Empress Dowager Cixi
From Concubine to World Leader
In the first episode of Broads You Should Know, Sam schools Sara & Justin about Empress Dowager Cixi and her historic rise from low-level concubine to political genius and Empress of China!
(please excuse any errors, spelling or otherwise – audio transcription is tricky)
Hi everybody. Okay, welcome to BROADS YOU SHOULD KNOW, the podcast about amazing or noteworthy women from history.
Sara Gorsky 0:46
That you weren’t taught in history class.
Sam Eggers 0:48
Yep but you’re gonna know about them now.
Justin Xavier 0:50
And every week we’re gonna be covering a different woman from history that you may or may not have heard about, and you’re gonna leave the episode more educated than ever before.
Sam Eggers 1:00
Than EVER before.
Justin Xavier 1:01
Than ever before, truly.
Sara Gorsky 1:03
I mean, it’s always been educational for me all these episodes are blowing my mind.
So we’re gonna blow our mind with today?
Sam Eggers 1:10
I’m so excited to blow your mind right now. Okay, this is going to be about Empress Dowager Cixi. So I want to do a wide disclaimer here for my pronunciation of all – and tried to practice before I came here today. But –
Justin Xavier 1:23
Sam Eggers 1:23
So yeah, so I’m waiting for the responses to come in of like “you said that wrong.” But I’m gonna try my best here.
Sara Gorsky 1:30
And like we know. Like you don’t have to tell us we know. And we’re embarrassed.
Sam Eggers 1:34
Yeah. And I already feel horrible about it. So one big disclaimer at the top.
Sara Gorsky 1:40
Sam Eggers 1:41
Um, so everything that I have here about Empress Cixi came from two places, pretty much. They came from Jung Chang’s book that she wrote in 2013, about Empress Cixi’s life. And then also, there’s some information from an article is actually from National Geographic that I pulled…
Sara Gorsky 1:59
…Wow she’s doing citations.
Sam Eggers 2:00
Well, I don’t want to be total jerk.
Sara Gorsky 2:02
Sam Eggers 2:02
Let’s see, which was the one that I thought was really great?
Justin Xavier 2:04
Oh, of course she’s a pro.
Sara Gorsky 2:07
Justin, she’s making us look bad.
Justin Xavier 2:09
Sam Eggers 2:10
Sorry guys. This is by Josep Maria Casals from National Geographic’s History Magazine. To start off – Empress Cixi – she’s a really controversial figure, because a lot of history up until recently has looked at her as sort of a – really painted her as a villain, as someone who’s very manipulative and did a lot of terrible things.
Justin Xavier 2:30
That sounds like history.
Sara Gorsky 2:31
I can’t wait to learn more about her!
Sam Eggers 2:34
Woman in power. Ya know. She clearly…
Justin Xavier 2:36
Yeah, anytime any woman has power, it’s – she’s evil, she’s the worst.
Sam Eggers 2:41
And so that was one of the really interesting things about Jung Chang’s book, which is that she sort of is painting Cixi in a different light, and it’s because she is taking a lot of Chinese resources and these language resources, and it’s the first time that things have been, as I understand it, have been translated into English to make it so that we have helped forming a more broad understanding of her role in history.
Sara Gorsky 3:05
Sam Eggers 3:06
She’s fascinating. Let’s we’re gonna dive in.
Sara Gorsky 3:08
Sam Eggers 3:09
All right, so she’s born in 1835. And we don’t know a ton about her early life. We know that she must have been born into a pretty illustrious family, and that they probably had government positions and they were Manchu. So at the time the Manchus, they’re the ethnic minority. So there’s the Han Chinese and then there’s the Manchu and the Manchu are the ruling elite of the time. And so any family that is well off, that is Manchu at this time, if they have a daughter, when she hits puberty, she is then presented to the Emperor. And at that time, the Emperor you know, they sort of go through all of the women and they say, “Okay, these are women who are gonna be selected to be concubines.”
Sara Gorsky 3:50
Sam Eggers 3:50
So, yeah, exactly.
Sara Gorsky 3:53
I know that shouldn’t surprise me, but ugh.
Sam Eggers 3:55
I know, right? Well, and so at this time, she was probably could read and write a little bit she could probably so in draw, but that’s kind of like that’s would have been the limit as to how she was educated and what her early life would have been and in that time, too you know, she was a girl. It’s not like she would have – her opinion would have been valued very highly in her house, you know? It’s – she sort of would have had to fulfill the stereotypical functions as as a woman at that time. So she’s presented to the Emperor and this is June 26, 1852. She is taken to the Forbidden City to live. She is selected
Sara Gorsky 4:38
Is that where the Emperor lives?
