Xianfeng Emperor

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Xianfeng Emperor
9th Qing Emperor of China
Reign 9 March 1850 – 22 August 1861
Predecessor Daoguang Emperor
Successor Tongzhi Emperor
Born (1831-07-17)17 July 1831
Old Summer Palace, Beijing
Died 22 August 1861(1861-08-22) (aged 30)
Chengde Mountain Resort, Chengde
Burial Eastern Qing Tombs, Zunhua
Spouse Empress Xiaodexian
Empress Xiaozhenxian
Empress Xiaoqinxian
Issue Zaichun, the Tongzhi Emperor
Kurun Princess Rong'an
Full name
Chinese: Aixin-Jueluo Yizhu(愛新覺羅奕詝)
Manchu: Aisin-Gioro I-ju
Mongolian: Tugeemel Elbegt Khaan
Posthumous name
Emperor Xiétiān Yìyùn Zhízhōng Chuímó Màodé Zhènwǔ Shèngxiào Yuāngōng Duānrén Kuānmǐn Zhuāngjiǎn Xiǎn
Temple name
Qing Wenzong
House Aisin-Gioro
Father Daoguang Emperor
Mother Empress Xiaoquancheng

The Xianfeng Emperor (simplified Chinese: 咸丰帝; traditional Chinese: 咸豐帝; pinyin: Xiánfēng Dì; Wade–Giles: Hsien-feng Ti; 17 July 1831 – 22 August 1861), personal name I-ju (or Yizhu), was the ninth Emperor of the Manchu-led Qing dynasty, and the seventh Qing emperor to rule over China, from 1850 to 1861.

Family and early life

Yizhu was born in 1831 at the Old Summer Palace, eight kilometres northwest of Beijing. He was from the Manchu Aisin Gioro clan, and was the fourth son of the Daoguang Emperor. His mother was the Noble Consort Quan, of the Manchu Niohuru clan, who was made Empress in 1834, and is known posthumously as Empress Xiaoquancheng. Yizhu was reputed to have an ability in literature and administration which surpassed most of his brothers, which impressed his father, who therefore decided to make him his successor.

Early reign

Yizhu succeeded the throne in 1850, at age 19, and was a relatively young emperor. He inherited a dynasty that faced not only internal but also foreign challenges. Yizhu's reign title, Xianfeng, which means "Universal Prosperity", did not reflect the situation. In 1850, the first of a series of popular rebellions began that would nearly destroy the Qing dynasty. The Taiping Rebellion began in December 1850, when Hong Xiuquan, a Hakka leader of a syncretic Christian sect, defeated local forces sent to disperse his followers. Hong then proclaimed the establishment of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom and the rebellion spread to several provinces with amazing speed. The following year, the Nian Rebellion started in North China. Unlike the Christian-influenced Taiping rebels, the Nian movement lacked a clear political program, but they became a serious threat to the Qing capital, Beijing, with the mobility of their cavalry-based armies. The Qing imperial forces suffered repeated defeats at the hands of both rebel movements.

Rebellions and wars

In 1853, the Taiping rebels captured Nanjing and for a while it seemed that Beijing would fall next; but the Taiping northern expedition was defeated and the situation stabilized. The Xianfeng Emperor dispatched several prominent mandarins, such as Zeng Guofan and the Mongol general Sengge Rinchen, to crush the rebellions, but they only obtained limited success. The biggest revolt of the Miao people against Chinese rule in history started in 1854, and ravaged the region until finally put down in 1873. In 1856, an attempt to regain Nanjing was defeated and the Panthay Rebellion broke out in Yunnan.

Portrait of the Xianfeng Emperor in his gardens

Meanwhile, an initially minor incident on the coasts triggered the Second Opium War. Anglo-French forces, after inciting a few battles (not all victories for them) on the coast near Tianjin, attempted "negotiation" with the Qing government. The Xianfeng Emperor, under the influence of his Noble Consort Yi (later Empress Dowager Cixi), believed in Chinese superiority and would not agree to any colonial demands. He delegated Prince Gong for several negotiations but relations broke down completely when a British diplomat, Sir Harry Parkes, was arrested during negotiations on 18 September.

