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Empress Dowager Cixi

Empress Dowager Tzu-hsi, or in pinyin Cixi (November 29, 1835 - November 15, 1908) was a powerful and charismatic figure who was the de facto ruler of Ch'ing (Qing) China in the late 19th and early 20th century.

She did her best to cope with the difficulties of the era but her conservative attitudes did not serve her well and the Western powers continued to take advantage of the country's relatively low level of technological development.

A widow of the Xianfeng Emperor, she was regent for most of the period from 1861 until her death, sharing power with the Dowager Empress Cian until the latter's death in 1881.

While seeking China's "self-strengthening" through strictly-controlled industrial and military growth, she opposed attempts at political modernization, staging a coup d'etat (September 21, 1898) against the political influence of the Guangxu Emperor to end the Hundred Days' Reform.

In 1900 her tolerance of Boxer armed action against foreigners in northern China contributed to western invasion and China's humiliating defeat. She died the day after the Guangxu Emperor, who some say was poisoned by her.

The traditional view is that Cixi was a devious despot who maintained a deathgrip on what little power she had until that power faded out completely. Three years after her death, the Imperial dynasty was itself overthrown in the Xinhai Revolution. However, some authors, such as Sterling Seagrave in his biography The Dragon Lady maintain a far more positive view of Cixi, arguing that she has been unfairly maligned and when seen more closely, her actions were reasonable responses to the difficulties that China faced.

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