Duanhua rose to prominence during the reign of the Xianfeng Emperor. Because of a scandal involving Grand Councilor Mujangga, Duanhua gained the Xianfeng Emperor's trust as a loyal confidant, and became one of the emperor's closest advisors. Duanhua also recommended his brother, Sushun, to serve in the Qing imperial court. During the Second Opium War, Duanhua accompanied the ailing Xianfeng Emperor to Rehe to escape from the foreign invaders.
In 1861, before the Xianfeng Emperor died, he appointed eight regents to assist his successor, the young Tongzhi Emperor, in administrating state affairs. Duanhua and Sushun were among the eight. Later that year, Duanhua and the other seven regents were ousted from power in the Xinyou Coup (辛酉政變) orchestrated by Prince Gong and Empress Dowager Cixi. Duanhua was arrested, imprisoned, and eventually forced to commit suicide.