Sam Eggers 4:40
Sara Gorsky 4:40
Oooh, forbidden city.
Justin Xavier 4:40
Sam Eggers 4:40
So the the Royal city… it’s exciting, right? So the Forbidden City is within the Royal City. And the Forbidden City is where all of the concubines live and the concubines kind of have to stay there. And they have like maids and eunuchs who attend them. And then the Emperor was allowed to go there, but it’s not like anybody else is really…
Sara Gorsky 5:01
It’s like the Emperor’s private sex palace.
Sam Eggers 5:03
Sara Gorsky 5:04
Justin Xavier 5:05
Sara Gorsky 5:05
Yeah. So this is…
Justin Xavier 5:08
How did men in every country across the world all managed to trick everyone into thinking they were the most important things who could get whatever they wanted?
Sam Eggers 5:18
It is baffling.
Sara Gorsky 5:19
Sam Eggers 5:20
It’s absolutely baffling. And that like, yeah, everyone went along with it, because it worked out for half the people, you know.
Sara Gorsky 5:25
But then this was like, was it like, great honor, though? That she was chosen? Like that was an honor to her family?
Sam Eggers 5:30
It is. It’s definitely…
Justin Xavier 5:31
Sam Eggers 5:32
Justin Xavier 5:32
So gross. You were chosen to be fucked by the Emperor over and over and over.
Sara Gorsky 5:37
Did you even watch Mulan, Justin?
Justin Xavier 5:40
Yes, I did.
Sara Gorsky 5:41
It’s all about the family honor.
Justin Xavier 5:42
Yeah, it’s the only thing that matters.
I can’t wait for the Mulan movie.
I’m excited, I’m so excited.
Sara Gorsky 5:45
Oh my god, me neither. The trailer – it has me sobbing every time I watch it.
Justin Xavier 5:49
It looks beautiful..
Sara Gorsky 5:49
Anyway, we’re not talking about Mulan…
Sam Eggers 5:51
Anyway, so when she gets there… I’m gonna keep calling Cixi Cixi because that is sort of the last name she takes but she has many names. So when she gets to the court they don’t – the court documents just say “a woman of the Nala family” like they don’t -because women’s names were sort of deemed to unimportant to be recorded.
Justin Xavier 6:08
To even write down?!
Sara Gorsky 6:09
That makes sense. That makes total sense.
Justin Xavier 6:12
What the fuck?
Sam Eggers 6:13
So her name isn’t there, they give her a name, which is a Lan, which means orchid, but this will change coming up. Anyway, so she’s a very low level concubine.
Justin Xavier 6:23
So, I don’t know a lot about China and I feel terrible, but is it normal to – is that like a good name? Or is that like, “whatever? We’ll name you after a flower?
Sam Eggers 6:33
I don’t know. I sort of assumed it was just like that was maybe like flowers were sort of common name.
Justin Xavier 6:39
Sam Eggers 6:39
But yeah I don’t know…
Sara Gorsky 6:41
So wait, a low level concubine? Like, she can only do handies? Like, she’s not allowed to like, do the full sex?
Sam Eggers 6:49
Everybody wants to be a low level concubine.
Sara Gorsky 6:53
I don’t actually know what that would, like, entail.
Sam Eggers 6:54
Well this means she does not get a private cow.
Justin Xavier 6:58
Sam Eggers 6:58
She doesn’t get a private So when you show up all of the concubines allocated, you know the things.
Sara Gorsky 7:04
She has a community cow.
Sam Eggers 7:04
Yes. So she doesn’t get a private cow, she only gets three kilos of meat. She gets four maids, though and a eunuch to help her with things that you do – for dressing and laundry and such.
Justin Xavier 7:16
I mean, I guess you know, you you’re given stuff
Sara Gorsky 7:19
And all those things cost less than a cow. So okay. Wow.
Sam Eggers 7:24
And so when she shows up there, you know there’s a – there are many other concubines and they’re all in these sort of – there’s a hierarchy and the woman who’s at the top is Empress Zhen…and she becomes friends with Cixi. So that’s great. Now you probably are wondering all about this fantastic Emperor, right? Like
Sara Gorsky 7:46
Sam Eggers 7:46
Sara Gorsky 7:48
The most the most virile man in China. Supposedly.
Sam Eggers 7:51
Well, so when he’s 18, he comes into power, and at the time, they sort of refer to the Emperor as a dragon. But apparently this guy he’s like – he had a terrible accident when he was younger – he fell off a horse so he limps. He apparently has a voracious sexual appetite and apparently is not terribly bright so you get the idea that…
Justin Xavier 8:10
Is he actually injured or she’s making it so that he can just have sex all day?
