Empress Dowager Longyu

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Empress Xiaodingjing
An Imperial Portrait of Empress XiaoDing of Dezong.JPG
Regent of the Qing dynasty
Regency 2 December 1908 – 12 February 1912
alongside Zaifeng
Predecessor Empress Dowager Cixi
Successor Dynasty abolished
Emperor Xuantong Emperor
Empress Consort of the Qing dynasty
Tenure 26 February 1889 – 2 December 1908
Born (1868-01-28)28 January 1868
Died 22 February 1913(1913-02-22) (aged 45)
Forbidden City, Beijing, Republic of China
Spouse Guangxu Emperor
Full name
Yehenara Jingfen
Posthumous name
Empress Xiaoding Longyu Kuanhui Shenzhe Xietian Baosheng Jing
House Yehenara (by birth)
Aisin Gioro (by marriage)
Father Guixiang
Mother Lady Aisin Gioro
Empress Dowager Longyu
Chinese name
Chinese 孝定景皇后
Lady Yehenara
Traditional Chinese 葉赫那拉氏
Simplified Chinese 叶赫那拉氏
Manchu name
Manchu script ᡥᡳᠶᠣᠣᡧᡠᠩᡤᠠ ᡨᠣᡴᠣᠩᡤᠣ ᠠᠮᠪᠠᠯᡳᠩᡤᡡ ᡥᡡᠸᠠᠩᡥᡝᠣ
Romanization hiyoošungga toktonggo ambalinggū hūwangheo

Empress Xiaodingjing (28 January 1868 – 22 February 1913), better known as Empress Dowager Longyu, personal name Jingfen,[a] was the Empress Consort of the Guangxu Emperor, the penultimate emperor of the Qing dynasty and imperial China. She is best remembered for signing the abdication documents in 1912 on behalf of Puyi, the Last Emperor.


Wedding of the Guangxu Emperor and Empress Xiaodingjing
Wedding of the Guangxu Emperor and Empress Xiaodingjing

Empress Xiaodingjing was the second daughter of Guixiang (桂祥; 1849–1913), a Manchu general of the Yehenara clan and younger brother of Empress Dowager Cixi, and his wife of Mongolian origin. She was born in 1868 during the reign of the Tongzhi Emperor. In 1889, Cixi, who served as regent during the Guangxu Emperor's minority, decided that the emperor had to marry before he could formally take over the reins of power. She chose her niece, Guixiang's daughter, to be the Empress Consort of the Guangxu Emperor because she wanted to strengthen the influence of the Yehenara clan within the imperial family.

Empress Xiaodingjing married the Guangxu Emperor on 26 February 1889, and became his Empress directly after the wedding. The wedding ceremony, an extremely extravagant and spectacular occasion, took place on 26 February 1889. On 16 January 1889, the Forbidden City had caught fire, and the Gate of Supreme Harmony burnt down. According to imperial traditions, the route of the Emperor's wedding procession had to pass through the Gate of Supreme Harmony, which was completely destroyed. As a result, many people believed that this incident was a bad omen.

Because the reconstruction of the gate would be extremely time-consuming, and the wedding date of the Emperor could not be postponed once decided, Cixi ordered the construction of a tent resembling the gate. The artisans used paper and wood to build it, and after it was done, the tent had exactly the same height and width as the original gate, with ornamentation extremely similar to the original. At first, even people who regularly walked through the inner palace could not tell the difference between the original gate and the temporary tent.

