Zaifeng, Prince Chun

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Aisin-Gioro Zaifeng
2ndPrinceChun1.jpg
Photograph of Zaifeng
Prince Chun of the First Rank
In office
1 January 1891 – 12 February 1912
Preceded by Yixuan
Succeeded by (None. Title abolished)
Prince-Regent of the Qing Dynasty
In office
2 December 1908 – 6 December 1911
Serving with Empress Dowager Longyu
Preceded by Empress Dowager Cixi
Succeeded by (None. Dynasty overthrown.)
Personal details
Born (1883-02-12)12 February 1883
Prince Chun Mansion, Beijing, China
Died 3 February 1951(1951-02-03) (aged 67)
Beijing, China
Spouse(s) Guwalgiya Youlan
Lady Dengiya
Relations Yixuan (father)
Lady Lingiya (mother)
Ronglu (father-in-law)
Guangxu Emperor (brother)
Empress Dowager Cixi (aunt)
Children Sons:
Puyi
Pujie
Puqi
Puren
Daughters:
Yunying
Yunhe
Yunying
Yunxian
Yunxin
Yunyu
Yunhuan
Zaifeng
Simplified Chinese 载沣
Traditional Chinese 載灃

Zaifeng (12 February 1883 – 3 February 1951), formally Prince Chun of the First Rank (醇親王) or simply Prince Chun, was a Manchu noble of the Qing Dynasty. He was the father of Puyi, the last Qing emperor, and served as Prince-Regent during his son's reign from 1908 to 1911. Zaifeng was a younger half-brother of Puyi's predecessor, the Guangxu Emperor.

Biography[edit]

Family background[edit]

Zaifeng was born of the Manchu Aisin Gioro clan as the fifth son of Yixuan, Prince Chun. He was the second of Yixuan's sons who managed to survive into adulthood. Zaifeng's mother was Lady Lingiya, who was a maid in the Prince Chun residence before becoming one of Yixuan's secondary spouses. Born to a Han bannerman family, her family name was Liu (劉) but was later changed to the Manchu clan name Lingiya (劉佳) after she married Yixuan and was transferred to a Manchu banner.

In 1875 after the Tongzhi Emperor's death, Zaifeng's older half brother Zaitian was selected by Empress Dowager Cixi and Empress Dowager Ci'an as the successor to the throne. Zaitian then became known as the Guangxu Emperor. Zaifeng's father Yixuan, as father of the reigning emperor, received the highest honour and status in the Qing imperial court. Besides, Yixuan also had a close relationship with Empress Dowager Cixi. In January 1891, upon the death of Yixuan, a barely eight years old Zaifeng immediately inherited his father's title of "Prince Chun of the First Rank" (醇親王).

In 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion, when the armies of the Eight-Nation Alliance occupied the capital Beijing, Zaifeng's fiancée reportedly committed suicide to prevent herself from being raped and dishonoured by the foreign invaders.

Life in the government[edit]

Around late February or early March 1901, Zaifeng was appointed as an Army Inspector by the Qing imperial court, which had moved to Xi'an after evacuating Beijing as the Eight-Nation Alliance's armies closed in on the capital. In June that year, at the insistence of the foreign powers, the 18-year-old Zaifeng was appointed by the Qing court as a Special Ambassador to offer regrets on behalf of the Qing government to Germany for the murder of German diplomat Baron von Ketteler in 1900. In July, Zaifeng left for Germany by sea and met Kaiser Wilhelm II in Berlin in September. He also toured Europe before returning to China, becoming one of the first members of the Qing imperial clan ever to travel abroad.

Empress Dowager Cixi was pleased with the way Zaifeng executed his diplomatic mission in Germany. He allegedly refused to kneel in front of the Kaiser even when the Germans insisted. In China, however, it was mandatory for foreign ambassadors to kneel in front of the Chinese emperor. For his success, Zaifeng was subsequently given several key appointments over the following years. At the same time, Cixi grew wary of Zaifeng because the latter was favoured by the foreign powers. One of the reasons why Zaifeng took up so many important positions in the Qing court after 1901 was that he was a protégé of the foreign powers, which Cixi was careful not to displease. However, she was as intent as ever on thwarting any challenge to her power, and so Zaifeng clearly posed a problem for her. Cixi saw an opportunity in 1902 on Zaifeng's return from Germany – she ordered Zaifeng to marry Youlan, the daughter of Ronglu, who was a conservative politician in the Qing court and a staunch supporter of Cixi. Ronglu played a leading role in putting an end to the Hundred Days' Reform in 1898, and in the subsequent internment of the Guangxu Emperor, so Zaifeng greatly disliked him, and agreed to marry his daughter only because he felt it was unwise to oppose Cixi. The marriage between Zaifeng and Youlan was an unhappy one. With Zaifeng now firmly tied to her, Cixi no longer viewed him as a threat, and when Zaifeng and Youlan's first son Puyi was born in 1906, Puyi became a likely heir to the throne. Zaifeng and Youlan had another son, Pujie, and three daughters – Yunying, Yunhe and Yunying.