Sam Eggers 8:14
I kind of hope he’s faking it.
Justin Xavier 8:15
I fell off a horse so I can’t do anything. I can’t fight. I just gotta go to the Forbidden Palace all day. I’ve got like a bunch of concubines there
Sara Gorsky 8:23
Someone else do my paperwork today. I’m gonna go to the Fobidden City.
Justin Xavier 8:28
Sorry, I don’t mean to make fun of an emperor or maybe he’s like, beloved?
Sara Gorsky 8:31
I don’t feel like we –
Sam Eggers 8:32
He might be. I don’t know enough about him.
Sara Gorsky 8:33
I don’t feel like we need to defend him. We’re talking about –
Sam Eggers 8:36
Yeah, he’s fine. He had a good life. He’s fine. Yeah. However, to sort of give him credit he became Emperor at a really tumultuous time for China. And at this time, this is just when the Taiping Rebellion has had rebellion is happening. Famine has hit the country. They’re in between the first and second Opium War.
Justin Xavier 8:53
That’s why she didn’t get a cow.
Sam Eggers 8:54
There you go.
Sara Gorsky 8:56
Opium War? I have to read more about that.
Sam Eggers 8:58
It’s really interesting. So, unfortunately, it ends up in resulting in the what they call these unequal treaties, which means that China loses these wars, and so France and Britain end up saying you owe us part of the – ou know, the the agreement at the end of the war is that you’re going to have to pay us an insane amount of money. And so they’re financially crippled for a long time because of these treaties that happen. So this is sort of a really bad time to just have – to be 18, which is incredibly young, and you’re Emperor and now it’s like you’re in charge of – oh and there’s all of this discord and tension and all these really big problems that are facing the country. And so along comes Cixi. So Cixi is low-level concubine, but she ends up getting pregnant and she gives birth to a son. And at this time, there is no son. So when…
Sara Gorsky 9:52
The Emperor’s son.
Sam Eggers 9:53
Yes, this is the Emperor’s son, so this is a big fuckin deal.
Sara Gorsky 9:56
Whoa, I thought she was just low level?
Sam Eggers 9:59
Sara Gorsky 10:00
Not just handies.
Sam Eggers 10:01
No. Now we know
Justin Xavier 10:04
Now we know she was doing something specific.
Sam Eggers 10:09
But so anyway, so she has this son, and now she gets, you know, she’s promoted. I think now she probably has, you know, cows and chickens and whatever else she wants. And
Sara Gorsky 10:20
Sam Eggers 10:21
It’s a big deal. And so, at this point, too, they’ve changed her name, and she’s now Concubine Yi. So the name keeps changing.
Justin Xavier 10:30
Okay, so instead of Lan.
Sam Eggers 10:33
Yeah, instead of Lan, so now we’re at Concubine Yi. So when she gives birth, this is in 1856, she gives birth to his son, and so her she’s promoted, she has more influence and power now with the Emperor. And she even convinces the Emperor to marry his brother to her sister. Yes.
Justin Xavier 10:54
Good on her! Yeah!
She’s like, ‘You know your brother? He should meet my sister.”
She’s pretty cool.
Sam Eggers 11:01
She makes it happen.
Sara Gorsky 11:01
That is a pretty rad thing to do for your family.
Justin Xavier 11:04
Sam Eggers 11:05
Sara Gorsky 11:05
Although, I hope the brother wasn’t as gross as his brother.
Sam Eggers 11:09
Oh I don’t know. But he becomes useful later on, so remember him.
Justin Xavier 11:12
Okay, alright, as long as he’s useful.
Sara Gorsky 11:14
Ok, I’ll remember.
Sam Eggers 11:16
So, our dear friend, the Emperor, he dies in 1861. And at this point, their son is only five. And so he becomes the Imperial Heir, and they name him Emperor – at this point he’s known as Emperor Tongzhi. And so when the Emperor Xianfeng, the first emperor dies, he sets up a board of regents to rule until his son comes of age.
Sara Gorsky 11:41
Fairly typical in the history books, right?
Justin Xavier 11:44
Sam Eggers 11:44
And when he’s on his deathbed, he’s really, really weak. And at this time, emperors were supposed to sign things in crimson ink to make them official. And so the Board of Regents are there at his bedside and they’re – they have the will and they’re like “You need to sign this will in your own hand in crimson ink” and he’s too weak he can’t sign it. So the regents sign it on his behalf.