After their marriage, the Empress was detested and ignored by the Guangxu Emperor, who favoured Consort Zhen of the Tatara clan. At first, Cixi regarded Zhen favourably, but after finding out she had overspent her allowance, she demoted her. Cixi eventually grew more hostile to Zhen, and sent her to the "cold palace", a place reserved for consorts who fell out of the emperor's favour.[b]

As she firmly opposed the Guangxu Emperor's 1898 Hundred Days' Reform programme, Cixi had the emperor placed under house arrest in the Summer Palace. The Empress frequently spied on the Guangxu Emperor and reported his every action to Cixi. In 1900, during the Boxer Rebellion, the Empress fled with Cixi and the Guangxu Emperor to Xi'an when Beijing was occupied by the forces of the Eight-Nation Alliance. Upon their return, Zhen drowned in a well within the Forbidden City.[c]

Both Yu Deling and Katherine Carl, who spent time in Cixi's court following the Boxer Rebellion, recalled Empress Xiaodingjing as a gracious and pleasant figure.[1][2]

The Guangxu Emperor and Cixi died one day apart in 1908, after which Empress Xiaodingjing was promoted to Empress Dowager, with the honorable title Longyu, meaning "Auspicious and Prosperous".

Immediately after the Guangxu Emperor's death, Cixi appointed Puyi, a nephew of the Guangxu Emperor, as the new emperor. As Empress Dowager Longyu did not have any children with the Guangxu Emperor, she adopted the infant Puyi as her child. Although Cixi had decreed before her death that the Qing imperial court would never again allow women to serve as regents, Longyu remained the leading figure in the Qing government and was consulted on all major decisions. But because she was inexperienced in politics, in the first few years of Puyi's reign, the emperor's biological father, Zaifeng (Prince Chun), served as Puyi's regent alongside General Yuan Shikai.

Empress Dowager Longyu's funeral procession at Tiananmen in 1913.

On Yuan Shikai's advice in the fall of 1911, Empress Dowager Longyu agreed to sign an abdication on behalf of five-year-old Puyi. She agreed only if the imperial family were allowed to keep its titles. Other agreements were these:

  • The imperial family could keep their possessions.
  • They could stay in the Forbidden City temporarily, then would eventually move to the Summer Palace.
  • They would receive an annual stipend of four million silver taels.
  • The imperial mausoleums would be protected and looked after.
  • The new government would pay for the Guangxu Emperor's funeral and the construction of his tomb.

The Qing dynasty came to an end in 1912 and was replaced by the Republic of China. Within a few months after the fall of the Qing dynasty, on 22 February 1913, Empress Dowager Longyu died in Beijing after an illness. She was 45 years old, and was the only Chinese empress whose coffin was transported from the Forbidden City to her tomb by train. At her funeral, the Vice President of the Republic of China, Li Yuanhong, praised her for being "most excellent among women". She was buried in the Chongling tomb of the Western Qing tombs with the Guangxu Emperor.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Der Ling, Princess Two Years in the Forbidden City, Dodd, Mead & Company 1929, pp. 18 & 146; retrieved 2 July 2013.
  2. ^ Carl, Katherine A. With the Empress Dowager of China, The Century Co., 1907, pg. 77; accessed 2 July 2013.
  1. ^ A descendant of Empress Dowager Longyu's father, Genzheng (根正), stated that her name was Jingfen (静芬).
  2. ^ Rumours were circulated that Zhen was put under house arrest because she supported the Guangxu Emperor's political reforms, but documents confirm that Zhen was already demoted by the time the emperor started his reforms in 1898.
  3. ^ Some accounts claim that Cixi ordered Zhen's murder, but there is no official documentation of that. Other sources say she committed suicide during the foreign invasion.


  • Sterling Seagrave: Dragon Lady ISBN 0-679-73369-8
  • Maria Warner: The Dragon Empress: Life and Times of Tz'u-Hsi, 1835–1908, Empress of China. ISBN 0-689-70714-2
  • Anchee Min: Empress Orchid ISBN 978-0-618-06887-6
  • Een Vrouw op de Drakentroon (A woman on the dragonthrone), Mayli Wen (foreword Lulu Wang), ISBN 90-5429-222-9
  • Daily Life in the Forbidden City, Wan Yi, Wang Shuqing, Lu Yanzhen ISBN 0-670-81164-5
Chinese royalty
Preceded by
Empress Xiaozheyi
Empress of China
Succeeded by
Empress Xiaokemin
Preceded by
Empress Dowager Cixi
Empress Dowager of China
Succeeded by