Prince Gong (Qing dynasty)

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This is a Manchu name; the family name is Aisin Gioro.
Aisin Gioro Yixin
Photograph of Prince Gong.PNG
Prince Gong of the first rank
In office
25 February 1850 – 29 May 1898
Appointed by Daoguang Emperor
Preceded by (None. Title created.)
Succeeded by Puwei
Leader of the Zongli Yamen
In office
20 January 1861 – 8 April 1884
also bore the title prince regent (議政王)
Monarch Xianfeng Emperor
Tongzhi Emperor
Guangxu emperor
Succeeded by Prince Qing
In office
29 September 1894 – 29 May 1898
Monarch Guangxu Emperor
Preceded by Prince Qing
Succeeded by Prince Duan
Chief councillor of the grand council
In office
1853-1855, 1861-1884
Monarch Xianfeng Emperor
Tongzhi Emperor
Guangxu emperor
Personal details
Born (1833-01-11)11 January 1833
Died 29 May 1898(1898-05-29) (aged 65)
Beijing, China
Spouse(s) Lady Guwalgiya
Relations Daoguang Emperor (Father)
Empress Xiaojingcheng (Mother)
Xianfeng emperor (brother)
Tongzhi emperor (Nephew)
Guangxu Emperor (Nephew)
Children Kurun Princess Rongshou
Zaicheng
Zaiying
Zaijun
Zaihuang
Residence Prince Gong Mansion
Aisin Gioro Yixin
Traditional Chinese 愛新覺羅奕訢
Simplified Chinese 爱新觉罗奕䜣
Prince Gong
Traditional Chinese 恭親王
Simplified Chinese 恭亲王

Aisin Gioro Yixin, commonly known as Yixin (Manchu: ᡳ ᡥᡳᠨ I Hin; 11 January 1833 – 29 May 1898), and better known as Prince Gong (or, formally, Prince Gong of the first rank), was a prince and statesman of the Qing dynasty. He was the sixth son of the Daoguang Emperor and a half brother of Daoguang's successor, the Xianfeng emperor. He served as a regent during the reign of Xianfeng's son and successor, the Tongzhi emperor. Having established the Zongli Yamen — a government body in charge of foreign affairs — in 1861, Yixin is best remembered as a proponent of friendly relations between the Qing government and other great powers of that era, as well as for his attempts to modernise China in the late 19th century. The last decades of his career were marked by conflict with conservative elements in the court, and he died in relative disgrace.[1]

Early life[edit]

Yixin was born of the Manchu Aisin Gioro clan, the imperial clan of the Qing dynasty, as the sixth son of the Daoguang emperor. His mother was Noble Consort Jing (posthumously known as Empress Xiaojingcheng) of the Mongol Borjigit clan.

Yixin was mentored by Zhuo Bingtian (卓秉恬) and Jia Zhen (賈楨), and was known to be a bright and diligent student. When the Daoguang Emperor was selecting an heir apparent from among his sons, he was unable to decide between Yixin and his fourth son, Yizhu (the future Xianfeng Emperor), but eventually wrote a secret edict in 1846 announcing that he had designated the latter as his successor. Three years later, the Daoguang Emperor had a tomb built in the consorts' cemetery for Yixin's mother, Noble Consort Jing, and ordered that she must be buried there after death. Daoguang's action hinted that he would never appoint Yixin as his successor because if Yixin did become the emperor later, his mother would be posthumously honoured as an empress. Qing empresses who died before their husbands were buried together with their husbands, while those who died after their husbands had individual tombs for themselves. Since Daoguang already had a tomb built for Yixin's mother before she died and ordered that she be buried there after death, this meant that he only regarded her as a secondary spouse, so her son would never become the emperor.

In February 1850, before his death, the Daoguang emperor revealed the secret edict he wrote in 1846,[2] which decreed that Yizhu would be instated as the crown prince (皇太子), while Yixin would become a Prince of the First Rank (親王). Yixin married the daughter of Guiliang (桂良), an important court official of the Manchu Gūwalgiya clan. The marriage is often seen as a sign that the Daoguang emperor favoured Yixin, but in fact the marriage was arranged after Daoguang had appointed Yizhu as his heir, so this marriage may only be viewed as an act of "compensation" for Yixin. Besides, Yixin's wife was not a favourite daughter of Guiliang and was born to Guiliang's secondary spouse.

During the Xianfeng emperor's reign[edit]

During the reign of the Xianfeng emperor, Yixin and his mother (who held the title of dowager consort) falsified an imperial edict in Xianfeng's name that granted Yixin's mother the title of "empress dowager". Xianfeng was greatly displeased but he did not rescind the edict in order to save himself from public embarrassment. Yixin's mother died after being the Empress Dowager for eight days and was posthumously honoured as Empress Xiaojingcheng. Yixin did not play an important roles in politics and only served as a military minister from 1853 to 1855.

In 1860, during the Second Opium War, Yixin was appointed as an imperial envoy with full authority (全權欽差大臣) and was ordered to remain in the capital, Beijing, to negotiate with the British, French and Russians on behalf of the Qing government. The Xianfeng emperor fled from Beijing and moved his imperial court to the Chengde Summer Palace in Hebei. Yixin was successful in the negotiations and concluded the Convention of Beijing with the western powers.

The Xianfeng emperor died in the summer of 1861 in the Chengde Summer Palace and was succeeded by the young Tongzhi emperor. Before his death, Xianfeng appointed Zaiyuan, Duanhua, Sushun and five other senior court officials to serve as regents for his successor, the Tongzhi Emperor.

