|Born||27 February 1876|
|Died||15 August 1900(aged 24)|
Tatara (by birth)|
Aisin Gioro (by marriage)
|Imperial Noble Consort Keshun|
Imperial Noble Consort Keshun (27 February 1876 – 15 August 1900), better known as Consort Zhen or popularly as the Pearl Concubine, was a consort of the Guangxu Emperor, the penultimate emperor of the Qing dynasty and imperial China. Her elder sister, Consort Jin (1874–1924), was also a consort of the Guangxu Emperor.
Consort Zhen was born in the Manchu Tatara (他他拉) clan, which was under the Bordered Red Banner. Her personal name was not recorded in history. Her father, Changxu (長敘), served as a you shilang (右侍郎; Right Vice-Secretary) of the Ministry of Revenue. Her grandfather, Yutai (裕泰), was a former Viceroy of Shaan-Gan. Her uncle, Changshan (長善), served as General of Guangzhou (廣州將軍).
Lady Tatara entered the Forbidden City in 1889 at the age of 13 and was awarded the title "Imperial Concubine Zhen" (珍嬪). Her elder sister, who also entered the Forbidden City at the same time as her, became "Imperial Concubine Jin" (瑾嬪). In the spring of 1894, both of them were promoted to the rank of Consort (妃) during Empress Dowager Cixi's 60th birthday celebrations.
Initially, Empress Dowager Cixi appreciated Consort Zhen's talents, and she hired top artisans to teach her to paint and play musical instruments. However, Consort Zhen urged the Guangxu Emperor to be "strong and independent", and encouraged his attempts to introduce political reforms and the teaching of foreign languages. It was also said that Consort Zhen liked photography, and she invited foreigners into the Forbidden City to teach her about photography. This explains the large number of extant photographs of Consort Zhen, an unusual occurrence for a consort. Her association with foreign customs, in addition to her peculiar habit of dressing in men's clothes, inspired even more disdain from Empress Dowager Cixi. Once, in response to her arrogant attitude, Cixi teased Consort Zhen by calling her "Grandmother Zhen".
Apparently, Consort Zhen also antagonised Empress Dowager Cixi when it was discovered that she had abused her influence over the Guangxu Emperor by interfering in regular procedures for civil appointments. The transactions became public in November 1894, during the First Sino-Japanese War, resulting in a series of embarrassing public scandals for the imperial court. In retaliation, Cixi ordered Consort Zhen and Consort Jin to be demoted, and ordered the execution of a palace eunuch who collaborated with Consort Zhen. Zhirui, a cousin of the two consorts who served as an official, was banished from Beijing.
Consorts Zhen and Jin were eventually restored to their positions, but it seems that Consort Zhen was excluded from court functions by the middle of 1896 and was eventually placed under house arrest.
During the invasion of the Eight-Nation Alliance in 1900, the imperial court fled from the Forbidden City to Xi'an. Empress Dowager Cixi ordered Consort Zhen to be released from house arrest and brought in front of her. The empress dowager allegedly said, "I originally planned to bring you along with us. But you are young and pretty, and are likely to be raped by the foreign soldiers on the way. I trust you know what you should do." Realising that Empress Dowager Cixi meant to order her to commit suicide, Consort Zhen begged the empress dowager to allow the Guangxu Emperor to stay in Beijing and negotiate with the foreign powers. Infuriated with her, Empress Dowager Cixi finally ordered Consort Zhen to be thrown into a well behind the Ningxia Palace in the northeastern part of the Forbidden City.
However, according to Sterling Seagrave, this dramatic story was invented by writer Edmund Backhouse, who was responsible for many of the myths about Empress Dowager Cixi. In fact, Empress Dowager Cixi had left Beijing before 14 August. Seagrave says Consort Zhen's fate is unknown, but it is possible that she "was done in by the eunuchs on their own initiative, or flung herself down the well."
- Kwong, Luke S.K. A Mosaic of the Hundred Days: Personalities, Politics and Ideas of 1898 (Harvard University Press; 1984) pg. 60
- Kwong, pg. 60
- Kwong, pg. 61
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Imperial Consort Zhen.|