2012年7月9日 星期一

The Curse of Yehe-Nara: How Cixi killed the Qing Dynasty

When Nurhaci, the founder of the Qing imperial house, was beginning his campaign to unite the Jurchens of Manchuria under his reign, most of his conquest were fairly easy.  Most Jurchen clans simply did not have the size or military power or compete with Nurhaci's Aisin-Goro clan.  The one clan that could stand up to Nurhaci was the Nara clan, the ruling clan of four Jurchen tribes.  These four tribes were Hada, Ula, Hoifa and Yehe.  Of the four tribes, the Nara Yehe proved the most unyielding under the leadership of Prince of the 3rd Rank (Beile) Gintaisi which also had the assistance of the Ming dynasty.  After a six year struggle from 1613 to 1619, the Nara Yehe tribe was defeated and Gintaisi was forced to commit suicide.


This was when, legend has it, that he had a curse that eventually brought down the Qing Empire: "As long as any of descendants survive, even a woman, will overthrow the Manchuria."  This account was originally provided by Tales of Emperor Guangxu of the Qing (清光绪帝外传)  For Chinese speakers, the quote was as such: 吾子孫雖存一女子必覆滿洲.  

While little other sources could be find to verify this, it is interesting that no women that descended from the Yehe-Nara (excluding the other 3 tribes of the Nara clan) tribe ever joined an imperial harem in any capacity until the reign of Emperor Xianfeng, the seventh emperor of the Chinese Qing Dynasty (9th if you include all monarchs of the Qing even prior its conquest of China).  Emperor Xianfeng broke this tradition when he selected a 16 year old girl for companionship one particular evening.  Because of this, this girl was promoted to Worthy Concubine (consort of the 6th rank).  Five years later, she gave birth to Emperor Xianfeng's only son and was therefore promoted to Consort (consort of the 4th rank).  Just two years later, she was then promoted to Noble Consort, a rank that made her second only to Empress Consort.  She would later become commonly known as the Empress Dowager Cixi.  
Cixi when she was a Noble Consort

Emperor Xianfeng

It was upon the death of her husband did Cixi truly fulfill her ancestor, Prince Gintaisi,'s curse.  As Empress Dowager, a position of no political power, she allied with the other Empress Dowager Cian (the former Empress Consort Niuhuru) and Prince Gong (Iron Cap Prince of the 1st Rank) to launch the Xinyou coup against the Eight Regent Ministers led by Sushun.  These regents were originally selected by Emperor Xianfeng to serve because of their proven ability in the imperial court.  Initially, this move would not have been catastrophic for the Qing Dynasty as Prince Gong was renowned as one of China's most competent statesman and respected modernizers.  Yet, Emperor Xianfeng, out of jealously, had under-utilized the well-regarded prince out of fear of losing power to him.  With the assistance of the Prince Gong, who was granted the title "Prince who Discusses Administration" (basically Prince Regent) and became the leading figure in the imperial court.
Prince Gong

Empress Dowager Cian

During this period, the Qing managed to suppress the large-scale Taiping Rebellion and slowly began its modernization process.  Prince Gong, as the highest ranking official, was held in great acclaim by his contemporaries for his policies that pacified the foreign powers (relative to the previous reigns).  Furthermore, as head of the Grand Council (Junjichu) and Zongli Yamen (the Qing version of the Ministry of Foreign Relations), he had amassed great power.  This threatened Cixi and she gradually began curtailing his power.  In 1865, she took advantage of false allegations by Prince Gong's political enemies to strip him of his Regency.  Yet, Prince Gong remained stoutly independent and not only killed Cixi's favorite An Dehai for disobeying rules but also opposed the construction of the Old Summer Palace.  When an opportunity came during a brief moment of indecisiveness in the Grand  Council leading to the Chinese "defeat" in Vietnam in the Sino-French War (technically, China won the battle; Cixi just signed the Treaty of Tientsin turning over Vietnam anyways), she stripped him of all his political power (the title of Prince was retained) to great opposition from senior officials.  Cixi's hatred of Prince Gong resulted in the removal of office of many important officials throughout the imperial court.  In the process, the imperial court lost many of the most competent officials who were replaced with yes-men and cowards who agree to Cixi's every whim, namely  Prince Chun (Iron Cap Prince of the 1st Rank).  Prince Gong, being one of the more willing officials to modernize, was marginalize for the majority of his later life.
Zhongli Yamen

File:Jun Ji Chu.jpg
The Grand Council building famous for proximity to the emperor's bedroom & office
Prince Chun