The Anglo-French invasion clashed with Sengge Rinchen's Mongol cavalry on 18 September near Zhangjiawan before proceeding toward the outskirts of Beijing for a decisive battle in Tongzhou District, Beijing. On 21 September, at the Battle of Eight-Mile Bridge, Sengge Rinchen's 10,000 troops, including his elite Mongol cavalry, were completely annihilated after several doomed frontal charges against the concentrated firepower of the Anglo-French forces, which entered Beijing on 6 October.

On 18 October 1860, the British and French forces went on to loot and burn the Old Summer Palace and Summer Palace. Upon learning about this news, the Xianfeng Emperor's health quickly deteriorated.

During the Xianfeng Emperor's reign, China lost part of Manchuria to the Russian Empire. In 1858, according to the Treaty of Aigun, the territory between Stanovoy Mountains and Amur River was ceded to Russia, and in 1860, according to the Treaty of Beijing, the same thing happened also to the area east of Ussuri River. After that treaty, the Russians founded the city of Vladivostok in the area they had annexed.

While negotiations with the European powers were being held, the Xianfeng Emperor and his imperial entourage fled to Jehol province in the name of conducting the annual imperial hunting expedition. As his health worsened, the emperor's ability to govern also deteriorated, and competing ideologies in court led to the formation of two distinct factions — one led by the senior official Sushun and the princes Zaiyuan and Duanhua, and the other led by Noble Consort Yi, who was supported by the general Ronglu and the Bannermen of the Yehenara clan.


The Xianfeng Emperor died on 22 August 1861, from a short life of overindulgence, at the Chengde Mountain Resort, 230 kilometers northeast of Beijing. His successor was his surviving six-year-old son, Zaichun. A day before his death, the Xianfeng Emperor had summoned Sushun and his supporters to his bedside and gave them an imperial edict that dictated the power structure during his son's minority. The edict appointed eight men – Zaiyuan, Duanhua, Jingshou, Sushun, Muyin, Kuangyuan, Du Han and Jiao Youying – as an eight-member regency council to aid Zaichun, who was later enthroned as the Tongzhi Emperor. By tradition, after the death of an emperor, the emperor's body was to be accompanied to the capital by the regents. Noble Consort Yi and Empress Consort Zhen, who were now both empress dowagers, travelled ahead to Beijing and planned a coup with Prince Gong that ousted the eight regents. Empress Dowager Cixi then effectively ruled China over the subsequent 47 years as a regent.

The Xianfeng Emperor was interred in the Eastern Qing Tombs, 125 kilometers/75 miles east of Beijing, in the Dingling (定陵; "Tomb of Quietude") mausoleum complex.


The Xianfeng Emperor's reign saw the continued decline of the Qing dynasty. Rebellions in the country, which began the first year of his reign, would not be quelled until well into the reign of the Tongzhi Emperor and resulted in millions of deaths. The Xianfeng Emperor also had to deal with the British and French and their ever growing appetite to expand trade further into China. The Xianfeng Emperor, like his father, the Daoguang Emperor, understood very little about Europeans and their mindset. He viewed non-Chinese as inferior and regarded the Europeans' repeated requests for the establishment of diplomatic relations as an offence. When the Europeans introduced the long-held concept of an exchanged consular relationship, the Xianfeng Emperor quickly rebuffed the idea. At the time of his death, he had not met with any foreign dignitary.

Despite his tumultuous decade of reign, the Xianfeng Emperor was commonly seen as the last Qing emperor to have held paramount authority, ruling in his own right. His son and subsequent successors' rule were overseen by regents, a trend witnessed until the fall of the Qing dynasty.