Justin Xavier 12:08
That feels like it’s gonna cause some sticky stuff.
Sara Gorsky 12:12
Did he even write it? Like, was it even his actual will or did they write it and they were trying to get him to…
Justin Xavier 12:17
Did he know what it said?
Sam Eggers 12:17
No, I think it was what he wanted I think in my based off of my limited research. Like I shouldn’t be speaking like I should really know. I should be like “no guys, this is what he wanted”. I’m not sure. But it made it seem like that was his intention. He wanted this board of regents – these were sort of his advisors and people close to him to rule until the son came of age. Now, meantime, Cixi and the other Emperess Zhen remember their friends?
Sara Gorsky 12:17
Sam Eggers 12:20
They’re like, “Mmmmmmm, no. Like, actually, these regents…
Justin Xavier 12:23
I should have seen this coming. This is amazing.
Sam Eggers 12:31
….These guys are bad news. And also Cixi doesn’t like that the regents they’re kind of anti-western, and she’s very pro-western. She sees that – at this time she thinks that, you know, China has been closed off from the world for a while. And she’s like, “we need to modernize and we need to, you know, she’s – their – she sees that that’s going to really help them strengthen – to you know, defend the country and to advance economically. So they decided we got to get rid of the Board of Regents. So she gets her brother-in-law, the one that married her sister…
Sara Gorsky 13:26
Sam Eggers 13:27
He helps and another Prince whose name is – Prince Gong is one and then Prince Chun is the other one. And they end up overthrowing the Board of Regents.
Sara Gorsky 13:37
Sam Eggers 13:38
So it’s going to go into how that happened. But I see where we are timewise…
Justin Xavier 13:41
Oh – take us – whatever these could be different lengths. I would like to hear what happened.
Sara Gorsky 13:46
Was it like a coup?
Sam Eggers 13:47
Okay I’ll tell you what happened and then you can go in and edit…
Sara Gorsky 13:48
WAS IT A COUP?! I want to know if I was a coup.
Sam Eggers 13:50
So this is kind of cool…
Sara Gorsky 13:51
I love coups.
Justin Xavier 13:53
I love – that is a sentence I have not heard.
Sam Eggers 13:56
Bring on the coups!
Sara Gorsky 13:57
They’re fascinating when you read about coups in history. Oh my gosh, they’re fascinating.
Justin Xavier 14:01
Sam Eggers 14:01
So, there’s sort of a two-prong thing that happens with the coup and what I love is that
Justin Xavier 14:09
It was a coup!
Sam Eggers 14:09
They referred to it as the widow’s coup, which –
Sara Gorsky 14:12
Yes! I am 100% supportive of that name.
Sam Eggers 14:14
So at this point, well, I remember I told you about the crimson ink, the Emperor has to sign in the crimson ink to make things official.
Sara Gorsky 14:14
Sam Eggers 14:14
Well, so at this time, the Emperor is five and he can’t really sign anything in crimson ink.
Sara Gorsky 14:31
Right. He’s eating Cheerios, so…
Sam Eggers 14:33
He is, and so I’m sure they had Cheerios.
Justin Xavier 14:36
I’m sure. 1800’s. Wouldn’t …Cheerios were like, 1700s, right? Had to have been. *laughs*
Sam Eggers 14:41
Whatever. And so, at this time, the women had been given these stamps by the first emperor before he died and they sort of were like a ceremonial gift and they say we have a great idea. “What if, since our son can’t sign these documents, why don’t we use these stamps to make documents official?” So they have a way to make all – to sign all of these royal documents. So with this power, they are able to completely overthrow the regents and they also sort of arrange – they have to have a reason to say – to sort of spark the whole thing to say that these guys need need to go, and what they do is they arrange a meeting where the regents come and they’re holding, Cixi’s holding the Emperor and it’s something like she picks a fight with them. And they – the argument gets so intense that the Emperor begins to cry and gets very upset and apparently so upset that he pees himself.
Sara Gorsky 15:39
Sam Eggers 15:39
And this was a very big deal because
Justin Xavier 15:41
I’m sorry, how old is this Emperor at this time?
Sara Gorsky 15:42
Sam Eggers 15:43
Justin Xavier 15:43
Five. That makes sense.
Sara Gorsky 15:44
Sam Eggers 15:46
Were you judging that he peed himself?
Justin Xavier 15:48
I was. I was picturing 18 and I was like, “Wow, what a brat.”
