Tongzhi Emperor

The Tongzhi Emperor (27 April 1856 – 12 January 1875), born Zaichun of the Aisin Gioro clan,[1] was the ninth Emperor of the Qing dynasty, and the eighth Qing emperor to rule over China proper. 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 modernization program.

Tongzhi Emperor
清 佚名 《清穆宗同治皇帝朝服像》.jpg
Emperor of the Qing dynasty
Reign11 November 1861 – 12 January 1875
PredecessorXianfeng Emperor
SuccessorGuangxu Emperor
RegentsZaiyuan (1861)
Duanhua (1861)
Sushun (1861)
Empress Dowager Ci'an (1861–1881)
Empress Dowager Cixi (1861–1908)
BornAisin Gioro Zaichun
(愛新覺羅 載淳)
(1856-04-27)27 April 1856
(咸豐六年 三月 二十三日)
Chuxiu Palace, Forbidden City
Died12 January 1875(1875-01-12) (aged 18)
(同治十三年 十二月 五日)
Hall of Mental Cultivation
Hui Mausoleum, Eastern Qing tombs
(m. 1872⁠–⁠1875)
Aisin Gioro Zaichun
(愛新覺羅 載淳)
Manchu: Dzai šun (ᡯᠠᡳ ᡧᡠᠨ)
Era dates
(同治; 30 January 1862 – 5 February 1875)
Manchu: Yooningga dasan (ᠶᠣᠣᠨᡳᠩᡤᠠ ᡩᠠᠰᠠᠨ)
Mongolian: Бүрэн засагч (ᠪᠦᠷᠢᠨ ᠵᠠᠰᠠᠭᠴᠢ)
Posthumous name
Emperor Jitian Kaiyun Shouzhong Juzheng Baoda Dinggong Shengzhi Chengxiao Xinmin Gongkuan Mingsu Yi
Manchu: Filingga hūwangdi (ᡶᡳᠯᡳᠩᡤᠠ
Temple name
Manchu: Mudzung (ᠮᡠᡯ᠊ᡠ᠊ᠩ)
HouseAisin Gioro
FatherXianfeng Emperor
MotherEmpress Xiaoqinxian
Tongzhi Emperor
Traditional Chinese同治帝
Simplified Chinese同治帝


The only surviving son of the Xianfeng Emperor and Empress Dowager Cixi, the Tongzhi Emperor was namesake to the attempted political reform initiated by his mother, called the Tongzhi Restoration. His first regnal name was Qixiang (祺祥; Manchu: Fengšengge sabingga), but this name was later changed, as per tradition upon his succession, to "Tongzhi". The regnal name means 'order and prosperity' coming from the Confucian teaching that "there are many ways of being a good government, and they can all be summarized as order and prosperity".[2]

The Tongzhi Emperor became emperor at the age of five upon the death of his father, the Xianfeng Emperor. His father's choice of a regent, Sushun, was removed in favor of a partnership between his mother Empress Dowager Cixi and Empress Dowager Ci'an.

While there had most likely been hopes that the Tongzhi Emperor would become a leader like the Kangxi Emperor (who ascended the throne as a child in 1661), those hopes would soon come to naught, as the Tongzhi Emperor grew up to become an obstinate and dissolute young man who also had dissatisfaction with his mother Empress Cixi.[3]

In the fall of 1872, the teenage emperor married Empress Xiaozheyi and two official concubines. The Tongzhi Emperor 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 two empresses dowager stuck by the intended date of February 23, 1873.[4]

The day after the Tongzhi Emperor 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 (foreign affairs ministry), 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.[5] The audience was finally held on 29 June 1873. After the audience, however, the foreign representatives made clear their annoyance at being received in a hall initially used by the Qing emperors to receive envoys of tributary states.

In the fall of 1874, the Tongzhi Emperor got into a clash with his ministers, which included his two uncles, Prince Gong and Prince Chun, 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. The emperor reacted by firing the ministers, but Empresses Dowager Ci'an and Cixi intervened, and he had them reinstated. That December, it was announced that he was ill with smallpox, and the Empress Dowagers resumed the regency. He died on 12 January 1875, leaving no sons to succeed him.

