Empress Dowager Cixi - Death of The Xianfeng Emperor

Death of The Xianfeng Emperor

In September 1860, British and French troops attacked Beijing during the closing stages of the Second Opium War, and by the following month had burned the Emperor's exquisite Old Summer Palace to the ground. The attack, under the command of Lord Elgin, was mounted in retaliation for the arrest on 18 September of British diplomatic envoy Harry Parkes and the torture and execution of a number of western hostages. The Xianfeng Emperor and his entourage, including Cixi, fled Beijing for the safety of Rehe in Manchuria. On hearing the news of the destruction of the Old Summer Palace, the Xianfeng Emperor (who was already showing signs of dementia) fell into a depression, turned heavily to alcohol and drugs, and became seriously ill.

On 22 August 1861 the Xianfeng Emperor died at Rehe Palace in the city of Rehe (now Chengde, Hebei). Before his death, he summoned eight of his most prestigious ministers, headed by Sushun, Zaiyuan, and Duanhua, and named them the "Eight Regent Ministers" to direct and support the future Emperor. His heir, the son of Noble Consort Yi (future Empress Dowager Cixi), was only five years old. On his deathbed, the Xianfeng Emperor summoned his Empress and Noble Consort Yi, and gave each of them a stamp. He hoped that when his son ascended the throne, his Empress and Noble Consort Yi would cooperate in harmony and, together, help the young emperor to grow and mature. It was also meant as a check on the power of the eight regents . Upon the death of the Xianfeng Emperor, his Empress Consort, aged 25, was elevated to the title Empress Dowager Ci'an (popularly known as the East Empress Dowager because she lived in the Eastern Zhong-Cui Palace), and Noble Consort Yi, aged 27, was elevated to the title Empress Dowager Cixi (popularly known as the West Empress Dowager because she lived inside the Western Chuxiu Palace).

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