Xianfeng Emperor

The Xianfeng Emperor (17 July 1831 – 22 August 1861), or by temple name Emperor Wenzong of Qing (清文宗), given name Yizhu (奕詝), was the eighth Emperor of the Qing dynasty, and the seventh Qing emperor to rule over China proper, reigned from 1850 to 1861. During his reign the Qing dynasty experienced several wars and rebellions including the Taiping Rebellion, Nian Rebellion, and Second Opium War (Arrow War). He was the last Chinese emperor to have total executive ruling power. After his death, the Qing dynasty was controlled by Empress Dowager Cixi.

Xianfeng Emperor
Emperor of the Qing dynasty
Reign9 March 1850 – 22 August 1861
PredecessorDaoguang Emperor
SuccessorTongzhi Emperor
BornAisin Gioro Yizhu
(愛新覺羅 奕詝)
(1831-07-17)17 July 1831
(道光十一年 六月 九日)
Chengjing Studio, Old Summer Palace
Died22 August 1861(1861-08-22) (aged 30)
(咸豐十一年 七月 十七日)
Yanbozhishuang Hall, Chengde Mountain Resort
Ding Mausoleum, Eastern Qing tombs
(m. 1848; died 1850)

Lady Niohuru, Empress Xiao Zhen Xian
IssueTongzhi Emperor
Princess Rong'an of the First Rank
Aisin Gioro Yizhu
(愛新覺羅 奕詝)
Manchu: I ju (ᡳ ᠵᡠ)
Era dates
(咸豐; 1 February 1851 – 29 January 1862)
Manchu: Gubci elgiyengge (ᡤᡠᠪᠴᡳ ᡝᠯᡤᡳᠶᡝᠩᡤᡝ)
Mongolian: Түгээмэл Элбэгт (ᠲᠦᠭᠡᠮᠡᠯ ᠡᠯᠪᠡᠭᠲᠦ)
Posthumous name
Emperor Xietian Yiyun Zhizhong Chuimo Maode Zhenwu Shengxiao Yuangong Duanren Kuanmin Zhuangjian Xian
Manchu: Iletu hūwangdi (ᡳᠯᡝᡨᡠ
Temple name
Manchu: Wendzung (ᠸᡝᠨᡯᡠᠩ)
HouseAisin Gioro
FatherDaoguang Emperor
MotherEmpress Xiao Quan Cheng
Xianfeng Emperor
Traditional Chinese咸豐帝
Simplified Chinese咸丰帝
Literal meaning“Universal Prosperity” Emperor

Family and early lifeEdit

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 reignEdit

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 warsEdit

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 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 Palikao, 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 Yehe Nara clan.


The Xianfeng Emperor died on 22 August 1861, from a short life of overindulgence, at the Chengde Mountain Resort, 230 kilometres 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.[1] Xianfeng gave the eight men the power of regency, but their edicts would have to be endorsed by Noble Consort Yi and Empress Consort Zhen. 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 known as Empress Dowagers Cixi and Ci'an 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 kilometres/75 miles east of Beijing, in the Ding (定; lit. "Quietude") mausoleum complex.


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

The Qing dynasty continued to decline during the reign of the Xianfeng Emperor. 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 repeated requests by the Europeans 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. The reigns of his son and subsequent successors were overseen by regents, a trend present until the fall of the Qing dynasty.


Consorts and Issue:

  • Primary Consort, of the Sakda clan (孝德顯皇后, 薩克達氏; 12 April 1831 – 24 January 1850), seventh cousin once removed. She is also known by her posthumous title, Empress Xiao De Xian.
  • Empress Xiao Zhen Xian, of the Niohuru clan (孝貞顯皇后, 鈕祜祿氏; 12 August 1837 – 8 April 1881). She is known by her title, Empress Dowager Ci'an.


  • Imperial Noble Consort Zhuangjing, of the Tatara clan (莊靜皇貴妃, 他他拉氏; 2 April 1837 – 26 December 1890)
  • Imperial Noble Consort Duanke, of the Tunggiya clan (端恪皇貴妃, 佟佳氏; 3 December 1844 – 7 May 1910)
  • Noble Consort Yi, of the Yehe Nara clan (懿貴妃; 29 November 1835 - 15 November 1908), personal name Xingzhen (杏貞). After her son, Zaichun became emperor, she had title Empress Dowager Cixi. Her posthumous name is Empress Xiao Qin Xian. (孝欽顯皇后, 葉赫那拉氏).
    • Zaichun, the Tongzhi Emperor (穆宗 載淳; 27 April 1856 – 12 January 1875), first son
  • Noble Consort Mei, of the Xu clan (玫貴妃, 徐氏; 1835 – 20 December 1890)
    • Prince Min of the Second Rank (憫郡王; 19 March 1858), second son
  • Noble Consort Wan, of the Socoro clan (婉貴妃, 索綽絡氏; 17 November 1835 – 20 June 1894)
  • Consort Lu, of the Yehe Nara clan (璷妃, 葉赫那拉氏; 2 March 1841 – 15 May 1895), personal name Mudanchun (牡丹春)
  • Consort Ji of the Wang clan (吉妃, 王氏; 1846 – 12 November 1905), personal name Xinghuachun (杏花春)
  • Consort Xi, of the Cahala clan (禧妃, 察哈喇氏; 4 October 1842 – 26 June 1877), personal name Haitangchun (海棠春)
  • Consort Qing, of the Zhang clan (慶妃, 張氏; 25 October 1840 – 15 June 1885), personal name Wulingchun (武陵春)
  • Concubine Yun, of the Ugiya clan (雲嬪, 武佳氏; d. 11 January 1856), personal name Qiyun (綺雲)
  • Concubine Rong, of the Irgen Gioro clan (容嬪, 伊爾根覺羅氏; 6 July 1837 – 21 June 1869)
  • Concubine Shu, of the Yehe Nara clan (璹嬪, 葉赫那拉氏; 27 March 1840 – 9 May 1874)
  • Concubine Yu, of the Yehe Nara clan (玉嬪, 葉赫那拉氏; 14 August 1843 – 26 December 1863)
  • First Class Female Attendant Chun (瑃常在,暝谙; 1835 -1859), of the Ming‘an clan
  • First Class Female Attendant Xin (鑫常在, 戴佳; d.27 May 1859), of the Daigiya clan
  • First Class Female Attendant Ping (玶常在, 伊尔根觉罗氏; d.1856), of the Irgen Gioro clan


Yongzheng Emperor (1678–1735)
Qianlong Emperor (1711–1799)
Empress Xiaoshengxian (1692–1777)
Jiaqing Emperor (1760–1820)
Empress Xiaoyichun (1727–1775)
Lady Yanggiya
Daoguang Emperor (1782–1850)
Lady Ligiya
Empress Xiaoshurui (1760–1797)
Lady Wanggiya
Xianfeng Emperor (1831–1861)
Chengde (1728–1804)
Mukedengbu (d. 1803)
Empress Xiaoquancheng (1808–1840)
Lady Uya

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ Wakeman, Frederic. The fall of Imperial China.


Books about Empress Dowager Cixi

External linksEdit

Xianfeng Emperor
Born: 17 July 1831 Died: 22 August 1861
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Daoguang Emperor
Emperor of the Qing dynasty
Emperor of China

Succeeded by
Tongzhi Emperor