Sara Gorsky 15:53
So wait keep going – he pees himself…
Sam Eggers 15:55
So he pees himself. And the Emperess – and she uses this thing where she’s says that they have deeply offended the Emperor and then you fought in front of the Emperor and it was very disrespectful and… so in the end they do overthrow the regents they imprison five of them they kill one they order two to commit suicide.
Sara Gorsky 16:13
Do you guys… can I just pause and say
Sam Eggers 16:15
Sara Gorsky 16:15
…How much I wish I could see the look on their faces when that happened?
Justin Xavier 16:22
Sara Gorsky 16:22
Like I that just sounds like an incredible moment of like “what the fuck just happened?! Like – we got the power oh wait…we don’t”
Justin Xavier 16:32
The Emperor’s mom is sending us to prison and making us kill ourselves? Oh!
Sam Eggers 16:37
Things went bad really quickly.
Sara Gorsky 16:39
There’s got to be paintings of that – I want to look them up.
Sam Eggers 16:42
So at this point now…
Justin Xavier 16:45
The Emperor with peeing his pants…
Sam Eggers 16:48
It’s perfect – peeing his pants…So now it’s Emperess Dowager Cixi and Emperess Dowager Zhen. Emperess Dowager Zhen – she doesn’t she’s not involved in the rule as much, Cixi is the one who is in charge of things and so she can rule but she’s has to do so within really strict protocols. So, for example, if they if a meeting has to happen, or someone has to come to talk to the Emperor, you know, you imagine you have the Emperor there who’s five or six or seven, and then Cixi is there, but she can’t be seen, she must be behind a screen. So there will be this yellow screen that’s in front of her and she has to take the meeting from behind the screen, and then the Emperor is there as well, even though he might be, you know…
Sara Gorsky 17:26
So she’s just like talking and responding and giving orders or whatever, but nobody can see her face?
Sam Eggers 17:30
Exactly. So a lot of people have accused her, like I said, in history, they say, you know, she’s really manipulative and that she did all these terrible things. And it’s like, well, that was all behind the scenes. It’s like well, it kind of was because she literally was behind a screen.
Sara Gorsky 17:46
Justin Xavier 17:47
She was the Wizard of Oz.
Sara Gorsky 17:48
Sam Eggers 17:48
Yes. And she would have had to have people do things for her because she didn’t she couldn’t really do them. So, for example, you there’s this part of the Royal City that only the Emperor’s allowed to go into and so she never went there. She didn’t go even though she was pretty much ruling. Prince Gong, who I mentioned beforehand who helped her overthrow the coup, he is on a very important Council and they are very close. And so a lot of people say okay, well he was doing her bidding, but…
Yeah. Because her sister must have been super hot. Like she, like…
Justin Xavier 18:21
She had to have been.
Sara Gorsky 18:22
She had hooked him up with her sister and he was a happy dude. Right?
Sam Eggers 18:26
I mean, it must have worked out.
Justin Xavier 18:28
Or she just like, she’s like, or, she’s really good at handies you know, she could be a low level concubine if she wants or whatever. She can work her way up.
Sara Gorsky 18:37
After marriage do handies still even happen? I’m just kidding. I hope they do.
Sam Eggers 18:47
I hope for everyone. Um, well, so anyways at this point now, she – like I told you before she wants to advocate for westernization. So she wants to get a railroad going, which takes a long time, but she eventually gets it. They have railroad which they really need in China.
Sara Gorsky 19:01
Which is kind of late for railroads.
Justin Xavier 19:03
It’s kind of a big place. Yeah, the late 1800s.
Sara Gorsky 19:06
Yeah, they’re pretty late, comparatively to the US, at least.
Sam Eggers 19:12
And she recognizes the strong need for it. She builds a Navy, because they desperately need a Navy at this point. She improves the public finances and she really encourages the country to open up and do sort of she also brings in a lot of people from the west, particularly in the sciences, to teach at schools and universities. And so she’s very, she’s very progressive in that way.
Sara Gorsky 19:34
Sam Eggers 19:34
So her son, you know, he eventually comes of age, it’s 1873 and she steps down. She’s like, “Okay, great. You – You know you’re gonna rule but he dies of smallpox two years later.
Sara Gorsky 19:46
Sam Eggers 19:47
Sara Gorsky 19:49
Wow, that’s like…
Sam Eggers 19:51
Yeah, so at this point, she steps in again as regent and she adopts her sister-in-law’s son who’s barely three and she says, “Okay he’s the next Emperor I’m gonna rule as regent” and this is kind of weird….
