowager Cixi launched a coup in 1898. His reign name means "The Glorious Succession".


Accession to the throne

Guangxu was born to Yixuan, Prince Chun, who was married to Empress Dowager Cixi's younger sister and therefore was Cixi's nephew. In January 1875, the Tongzhi Emperor died without a son. The Empress Dowager Ci'an suggested Prince Gong's son as the new Emperor but she was overruled by Cixi. Instead, breaking the imperial convention that a new emperor must always be a generation later to the passing emperor, Cixi suggested Prince Chun's son Zaitian and the imperial family agreed with this choice.

Ascending to the throne at age four, Cixi adopted Guangxu as her son, remaining as regent with the title of the Holy Mother Empress Dowager. In his childhood years he was taught by Weng Tonghe.

Years of Power

Until age nineteen, Guangxu was "aided" in his rule by Cixi. Even after he began formal rule, Cixi continued to influence his decisions and actions, despite residing for a period of time at the Imperial Summer Palace (Yiheyuan), with officially no intention to intervene in politics.

After taking power, Guangxu was obviously more reform-minded than the conservative-leaning Cixi. He believed that by learning from constitutional monarchies like Japan, China would become more powerful politically and economically. In June 1898, Guangxu began the Hundred Days' Reform, aimed at a series of sweeping changes politically, legally, and socially. For a brief time, after the supposed retirement of Empress Dowager Cixi, Emperor Guangxu began issuing edicts for a massive number of far-reaching modernizing reforms with the help of more progressive Qing mandarins like Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao. Changes range from infrastructure to industry and the civil examination system. The initial goal was to make China a modern, constitutional empire, but still within the traditional framework, as in the example of Japan's Meiji Restoration.

The reforms, however, came into conflict with Cixi and other conservative court officials such as Yuan Shikai. Although Cixi did nothing to stop the Hundred Day's Reform from taking place, she intervened after Kang Youwei was given too much power, and loyal officials like Li Hongzhang were dismissed. In September 1898, along with Yuan Shikai, who was in control of the military, Cixi staged a coup d'etat, retaking absolute power.

House arrest

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After the failed Hundred Days' Reform, Cixi had Guangxu placed under house arrest. Most of his supporters were exiled, while some were executed in public by Cixi. Kang Youwei continued to work for a more progressive Qing Empire while in exile, remaining loyal to Guangxu and hoping to eventually restore him to power. Western governments, too, were in favour of Guangxu being the only power figure in China, replacing the Empress Dowager Cixi. A joint official document issued by western governments stated that only the name Guangxu was to be recognized as the legal authoritative figure, over all others. This only further angered Cixi.

There was dispute, for a period of time, for whether Guangxu should continue to reign as Emperor, or simply to be removed. Most court officials seemed to agree with the latter choice, but loyal Manchus such as Ronglu pleaded otherwise. Beginning in 1898, Guangxu would reign as Emperor of the Great Qing in name only, never again having any real influence.

In 1901 the Alliance of Eight Nations entered China and occupied Beijing following a declaration of war which Guangxu opposed, but had no power to stop. Guangxu fled with Cixi to Xi'an.

Returning to the Forbidden City after the withdrawal of western powers, Guangxu was known to have spent the next few years working with watches and clocks, some say in an effort to pass the time until the death of the Empress Dowager. He still had supporters, whether inside China or in exile, who wished to return him to real power.

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The funeral procession of Guangxu Emperor

Guangxu died a day before Cixi, many suspect he was poisoned by the Empress Dowager. He was succeeded by Cixi's handpicked heir, his nephew Puyi, who became the Xuantong Emperor in 1908. His consort, who became Empress Dowager Longyu, signed the abdication decree as regent in 1912, ending several thousand years of imperial rule in China. She died, childless, in 1913.


Guangxu was married to Cixi's niece, who became Empress Dowager Longyu (隆裕太后) after Guangxu's death in 1908. Her father was Cixi's brother. His favourite concubine was the concubine of the third rank Zhen (珍妃), better known in English as the "Pearl Concubine", who was pushed down into a well at the order of Cixi after she begged the dowager to let the emperor stay in Beijing for negotiating with the foreign powers. That incident happened when Cixi was getting ready to leave the Forbidden City due to the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. Like his predecessor, Tongzhi, Guangxu died without a son.

External links

Badarangga Doro (Online Memorial Hall of Guangxu in Taiwan, Chinese only) (

Preceded by:
Tongzhi Emperor
Emperor of China
(Qing Dynasty)
Succeeded by:
Xuantong Emperor

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de:Guangxu fr:Guangxu ja:光緒帝 nl:Guangxu zh:光绪帝


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