Empress Dowager Cixi - Names of Empress Dowager Cixi

Names of Empress Dowager Cixi

The name by which she is most frequently known and the name used in most modern texts is simply "Cixi", which is neither her birth name nor family name. It is an "honorific name" given to her in 1861 after her son ascended the throne. Empress Dowager Cixi's name at birth is not known, although a recent book published by one of Cixi's brother's descendants seems to suggest that it was Xingzhen (Chinese: 杏貞; Wade-Giles: Hsingchen). The first occurrence of her name is at the time she entered the Forbidden City in September 1851, where she was recorded as "the Lady Yehenara, daughter of Huizheng" (Chinese: 惠徵). Thus, she was called by her clan's name, the Yehe-Nara clan, as was customary for Manchu girls. On entering the Forbidden City, she was a preparative concubine (Chinese: 秀女).

After her sexual union with the Xianfeng Emperor, she was made a concubine of the fifth rank Noble Person, a.k.a. "Worthy Lady" (Chinese: 貴人), and was given the name Yi (懿,meaning "good", "exemplary", "virtuous"). Her name was thus "Noble Person of Yi", or Worthy Lady Yi (Chinese: 懿貴人). At the end of December 1854 or the beginning of January 1855, she was promoted to concubine of the fourth rank, Imperial Concubine (Chinese: 嬪), so that her new name was Imperial Concubine Yi (Chinese: 懿嬪).

On 27 April 1856, Yehenara gave birth to a son, the only son of Xianfeng, and was immediately made Noble Consort Yi" (Chinese: 懿妃). Finally, in February 1857 she was again elevated and made "Noble Imperial Consort Yi" (Chinese: 懿貴妃).

In the end of August 1861, following the death of the Xianfeng Emperor, her five-year-old son became the new Emperor, known as the Tongzhi Emperor. Empress Dowager Cixi, as biological mother of the new emperor, was officially made Divine Mother Empress Dowager (Chinese: 聖母皇太后). She was also given the honorific name Cixi (Chinese: 慈禧), meaning "Motherly and Auspicious". As for the Empress Consort, she was made "Mother Empress Dowager" (Chinese: 母后皇太后), a title giving her precedence over Empress Dowager Cixi, and she was given the honorific name Empress Dowager Ci'an (Chinese: 慈安), meaning "Motherly and Calm".

On 7 occasions after 1861, Empress Dowager Cixi was given additional honorific names (two Chinese characters at a time), as was customary for Emperors and Empresses, until by the end of her reign her name was a long string of 16 characters starting with Cixi (as Empress Dowager she had the right to nine additions, giving a total of 20 characters, had she lived long enough for it). At the end of her life, her official name was:

  • (Chinese: 大清國當今慈禧端佑康頤昭豫莊誠壽恭欽獻崇熙聖母皇太后)

which reads: "The Current Divine Mother Empress Dowager Ci-Xi Duan-You Kang-Yi Zhao-Yu Zhuang-Cheng Shou-Gong Qin-Xian Chong-Xi of the Great Qing Empire".

The short form was The Current Divine Mother Empress Dowager of the Great Qing Empire

(Chinese: 大清國當今聖母皇太后)

At the time, Empress Dowager Cixi was addressed as "Venerable Buddha" (Chinese: 老佛爺),literally "Master Old Buddha", a term used for all the Emperors of the Qing Dynasty. At official and ceremonial occasions, the phrase Long Live the Empress Dowager for ten thousand years (Chinese: 大清國當今聖母皇太后萬歲萬歲萬萬歲), which is by convention, only used by Emperors. The convention for Empress Dowagers of imperial China was usually Long live for one thousand years.

At her death in 1908, Empress Dowager Cixi was given a posthumous name which combines the honorific names that she gained during her lifetime with new names added just after her death. This is the name that is usually used on official documents to refer to an Empress. This long form of the posthumous name is:

  • (Chinese: 孝欽慈禧端佑康頤昭豫莊誠壽恭欽獻崇熙配天興聖顯皇太后),

which reads: Empress Xiao-Qin Ci-Xi Duan-You Kang-Yi Zhao-Yu Zhuang-Cheng Shou-Gong Qin-Xian Chong-Xi Pei-Tian Xing-Sheng Xian. This long name is still the one that can be seen on Cixi's tomb today. The short form of her posthumous name is: Empress Xiao Qin Xian (孝欽顯皇后).

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