Justin Xavier 20:03
This is some Cersei level…
Sara Gorsky 20:05
This is getting even more inter… it is a little bit…
Justin Xavier 20:10
Sam Eggers 20:11
Well, so then this kid was barely three she says for some reason she makes him call her “My Royal Father”, which is a little odd.
Sara Gorsky 20:20
Are there are there are no other…that is super weird by the way. But, are there no other – is the the Chinese Emperorship is that only blood? Like what happens if there’s no bloodlines left?
Well so he was – he would be blood but he’s just, you know sort of further off so it’s her sister-in-law so it was the prince’s brother’s son…
Justin Xavier 20:41
Sam Eggers 20:41
Or excuse me, Prince geez the Emperor Yes, the Emperor’s brother, who was a Prince – then his son.
But she adopts him, so she still gets to be Dowager?
Sam Eggers 20:50
Yes, she still is the Dowager Empress.
Sara Gorsky 20:52
Justin Xavier 20:53
Sara Gorsky 20:54
She likes that power. Okay, sorry, so yeah…
Sam Eggers 20:55
Justin Xavier 20:57
“Sister, you wouldn’t even have anything without me so you should like let me have it.”
Sara Gorsky 21:01
“Yeah, let me have your kid okay?” It’s for the best for all of us.
Justin Xavier 21:04
Just so I can keep ruling and keep us out of trouble.
Sara Gorsky 21:07
But she’s doing good, also. Like, I don’t know….
Sam Eggers 21:08
Yeah she’s doing a lot of good things. So this is when she there’s sort of a second wave of modernization. She introduces electricity to the country, coal mining. So she’s doing a lot of things to help advance the country. So, jumping ahead in time, the new Emperor Guangxu, this is 1889, he gets power, alright?
Sara Gorsky 21:28
But does he get smallpox?
Sam Eggers 21:29
He’s 18. Well, not smallpox. So…
Sara Gorsky 21:33
Oh, my gosh, this DOES sound like a conspiracy now.
Sam Eggers 21:36
They have sort of, they have a tough relationship. He was educated in very strict Confucian orthodoxy. And so he’s very suspicious of anything Western. And so he abandons the naval program that Cixi started, he’s done with it. And so there’s a lot of tension between
Justin Xavier 21:52
So she kills him.
Sam Eggers 21:54
Well, there’s also a lot of tension between people who want to – people who are really traditionalist, and they are anti-Western and then reformers who are a little more pro-Western that this country is really tense right now. At the time Guangxu has an academic advisor, his name is Kang Youwei. And he really really, really hates Cixi. Like, he hates her. And so she…
Justin Xavier 22:16
She’s a woman with power why – what’s to like?
Sam Eggers 22:19
Exactly, and he’s very traditional, so he convinces the Emperor or maybe the Emperor convinces him this probably was half and half they decide they should murder Cixi.
Sara Gorsky 22:29
They can’t handle it. They can’t handle the heat.
Justin Xavier 22:31
Sam Eggers 22:32
They want to get her out.
Justin Xavier 22:33
Men are very fragile.
Sara Gorsky 22:34
How old is she at this point?
Sam Eggers 22:36
Um, let’s see. This is in 1898 and she was born in 1835 so that would make her 63. So she’s not a spring chicken.
Justin Xavier 22:43
No, a murderous 63 year old woman.
Sara Gorsky 22:47
But it doesn’t sound like she’s like reviled by everyone like it does sound like she has support.
Justin Xavier 22:51
Just poor men who want power. She has to have a supporters she brought electricity to the country. People were like “This is the best we have light in the night!”
Sara Gorsky 22:59
Yeah, and the railroad land like probably trade was exploding from all that.
Justin Xavier 23:03
Sam Eggers 23:03
So the – again I think it’s the the that big split between the people who are more traditional and the people who really want reform it’s such a big change for the country that I think it’s really split.
Justin Xavier 23:13
Like it’s the old people today who were like, “No, we have to keep doing coal. It’s the only option.”
Sam Eggers 23:18
Sara Gorsky 23:18
Justin Xavier 23:19
Yeah. She’s like, hey oldies….
Sara Gorsky 23:22
Oh, my God, do they do it? Do they murder her? I’m in like huge suspense. I can’t handle it.
Sam Eggers 23:26
Alright, don’t worry. Their plot is discovered.
Sara Gorsky 23:28
Sam Eggers 23:29
So Kang, he escapes. He flees to Japan. And they – Cixi doesn’t murder Guangxu. She doesn’t murder the Emperor but she’s placed under house arrest and pretty much becomes just – he’s an ineffective puppet.
Sara Gorsky 23:42
Maybe he always was.
Justin Xavier 23:43
He sounds like one.