Regency[edit]

The Guangxu Emperor died on 14 November 1908, and on the same day, Empress Dowager Cixi issued an imperial edict proclaiming Zaifeng's eldest son Puyi as the successor. Zaifeng was appointed Prince-Regent to assist his son. Cixi died the following day, ending her 47-year long control over China, while Zaifeng ruled as regent for the next three years. Zaifeng's first concern was to punish the Beiyang Army's leader Yuan Shikai, who betrayed the Guangxu Emperor and supported Ronglu in putting an end to the Hundred Days' Reform in 1898. Zaifeng was prevented from executing his plan of having Yuan Shikai assassinated, but Yuan was dismissed from office and ordered to return to his hometown in Henan on an excuse of "curing his foot disease".

Over the next three years from 1909 to 1911, Zaifeng carried out the economic and political reforms that were initiated after the Boxer Rebellion ended in 1901, but he was torn between the conservative (mainly Manchu officials) and reformist (mostly Han Chinese officials) factions in the Qing imperial court. The inexperienced Zaifeng concentrated more power in the hands of a small ruling court that angered bureaucrats on lower levels. He promised a constitution by 1916 with preparatory stages in between. Beginning on 5 February 1909, China held its first provincial assembly and local council elections (a council election was held in Tianjin as early as 1907). 21 provincial assemblies took their seats on 14 October. The vast majority elected were constitutional monarchists with a few crypto-revolutionaries and they turned the assemblies into hotbeds of dissent. Alarmed, the national assembly, which convened in Beijing on 3 October 1910, had half of its 200 members appointed to balance the other half elected by the provincial assemblies. The provinces sent 98 members to the capital since Xinjiang, the 22nd province, had yet to hold elections to form an assembly due to its extreme underdevelopment. Zaifeng only appointed 96 members. Nevertheless, it was the elected members that dominated the floor and wooed the appointed ones to their side. The national assembly urged Zaifeng to speed up the constitutional process and create a true parliament so Zaifeng responded by pushing forth the expected deadline to 1913.

The Grand Council was replaced by an Imperial Cabinet led by Prime Minister Yikuang on 8 May 1911. It dismayed constitutionalists as the cabinet was not responsible to the national assembly and contained seven Manchu imperial kinsmen with only four Han Chinese among its 13 members, breaking a long standing policy of appointing equal numbers of both ethnicity. More power was concentrated in the hands of the Manchu minority than at any time since the dynasty's early years. The following day, the government announced that it will nationalise major railroads. The nationalisation infuriated many businessmen who invested heavily in rail, and they were told that they would be compensated with only a portion of the amount they invested. This alienated many bourgeoisie and gentry and turned them towards revolution. They started the Railway Protection Movement to oppose nationalisation.

The period saw the revolutionaries attempting several insurrections to overthrow the Qing Dynasty, and there was even one attempt by Wang Jingwei to assassinate Zaifeng in February 1910. Zaifeng did not have the maneuvering talent nor the lust for power of the late Empress Dowager Cixi, and he proved often indecisive and probably unfit for this troubled period.

In 1910 Zaifeng ousted from Tibet the 13th Dalai Lama, who would not return from India until 1913, whereupon the Dalai Lama declared Tibet independent.

On 10 October 1911, the Wuchang Uprising marked the start of the Xinhai Revolution, which aimed to topple the Qing Dynasty and end imperial rule in China. The Qing court was forced to recall back Yuan Shikai, despite Zaifeng's deep aversion for him, as Yuan was the only one capable of suppressing the revolution. Yuan became prime minister on 16 November. Zaifeng, now deprived of any real power, stepped down on 6 December 1911, and was replaced by his sister-in-law Empress Dowager Longyu as regent. When he returned home that day, he told his family: "Now I'm back in the family, and I can finally care for my children". The three years of regency were certainly the most painful years in Zaifeng's life; he never relished power the way Empress Dowager Cixi or Yuan Shikai did, and witnesses say he was relieved when he left office.

Life after the Qing Dynasty[edit]

Even after returning to private life, Zaifeng remained a respected figure, among both the Nationalist and later the Communist parties, who appreciated his peaceful stepping down from power and acceptance of China becoming a republic. Sun Yat-sen even paid him a visit in Beijing in September 1912, during which he congratulated Zaifeng, and the latter formally declared his support for the Republic of China.

After the death of Empress Dowager Longyu in 1913, Zaifeng was put in charge of the small imperial court that remained around his son Puyi (no longer a ruling emperor), and he managed all the court's affairs until 1924 when Puyi was expelled from the Forbidden City. In 1917, when Puyi was briefly restored on the throne by the warlord Zhang Xun, Zaifeng played no significant role, as Zhang Xun's slogan for the restoration was "Do not allow the relatives of the emperor to participate in the government" (不准親貴參政).