 Besides ridding the imperial court of all voices of opposition, Cixi then proceeded to further hinder China's modernization path when she placed Emperor Guangxu under house arrest.  This incident arose as Guangxu became of age to personally rule China in 1898.  With his belief in modelling China after the Japanese Meiji Reformation, Guangxu attempted to modernize during a period later called the Hundred Days reform.  Imperial edicts Guangxu issued would reform the traditional political, legal and social environment of China.  To further this process, Guangxu dismissed many of the corrupt officials and Cixi's sycophants.  This angered Cixi and she launched a coup and imprisoned Guangxu in Zhongnanhai with only one exit in or out which was guarded by Cixi loyalists.  From this moment onwards, Guangxu was only a nominal emperor with absolutely no power or influence over his state.  "Coincidentally", the emperor died in 1908 one day before Cixi's own death; modern investigation has uncovered evidence of arsenic poisoning and it was likely that Cixi had ordered his death to prevent him from returning to power after her death instead of her chosen successor, Puyi.  The loss of Guangxu was devastating to the Qing Empire as he was well-respected both domestically and internationally.  His ambition of launching a Meiji-style reformation of the Qing Empire may likely have saved the empire.  

Emperor Guangxu
Individuals responsbile for the Hundred Day Reforms (Emperor Guangxu is the middle)
Emperor Meiji of Japan who begun the Meiji Reformation

Personally speaking, I have always believed that Qing dynasty could have survived if westernization and reforms were implemented either during the regency of Prince Gong (and perhaps even after the regency before he was removed completely from political office) or the reign of Emperor Guangxu.  This is because it was likely that China could have followed a similar path of modernization used by Japan which had become a global power in mere decades after the Meiji Reformation.  Hence, from my perspective, the ousting of Prince Gong and Emperor Guangxu likely spelled the doom for the Qing Dynasty.  In this case, I believe that Gintaisi's curse did in fact come into being as a woman of the Yehe-Nara clan destroyed Manchu rule and the Qing Dynasty came to an end three short years after Cixi's death.  

 (Of course others may have different perspectives.  If Cixi's persecution of Prince Gong and Emperor Guangxu does not convince you, please look at this list)

1. If you look at the literal meaning the words uttered in the curse, Gintaisi claimed that even a woman of his clan will overthrow the Qing Dynasty.  Empress Dowager Longyu was also a member of the Yehe-Nara clan who was chosen by Cixi to become empress (wife of Emperor Guangxu).  It was her, in her capacity as Empress Dowager, who ultimately signed the abdication on behalf of the then 6 year old Emperor Xuantong (Puyi).  If this was the case, then both Cixi (for selecting Longyu) and Longyu herself throws the validity of Gintaisi's curse.

Empress Dowager Longyu

2. If you are like me, and you believe Cixi was the one who fulfilled the dreadful curse, perhaps her other actions was the cause of the Qing Empire's downfall.  First of all, the signing of the Treaty of Tientsin was pathetic.  While the naval battles against the French were lost, the Qing army was very successful against the French.  It was because of the cowardice of Cixi that she signed the Treaty of Tientsin (1885).  

Treaty of Tientsin 

3. Cixi embezzled the budget intended for the Beiyang Army and Fleet to rebuild her Summer Palace which led to the defeat of the Beiyang forces in the Sino-Japanese War.  This resulted in the Treaty of Shimonoseki which resulted in the lost of Korea as a Chinese tributary state/protectorate as well as the independence of the Penghu islands, Taiwan and parts of the Liaodong Peninsula.  

Summer Palace

4. Cixi used large amounts of funds from the imperial coffers to fund her elegant birthday celebrations despite the already weakened state of the Chinese economy after the signing of many unequal treaties with foreign powers.  

Empress Dowager Cixi on her 70th birthday

5. Cixi falsely believed in the effectiveness of folk superstition that supposedly grants invulnerability to those who practiced Chinese Boxing (Righteous Harmony Boxing).  She permitted the the Boxer Rebellion to begin hostilites through the murder of foreign citizens and diplomats within China because of xenophobia.  This led to the Eight-Nation Alliance invasion of Beijing resulting in numerous civilian deaths and large reparation payments.

Eight-Nation Alliance Troops in Beijing 

These are but a few of her other actions that contributedly extensively to the collapse of the Qing Empire; the curse looks real to me.  

1 則留言:

  1. I love your blog!!!! I too enjoy Chinese history very much. I write blog posts that connect Chinese history & TVB dramas. Please check it out at http://casualtvb.blogspot.ca/search/label/Historical%20Context. Of course, your posts are much more detailed :)