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Tongzhi Emperor

The Tongzhi Emperor (27 April 185612 January 1875), born Zaichun of the Manchu Aisin Gioro clan, 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 ( ; Manchu: Feng engge Sabingga), but this name was later abandoned by Cixi in favour of Tongzhi, a contraction of the classical phrase tonggui yu zhi (), which means "restoring order together". An alternate interpretation reads it as "mother and son co-emperors" (), 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" () 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.

Tongzhi married Empress Xiaozheyi, who was from a Mongol clan. He died of smallpox at the age of 18. He was buried in the Huiling Mausoleum, Eastern Qing Tombs, Hebei. He had no sons to succeed him. Folklore says that Tongzhi died from a sexually transmitted disease (specifically syphilis), due to his alleged affairs with prostitutes outside of the palace, and that the smallpox diagnosis was given only because the mere discussion of sexually transmitted diseases in China was taboo. However no credible evidence exists to substantiate the rumours.

Tongzhi's mother Empress Dowager Cixi and Empress Dowager Ci'an resumed regency after enthroning Zaitian, son of Prince Chun, as the Guangxu Emperor. Empress Xiaozheyi died a few months after Tongzhi's death. Popular stories suggest that she either committed suicide or that Empress Dowager Cixi starved her to death by cutting off her food supply.



  1. Empress Xiaozheyi, () of the Alute clan (1854 1875)
  2. Imperial Noble Consort Shushen, () (1860 1905) n e Fuca.
  3. Imperial Noble Consort Zhuanghe, () (1857 14 April 1921) n e Alute was the aunt of Empress Xiaozheyi.
  4. Imperial Noble Consort Jingyi,[1] () (1856 1932) n e Heseri.
  5. Imperial Noble Consort Ronghui, () (1854 1933) n e Silin Gioro.



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Sources and literature

As the only son of Empress Dowager Cixi, the Tongzhi Emperor is mentioned in almost all books about her.

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