Zaifeng lived in the Northern Residence (北府) in Beijing until 1928. He spent most of his time in the library reading books on history and newly published magazines. Sometime after 1911, he married another wife, Lady Dengiya, with whom he had several children. His primary spouse, Youlan, committed suicide in 1921 by swallowing opium after being publicly scolded by Dowager Consort Duankang (the highest-ranked woman in the imperial court after Empress Dowager Longyu's death in 1913) for the misconduct of her son Puyi.

In 1928 Zaifeng moved to Tianjin, where he lived in the British and Japanese concessions. In August 1939 he relocated back to the Northern Residence in Beijing when Tianjin was flooded. During the Second Sino-Japanese War, Zaifeng was not in favour of establishing the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo, and warned his son Puyi not to be involved. However Puyi ignored his advice and was installed by the Japanese as the figurehead ruler of Manchukuo. Zaifeng visited his son thrice in Manchukuo but ostensibly refused to participate in state affairs. Puyi wanted his father to live in Manchukuo but Zaifeng refused and returned to Beijing on an excuse that he was ill. At the end of the Second Sino-Japanese War, when the National Revolutionary Army recovered Beijing from the Japanese, a letter of sympathy was sent to Zaifeng by the Beijing Municipality in recognition of his attitude during the Japanese occupation.

After the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949 and the Communist Party established the People's Republic of China, Zaifeng was held in high regard by the party's members. He sold the Northern Residence to the government out of financial difficulties. He also donated his library and art collection to Peking University, and provided relief aid to the victims of the Huai River flooding in 1950.

Zaifeng died on 3 February 1951 in Beijing. Many of his descendants reside in Beijing, including Jin Youzhi, Jin Yuzhang and Jin Yulan. Many have changed their Manchu clan name Aisin Gioro to a Chinese family name Jin (金), which means "gold" ("Aisin" also means "gold" in Manchu).

Evaluation[edit]

Historians' opinions on Zaifeng and his regency vary. While some describe him as a conservative who tried to reassert Manchu grasp on power in times of rapid changes, others insist that the reforms he implemented during his regency might have turned China into a liberal constitutional monarchy if the 1911 Xinhai Revolution did not occur.

Family[edit]

  • Spouses:
    • Youlan, from the Guwalgiya clan, daughter of Ronglu. Zaifeng married her on 2 February 1902. They had two sons and three daughters.
    • Lady Denggiya (鄧佳氏), Zaifeng's second spouse. They had two sons and four daughters.

Children[edit]

Zaifeng had a total of 11 children with his two wives.

Zaifeng's first five children were born to his first spouse Youlan.

Name Other names Born Died Spouse Children
Puyi (溥儀) Courtesy name: Yaozhi (耀之)
Pseudonym: Haoran (浩然)
Other: Pu Haoran (溥浩然)
7 February 1906 17 October 1967 1. Empress Wanrong
2. Wenxiu
3. Tan Yuling
4. Li Yuqin
5. Li Shuxian
Pujie (溥傑) Courtesy name: Junzhi (俊之)
Other: Pu Junzhi (溥俊之)
16 April 1907 28 February 1994 1. Tang Shixia
2. Hiro Saga
1. Huisheng
2. Yunsheng
Yunying (韞媖) 1909 1925 Gobulo Runliang (郭布羅·潤良)
Yunhe (韞和) Jin Xinru (金欣如) 1911 2001 Zheng Guangyuan (鄭廣元) Zheng Yingcai (鄭英才)
Two other daughters and one son
Yunying (韞穎) Courtesy name: Ruixiu (蕊秀)
Other: Jin Ruixiu (金蕊秀)
1913 1992 Gobulo Runqi (郭布羅·潤麒)
1. Zongyan (宗弇)
2. Zongguang (宗光)
3. Manruo (曼若)

Zaifeng had two sons and four daughters with his second wife Lady Dengiya.

Name Born Died Spouse Children
Yunxian (韞嫻) 1914 2003 Zhao Qifan (趙琪璠) One son and one daughter
Puqi (溥倛) 1915 1918
Yunxin (韞馨) 1917 1998 Wan Jiaxi (萬嘉熙) Three sons and one daughter
Puren (溥任) 17 August 1918 1. Jin Yuting (金瑜庭)
2. Zhang Maoying (張茂瀅)
Three sons and two daughters
Yunyu (韞娛) 1919 1982 Wanyan Ailan (完顏愛蘭) One son and four daughters
Yunhuan (韞歡) 11 September 1921 2004 Qiao Hongzhi (喬宏志) Two sons and one daughter

Ancestry[edit]

Names and titles[edit]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Zaifeng, Prince Chun
Born: 12 February 1883 Died: 3 February 1951
Chinese nobility
Preceded by
Yixuan
Prince Chun
1891–1911
Title abolished