Sam Eggers 23:45
Right? So Cixi’s back in action. And now things get bad for Cixi.
Sara Gorsky 23:51
Sam Eggers 23:52
This is a really, really tough time in China and a really interesting time too. The Boxer Rebellion happens and I literally wrote here and “don’t even have time” because there’s so much to go into. But it’s interesting if you’re like bored just look up the Boxer Rebellion if you if you don’t know about it or want to know more.
Justin Xavier 24:06
Sam Eggers 24:06
So China is – suffers a defeat and Cixi issues what she called – what is called the Decree of Self-Reproach so she can – to apologize the country and accept blame for it. Because she’s like “This was a total, total screw up, and so I’m going to issue this self-reproach” and that’s sort of unprecedented. And then, I think it is in fact.
Sara Gorsky 24:30
A public apology?
Somebody admitting they’re wrong?
Sam Eggers 24:30
Yeah, “I screwed up” – it’s kind of incredible.
Sara Gorsky 24:34
Sam Eggers 24:35
So, then in 1902 she issues a series of reforms, which are really cool. She makes intermarriage between the Han and the Manchu people – she makes that legal before it was illegal. If you were Han and one other person was Manchu you couldn’t marry and now she’s like “screw that you can marry.”
Justin Xavier 24:50
Sara Gorsky 24:50
Sam Eggers 24:51
She expands freedom of the press. And this is a really cool one she bans foot binding. So we can think Emperess Cixi for getting rid of foot binding. Which is interesting.
Sara Gorsky 25:02
But at the end? She did that at the end?
Sam Eggers 25:03
Yeah. And then, in 1906 she says…
Justin Xavier 25:08
It’s like “They’ll kill me if I do that sooner.”
Sara Gorsky 25:10
Right? Kind of like she needed to be further along.
Justin Xavier 25:12
If I’m 40 and I ban foot binding they’re like “KILL HER!”
Sam Eggers 25:15
Justin Xavier 25:16
Now that I’m 65…
Sam Eggers 25:18
No one will care.
Sara Gorsky 25:19
Oh my gosh.
Sam Eggers 25:19
And so then in 1906, she says that China is going to become a constitutional monarchy with elections. What?! She’s like what? She just blows my mind.
Sara Gorsky 25:31
Nobody can handle that. Nobody can handle that.
Sam Eggers 25:34
But unfortunately, Cixi is gonna die in November of 1908. So very soon and well…
Sara Gorsky 25:39
Sam Eggers 25:40
Not smallpox, this time – this is kind of interesting. So she dies one day after her – the – her Emperor, Emperor Guangxu, who was the last emperor, her nephew, the one who tried to kill her. He dies one day before her and a lot of people think that she poisoned him to ensure that he would not have power after she died.
Sara Gorsky 26:01
Sam Eggers 26:02
But there’s no – but who knows if there’s any proof of that that’s just sort of a rumor.
Sara Gorsky 26:06
I’m just gonna take that as what happened because that’s so badass.
Sam Eggers 26:09
It’s kind of good and so …
Sara Gorsky 26:10
Because she knew he was like a bad egg.
Justin Xavier 26:12
Sara Gorsky 26:12
She was like “no way”
Sam Eggers 26:13
Gotta take care of this before I go.
Justin Xavier 26:15
Yeah I gotta keep my plans in motion. Saving the country.
Sara Gorsky 26:17
Was she sick? What did she die of?
Sam Eggers 26:18
I’m not sure when she died up. Um, she was pretty old at this point. This is 1908. So she’s, she’s, you know, in her 70s or no… at this point…
Sara Gorsky 26:27
Yeah, and that’s old back then.
Sam Eggers 26:28
Yeah, so she’s pretty old at this point. So she names her two year old great nephew heir, and this is Puyi who is literally the last emperor and the Emperor from the movie, the Last Emperor.
And so that’s the story of the Empress Dowager Cixi and so she’s really controversial, and there’s a lot of different information out there about her but…
Justin Xavier 26:50
I can see why.
Sam Eggers 26:51
Justin Xavier 26:52
There has to be every school of thought possible on all the changes she made to the country and there has to be….
Sara Gorsky 26:57
And even just like the legality of her rule. And people being like, “oh, but she wasn’t the real ruler” like, I can totally see that.
Justin Xavier 27:05
There’s got to be sects of people…
Sara Gorsky 27:06
But look how much change she created!
Justin Xavier 27:08
Yeah. But there has to be like groups of people in China who are like, “Make China great again! We got to go back to before Cixi showed up and changed everything!”