The Tongzhi Emperor's death left the court in a succession crisis as he was childless. Eventually, the empresses dowager designated the Tongzhi Emperor's three-year-old cousin, Zaitian, as the heir to the throne. Zaitian was biologically Prince Chun's son, but was symbolically adopted as the Xianfeng Emperor's son to make him eligible to succeed the Tongzhi Emperor. Zaitian was thus enthroned as the Guangxu Emperor, with Empresses Dowager Ci'an and Cixi resuming their roles as regents. Empress Alute, Tongzhi's wife, refused to eat after his death and died seventy days after he did in an act of marital piety.

The Self-Strengthening MovementEdit

Emperor Tongzhi writing

The inspiration for the Self-Strengthening Movement from the 1840s arose from this notion that China's defense in the face of war and rebellion must come from within, as the superior man strengthens himself under imperative of Heaven's robust action. The costs of war and rebellion dictated that the Qing dynasty undertake vigorous measures to ensure its survival. Moreover, the very survival of China itself was now at stake.

Self-strengthening efforts evolved in a succession of stages over a period of almost half a century. In 1840 Imperial Commissioner Lin Zexu, impressed by the power of British warships in the initial battles of the Opium War, advocated adoption of Western naval technology. The paddle-wheel steamer Nemsis had run circles around cumbersome Chinese war junks. Some Chinese at first believed the paddle-wheels were powered by men inside the ship, but soon came to appreciate the power of steam, Commissioner Lin was the first self-strengthener.

Self-strengthening enterprises, including arsenals, shipyards, and technical schools, were now established in the principal treaty ports where access to Western technology was most direct. By 1860, the overwhelming bulk of the Chinese scholarly class had become cognizant of the enormity of changes that were taking place due to the skyrocketing Western presence in China. They now proclaimed that change was irresistible and advocated for deeper studies of Western technology. Many reforms were proposed and implemented, but ultimately the failure of reforms was due to multiple factors such as political machinations.[6][7]



  • Empress Xiaozheyi, of the Arute clan (孝哲毅皇后 阿魯特氏; 25 July 1854 – 27 March 1875), eighth cousin once removed
  • Imperial Noble Consort Shushen, of the Fuca clan (淑慎皇貴妃 富察氏; 24 December 1859 – 13 April 1904)
  • Imperial Noble Consort Gongsu, of the Arute clan (恭肅皇貴妃 阿魯特氏; 20 September 1857 – 14 April 1921)
  • Imperial Noble Consort Xianzhe, of the Hešeri clan (獻哲皇貴妃 赫舍里氏; 2 July 1856 – 3 February 1932)
  • Imperial Noble Consort Dunhui, of the Sirin Gioro clan (敦惠皇貴妃 西林覺羅氏; 6 September 1856 – 18 May 1933)


Qianlong Emperor (1711–1799)
Jiaqing Emperor (1760–1820)
Empress Xiaoyichun (1727–1775)
Daoguang Emperor (1782–1850)
Empress Xiaoshurui (1760–1797)
Lady Wanggiya
Xianfeng Emperor (1831–1861)
Mukedengbu (d. 1803)
Empress Xiaoquancheng (1808–1840)
Lady Uya
Tongzhi Emperor (1856–1875)
Lady Aisin Gioro
Huizheng (1805–1853)
Lady Gūwalgiya
Empress Xiaoqinxian (1835–1908)
Lady Fuca

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ Hummel, Arthur W. Sr., ed. (1943). "Tsai-ch'un" . Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period. United States Government Printing Office.
  2. ^ (Empress Dowager Cixi, pg 51)
  3. ^ The Last Empress of China(Anchee Min,2006)
  4. ^ Seagrave, Sterling Dragon Lady: the Life and Legend of the Last Empress of China (Knopf, 1992), pp. 130–131
  5. ^ Seagrave, pg. 131
  6. ^ Fairbank, John King (1978). The Cambridge History of China Vol. 2. Cambridge University Press. pp. 156–161. ISBN 0521220297.
  7. ^ Feuerwerker, Albert (1970). China's early industrialization: Sheng Hsuan-huai (1844-1916) and Mandarin enterprise Volume 1 of Harvard East Asian series. Atheneum/the University of Michigan. pp. 2–3, 315–324.


Further readingEdit

Tongzhi Emperor
Born: 27 April 1856 Died: 12 January 1875
Regnal titles
Preceded by Emperor of the Qing dynasty
Emperor of China

Succeeded by