Yanbozhishuang Hall, where the Xianfeng Emperor died on 22 August 1861


  • Father: Daoguang Emperor (1782–1850)
  • Mother: Empress Xiaoquancheng – Imperial Consort Quan, of the (Manchu) Niuhuru clan, who was made Empress in 1834, and is known posthumously as Empress Xiaoquancheng.
  1. Empress Xiaodexian (孝德顯皇后薩克达氏) (d. January 1850). Entered the Forbidden City as Lady Sakda of the Sakda clan, raised to the rank of Empress after her death when Yizhu became the Xianfeng Emperor. She was granted the posthumous title of Empress Xiaodexian.
  2. Empress Dowager Ci'an (慈安太后) of the Niuhuru clan (1837–1881).
  3. Empress Dowager Cixi (Noble Consort Yi 懿貴妃) (1835–1908).
  4. Consort Li, posthumously known as Imperial Noble Consort Zhuangjing (庄靜皇貴妃) (1837–1890).
  5. Imperial Noble Consort Duanke (端恪皇貴妃) of the Tunggiya clan (1844–1910).
  6. Noble Consort Mei (玫貴妃) (1837–1890), she gave birth to the emperor's second son who died young.
  7. Noble Consort Wan (婉貴妃) (d. 1894) of the Manchu Sujiro clan.
  8. Consort Lu (璷妃) (d. 1895) of the Manchu Nara clan.
  9. Consort Ji (吉妃) (d. 1905) of the Wang clan.
  10. Consort Xi (禧妃) (d. 1877) of the Chahala clan.
  11. Consort Qing (慶妃) (d. 1885) of the Han Chinese Zhang clan.
  12. Imperial Concubine Yun (雲嬪) (d. 1855) of the Wugiya clan.
  13. Imperial Concubine Rong (容嬪) (d. 1869) of the Manchu Irgen-Gioro clan.
  14. Imperial Concubine Shu (璹嬪) (d. 1874) of the Manchu Yehenara clan.
  15. Imperial Concubine Yu (玉嬪) (d. 1862) younger sister of Imperial Concubine Shu.
  16. First Class Female Attendant Ping (玶常在) (d. 1857) of the Manchu Irgen-Gioro clan. She entered the palace as a concubine of the fourth rank but for unknown reason she was demoted by three rank. In 1856 she was promoted by one rank but she died the following year.
  17. First Class Female Attendant Chun (瑃常在) (d. 1859).
  18. First Class Female Attendant Xin (鑫常在) (d. 1859).
  • Children:
  1. Zaichun, (son of Empress Dowager Cixi) who became the Tongzhi Emperor after the Xianfeng Emperor's death.
  2. Second son (1858) by Noble Consort Mei. He was posthumously given the title of Prince Min of the Second Rank (憫郡王).
  3. Kurun Princess Rong'an (榮安固倫公主)(1855–1875), daughter of Imperial Noble Consort Zhuangjing.
  1. Adoptive daughter: Kurun Princess Rongshou (榮壽固倫公主) (1854–1924) was the oldest daughter of Prince Gong.

The Xianfeng Emperor had a large sexual appetite. He was a lover of opera and alcohol, and often became violent with his servants. He was known to smoke opium.[2]


See also


  1. Draft history of the Qing dynasty. 《清史稿》卷二百十四.列傳一.后妃傳.
  2. 连载:正说清朝十二帝 SINA

Sources and literature

  • Daily Life in the Forbidden City, Wan Yi, Wang Shuqing, Lu Yanzhen ISBN 0-670-81164-5".
  • Qing dynasty Wenzong’s veritable records (清文宗实录).
  • Royal archives of the Qing dynasty (清宫档案).
  • Qing imperial genealogy(清皇室四谱).
  • webpagina: http://www.royalark.net/China/manchu14.htm, gaat over de stamboom van de Aisin Gioro stam.
  • Draft history of the Qing dynasty. 《清史稿》卷二百十四.列傳一.后妃傳.

Books about Empress Dowager Cixi:

Xianfeng Emperor
Born: 17 July 1831 Died: 22 August 1861
Regnal titles
Preceded by
The Daoguang Emperor
Emperor of China
Succeeded by
The Tongzhi Emperor