Imperial Woman Essay

In 1852, a Manchurian girl, Orchid, clan name Yehonala, was summoned to be
viewed by the Emperor of China. On the twentieth day of the sixth moon, the last
Empress of China was chosen. By right, her cousin, Sakota, was the Emperor’s
consort, but she gave birth to a girl. Yehonala gave birth to a boy and became
the Empress, Tzu Hsi. Once the Son of Heaven dies, Tzu Hsi and the consort, Tzu
An, became the Empress Mother and Regent. Since Tzu Hsi was the stronger of the
two, it seemed as if she was the only Empress. Her son grew up to be the Emperor
of China. All his decisions were still made by his mother, but he died young.

Tzu Hsi had to find the next heir before any trouble started. She took her
sister and the sixth prince’s son to be raised as the next Emperor. Once the
Heir grew up, Tzu Hsi retired to the Summer Palace. Again, she was called back
to be the ruler of China since her nephew had made foolish decision. The people
of China called her Old Buddha. According the novel, Yehonala was a beautiful
woman with a fierce heart. Since she was a virgin, she was called to be viewed
by the Dowager Mother and the Son of Heaven. She could not disobey the command.

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Yehonala wanted to marry her third cousin, Jung Lu, but the Emperor of China
chose her to be one of his concubines. His mother opposed this decision because
she noticed Yehonala had a strong spirit. Concubines were not meant to have
ambitions, they were meant to be pretty and serve the Emperor in any way.

Yehonala’s cousin, Sakota was chosen to the Consort. Earlier, an older Sakota
was Emperor’s chosen one, but she had died. By tradition, the Emperor must
fulfill his duties to the dead Consort by choosing Sakota to be his new Consort.

Once Sakota conceived, the Emperor’s duties were done and he turned to
Yehonala. The Emperor did not leave his bedchamber for three days. According to
the records, no concubine or consort had stayed with the Emperor Hsien Feng for
such a long time. Yehonala became pregnant, but she did not say anything. If
Sakota bore a son, then Yehonala would be useless. However, if Yehonala bore a
son and Sakota bore a girl, then Yehonala would have the title of the young
Dowager Mother. As it turns out, Sakota did give birth to a weak girl. Yehonala
started to educate herself so she would be a proper ruler. The Dowager Mother
had died at the announcement of the girl infant and the pregnancy of Yehonala.

On third moon of the spring year, Yehonala gave birth to a son. According to
tradition, Sakota had a duty to protect the Heir like her own child. Because of
her status, Yehonala manipulated the Emperor to allow her to have an equal
position as Sakota. Her name was changed to Tzu Hsi. Before her life was simple,
now she has to defend her life and her son’s life from the younger brothers of
the Emperor. Prince Cheng, Prince Yi, and the Grand Councilor plotted to kill
Tzu Hsi and the Heir while the son of Heaven was dying. Tzu Hsi very cunningly
persuaded the dying monarch to declare the child the heir and the two Empresses
as Regents. As a supreme ruler and more dominant than Sakota, Tzu Hsi ordered
the Three Traitors to die. The Grand Councilor Su Shun was sliced into one
thousand pieces and his whole family was killed. Prince Yi and Prince Kung were
ordered to hang themselves in order to save face, or die with dignaty. Other
than protect herself from power greedy politicians, the Chinese distrusted
female rulers, specially the females from Manchu race, so there were many rebels
ready to overthrow the dynasty. Foreigners were trying to take over businesses
and convert China to a more Western lifestyle. All of this was her burden to
take of and she was only twenty-six years old. As her son grew up, there was
some speculation about the little emperor’s paternity. Tzu Hsi had made Jung
Lu the new Grand Councilor and there was talk about who was the real father.

Once the little Emperor was in his teens, he became the Emperor of China, but
Tzu Hsi still had power behind the throne. The Dowager Mother did not want
foreigners taking over her country, so she forbade any sort of foreign object in
her court. She believed the people were trying to ruin China without her”sister’s,” Queen Victoria, knowledge. China was divided into two halves.

One half believed in the old customs, while the other wanted to become more like
the mysterious Western world. Tzu Hsi believed in the old traditions. She
expected her son’s first duty was to his mother. However, when it came to
choose the Emperor’s consort, the Emperor would not listen to his mother and
married Alute, a daughter of Duke Chung Li. Alute had the same ambitions as Tzu
Hsi had when she was chosen. The Empress Mother was scared of Alute replacing
her. Tzu Hsi allowed a concubine, Jasmine to be near the Emperor while Alute was
gone. Jasmine was a perfect foil to Alute in body. Because of the competition
between Alute and Jasmine, Tzu Hsi still had power over her son. For some
unknown reason, the Emperor fell ill and died. Jasmine was sent to the palace of
Forgotten Concubines and Alute, out of duty, swallowed opium. In order to save
the throne, Tzu Hsi went to the son of her sister, the wife of the Prince
Ch’un. She claimed him as the new Emperor. As the new Emperor grew, he became
curious about the “white men”. Once the Empress left her title and retired,
many attempts were made on her life. The way Tzu Hsi lived was very extravagant
and money was taken out from the military. Tzu Hsi did not think of herself as a
burden. As an Elder, she believed she had the right to be respected. The Emperor
did not believe in the old traditions. He did something that shocked Tzu Hsi
back into the throne. He slept with his concubine, Pearl, but his wife stayed a
virgin. The Emperor was still the Emperor, but he was like a puppet. His strings
were being pulled but Tzu Hsi. The last Empress lived so long, the people began
to call her Benevolent Mother, Ancient One, and Old Buddha. The Imperial Woman
shows a side of the last Empress that the western world could not believe. In
many novels, Tzu Hsi was noted as a cruel tigress, but because of her
stubbornness to the old traditions and burdens, she tried to make China for her
son. Once her son died, she did not care how China was, but to fulfill a duty to
find a new Emperor and train him. Yehonala did not care for her nephew, but it
was her duty to train him. There are many history mistakes in Imperial Woman.

For example, Yehonala and Sakota were never cousins. As property of the Emperor,
it would have been impossible for Yehonala to have bore a child of another man.

Even the Emeperor’s concubines, who were nothing but chattels, were heavliy
guarded. It would not be proper for two women to have the same lord. However,
Imperial Woman is high recommend to learn more about the last empress of China.


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