As prince-regent[edit]

Photo by Felice Beato 2 November 1860, after signing the Convention of Peking

In November 1861, Yixin plotted with the empress dowagers Cixi and Ci'an to launch a coup, known as the Xinyou Coup (辛酉政變), to seize power from the eight regents. The regents were escorting the Xianfeng emperor's coffin back to the Forbidden City when they were intercepted upon arrival and placed under arrest. Zaiyuan and Duanhua were forced to commit suicide, Sushun was executed, while the five other regents were stripped of power.

After the Xinyou Coup, the empress dowagers Cixi and Ci'an became co-regents of the Qing government while Yixin was appointed as Prince-Regent (議政王) and placed in charge of important state affairs, including control over the Grand Council. Yixin remained in power as regent from 1861 to 1884 throughout the reigns of the Tongzhi and Guangxu emperors. In 1861, Yixin established the Zongli Yamen, which functioned as the Qing government's de facto ministry of foreign affairs. As the longstanding leader of the organisation, Yixin was responsible for spearheading various reforms during the early part of the Self-Strengthening Movement, a series of measures taken by the Qing government to modernise China. He also founded the Tongwen Guan in 1862 for Chinese scholars to read foreign languages and study technology.

Fall from grace[edit]

Prince Gong, 1872

In 1865, Yixin was accused by Cai Shouqi (蔡壽祺) of "monopolising state power, accepting bribes, practising favouritism, behaving arrogantly, and showing disrespect towards the emperor." Empress Dowager Cixi became suspicious of Yixin and stripped him off his position of prince-regent. Despite so, Yixin continued to remain as a central figure of power in the Qing imperial court. In 1869, An Dehai (安德海), a eunuch and close aide of Empress Dowager Cixi, was executed by Ding Baozhen for travelling to Shandong, because eunuchs were forbidden to travel out of the Forbidden Palace without permission. Ding Baozhen was believed to have been instigated by Yixin. Cixi was very unhappy with Yixin. In 1873, Yixin strongly opposed the construction of the New Summer Palace and further incurred Cixi's anger towards him.

In 1884, when the Sino–French War broke out, Yixin was in charge of directing the Military Department (軍機處), which was disorganised and indecisive on whether to fight or make peace. This resulted in a Chinese defeat in the war and caused Yixin to lose considerable prestige. Later that year, Empress Dowager Cixi dismissed Yixin from office and ordered him to remain at home to "recuperate from illness". Yixin was replaced by his younger half brother, Yixuan. Some officials such as Baoyun (寶鋆), Li Hongzao (李鴻藻), Jinglian (景廉) and Weng Tonghe who previously served under Yixin's administration were removed from office. This incident was known as the "Cabinet Change of Jiashen" (甲申易樞) or "Political Change of Jiashen" (甲申朝局之變) because it took place in the jiashen year according to the Chinese sexagenary cycle.

After his dismissal, Yixin remained in Jietai Temple in western Beijing most of the time. In 1894, on the outbreak of the First Sino-Japanese War, Yixin, who was already in his old age, was recalled to the imperial court to deal with the situation. He served in the Military Department and Zongli Yamen until he became critically ill in 1898 and eventually died in that year.

Evaluations[edit]

In the 20th century, Yixin was vilified by as the man responsible for "selling" the country to the western powers through his various reforms and talks with the foreigners. In recent times he has been recognized as an exemplary statesman of equal calibre as Li Hongzhang.

Family[edit]

Empress Xiaojing and Yixin
Gulun Princess Rongshou (centre, seated)
  • Spouse: Lady Guwalgiya (瓜爾佳氏)
  • Children:
    • Gulun Princess Rongshou (榮壽固倫公主), Yixin's eldest daughter.
    • Zaicheng (載澂; 1858–1885), Yixin's eldest son, granted the title of beile.
    • Zaiying (載瀅; 1861–1909), Yixin's second son, granted the title of a beile. He was adopted by Yihe (奕詥), Prince Zhong of the Second Rank.
    • Zaijun (載濬), Yixin's third son, granted the title of Duke Who Assists the Nation (輔國公), died early.
    • Zaihuang (載潢), Yixin's fourth son, died early.
  • Grandchildren:
    • Zaiying's children:
      • Puwei (溥偉; 1880–1936), Prince Gongxian of the First Rank.
      • Puru (溥儒; 1896-1963)
      • Puyou (溥佑), born after Yixin's death, adopted by a descendant of Abatai. He returned to the Aisin-Gioro clan in 1937.
      • Puhui (溥僡; 1906–1963)
  • Great-grandchildren:
    • Yuzhan (毓嶦; 1923-), Puwei's son.
    • Puru's children:
      • Taohua (韜華)
      • Yuli (毓岦)
      • Yucen (毓岑)
      • Yuqi (毓岐)

Ancestry[edit]

Names and titles[edit]

Prince Gong Mansion[edit]

Prince Gong's Mansion in Beijing

A former residence of Yixin in the western part of central Beijing is now open to the public as a museum called the Prince Gong Mansion.

Portrayals in media[edit]

In 2006, Yixin's life story was adapted into a Chinese television series titled Sigh of His Highness, starring Chen Baoguo as the prince.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

Prince Gong (Qing dynasty)
Born: 11 January 1833 Died: 29 May 1898
Preceded by
None. Title created.
Prince Gong of the First Rank
1850-1898
Succeeded by
Puwei