Sara Gorsky 27:18
Back to foot binding.
Sam Eggers 27:20
She’s fascinating. The book is great, Jung Chang’s book. I mean, it’s very complimentary. It’s a really positive view of Cixi, but it’s really interesting
Sara Gorsky 27:27
But kind of the first positive view, it sounds like based on… like, it sounds like history painted her a villain but then we’re finally starting to hear, like, some other truths about her, which is awesome.
Justin Xavier 27:35
Everyone just hated her despite all the great things that were happening in their lives because of her.
Sam Eggers 27:39
Like, “I like this railroad, but I sure hate her.”
Justin Xavier 27:43
I also like lights, but she’s a bitch. So
Sara Gorsky 27:48
Everything is better but my taxes are so high…
Justin Xavier 27:52
But there’s a woman in charge!
Sara Gorsky 27:54
Oh my gosh, what an amazing – what an amazing BROAD!
Justin Xavier 27:57
That’s an incredible story.
Sam Eggers 27:58
She’s really cool. She’s fun to look up too because she had a really interesting relationship with her one of her eunuchs, um, and a lot of people thought that he was you know heavily influenced her and it’s it’s very
Justin Xavier 28:11
Sara Gorsky 28:12
I was gonna say that really, like,
Justin Xavier 28:14
This feels very Game of Thrones. Did George RR Martin just steal China’s history and put it into his books?
Sara Gorsky 28:20
It did sound like she had a hot brother though so…
Sam Eggers 28:23
Yeah, that’s true.
Justin Xavier 28:24
Yeah. She had a hot sister.
Sam Eggers 28:29
Thank God for that hot sister.
Sara Gorsky 28:30
Justin Xavier 28:31
Saved the day.
Sara Gorsky 28:32
Wow, what a great – What a great move, early on.
Sam Eggers 28:37
Yes. She was smart. She knew what was going on. She was able to position herself…
Sara Gorsky 28:42
Yeah, that’s amazing. To go from concubine – just that’s just an amazing journey.
Justin Xavier 28:46
You have to be smart as fuck to do that.
Sara Gorsky 28:50
Sam Eggers 28:50
Because you can imagine there’s a lot of backstabbing and I’m sure that the in the Forbidden City all those concubines who are vying for influence and wanting to
Sara Gorsky 28:59
And I’m sure like all the the rules around royalty and around like even – even to like get that scene with her with her baby and like irate…. like that’s like masterful it’s pretty masterful.
Justin Xavier 29:11
Sara Gorsky 29:12
I’m like, super into her.
Sam Eggers 29:13
It’s pretty cool I want a movie about her.
Justin Xavier 29:15
Yes, I absolutely do.
Sam Eggers 29:17
I think there might be a Chinese language film about her – I thought I saw something, but…
Sara Gorsky 29:19
But is she… but it’s not that but is it the villain her or the hero her?
Sam Eggers 29:23
I’m assuming it would be the villain her.
Justin Xavier 29:25
She’s probably a character in a few Chinese movies. I would imagine.
Sam Eggers 29:30
Justin Xavier 29:30
She’s that prominent of a…
Sara Gorsky 29:32
I’ve gonna to watch some more Chinese films, I guess.
Justin Xavier 29:34
I need to watch a bunch of foreign film.
Sara Gorsky 29:37
Justin Xavier 29:37
Yeah. Specifically from like the East, cause I’m – my knowledge is so very Western based.
Sara Gorsky 29:43
Yeah, well, same.
Sam Eggers 29:43
When you said the East why’d I think like New Jersey?
Justin Xavier 29:47
The east part of the globe, not the US that’s the opposite of what I’m saying.
Sam Eggers 29:52
I just imagine it’s just like a lot of like really really terrible like Jersey Shore films.. I don’t know why that was what my brain jumped to.
Sara Gorsky 29:59
Yikes. That sounds like certain layer of hell. Stuck in a Jersey Shore film.
Justin Xavier 30:05
An entire culture of Jersey Shore? Yeah that sounds atrocious.
Sam Eggers 30:08
Jersey Shore Film Festival.
Sara Gorsky 30:11
I’m sure it exists. ANYWAY….
Justin Xavier 30:14
Sara Gorsky 30:15
That was amazing.
Justin Xavier 30:16
That was incredible. And thank you for listening. And be sure to check out our website and Instagram and send us an email if you have a BROAD that you think we should cover in a future week.
Sara Gorsky 30:29
Yeah, there’s a lot of them.
Justin Xavier 30:31
And we’ll see you next time.
Sara Gorsky 30:33
Sam Eggers 30:33