Tongzhi Emperor

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Tongzhi Emperor
清 佚名 《清穆宗同治皇帝朝服像》.jpg
10th Qing Emperor of China
Reign 11 November 1861 – 12 January 1875
Predecessor Xianfeng Emperor
Successor Guangxu Emperor
Regent Sushun, Zaiyuan, Duanhua (1861)
Empress Dowager Ci'an, 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
Spouse Empress Xiaozheyi
Full name
Chinese: Aixin-Jueluo Zaichun (愛新覺羅載淳)
Manchu: Aisin-Gioro Dzai Šun
Era name and dates
Qixiang (祺祥) (not used)
Chinese: 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
Emperor Muzong of Qing
House House of Aisin-Gioro
Father Xianfeng Emperor
Mother Empress Dowager Cixi
Tongzhi Emperor
Chinese 同治帝

The Tongzhi Emperor (Wade-Giles: T'ung-chih Emperor; 27 April 1856 – 12 January 1875), born Zaichun (Wade-Giles: Tsai-chun) of the Manchu Aisin Gioro clan,[1] was the tenth emperor of the 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, Tongzhi 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 tonggui yu zhi (simplified Chinese: 同归与治; traditional Chinese: 同歸與治), which means "restoring order together".[citation needed] An alternate interpretation reads it as "mother and son co-emperors" (Chinese: 母子同治天下),[citation needed] 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" (simplified Chinese: 垂帘听政; traditional Chinese: 垂簾聽政; pinyin: chuí lián tīng zhèng) was coined to describe Cixi's rule through her son.

Tongzhi 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 uncle Prince Gong.

While there had most likely been hopes that Tongzhi would become a leader like the second ruler of the Qing Dynasty, the Kangxi Emperor (who himself had succeeded to the throne as a child in 1661), those hopes would soon come to naught, as Tongzhi grew into an obstinate and dissolute young man.

In the fall of 1872, the teenage emperor was married off to the Empress Alute and several concubines. Tongzhi 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 dowager empresses stuck by the intended date of February 23, 1873.[2]

The day after Tongzhi 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, 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 June 29, 1873. After the audience however, the foreign ministers 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, Tongzhi got into a clash with his ministers, which included his two uncles, Prince Gong and Yixuan, Prince Chun (the latter being a half brother of the Xianfeng Emperor and was also married to Dowager Empress Cixi's younger sister), 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. Tongzhi reacted by firing the ministers, but Dowager Empresses Ci'an and Cixi intervened, and he had them reinstated. That December, it was announced that he was ill with smallpox, and the Dowager Empresses resumed the regency. He died on January 12, 1875, leaving no sons to succeed him.

His death left the court in a succession crisis, as, although he was childless, his empress was reportedly pregnant. Eventually, the dowager empresses named Tongzhi's three-year-old cousin (son of Prince Chun and Dowager Empress Cixi's sister), Prince Zaitien, as Tongzhi's successor, who would ascend the throne as the Guangxu Emperor, with the Dowager Empresses Ci'an and Cixi resuming their roles as regents. Tongzhi's empress would die a few months later.



  1. Empress Xiaozheyi, (Chinese: 孝哲毅皇后) of the Alute clan (1854–1875)
  2. Imperial Noble Consort Shushen, (Chinese: 淑慎皇貴妃) (1860–1905) of the Fuca clan.
  3. Imperial Noble Consort Zhuanghe, (Chinese: 莊和皇貴妃) (1857–14 April 1921) of the Alute clan was the aunt of Empress Xiaozheyi.
  4. Imperial Noble Consort Jingyi,[4] (Chinese: 敬懿皇貴妃) (1856–1932) of the Heseri clan.
  5. Imperial Noble Consort Ronghui, (Chinese: 榮惠皇貴妃) (1854–1933) of the Silin Gioro clan.





  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. A daily routine of the concubine is recorded in a memoir of a palace eunuch. See: Forbidden City: The Great Within, Second Edition. May Holdsworth, Caroline Courtauld. ISBN 962-217-792-1.
  5. The draft history of the Qing dynasty 《清史稿》卷二百十四.列傳一.后妃傳.


  • The draft history of the Qing dynasty 《清史稿》卷二百十四.列傳一.后妃傳.
  • Forbidden City: The Great Within, Second Edition. May Holdsworth, Caroline Courtauld. ISBN 962-217-792-1.

Further reading

  • Jung Chang, Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China, (2013) ISBN 978-0-307-27160-0.
  • Mary Clabaugh Wright. The Last Stand of Chinese Conservatism: The T'ung-Chih Restoration, 1862-1874. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1957).

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