History : Nov-Dec 2016
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC HISTORY 9 WORKING ON THE RAILROAD ALTHOUGH CIXI FAVORED moder- nization, local opinion had to be respected. China’s first railroad, built in 1876 by the British, was dismantled after serious local pro- tests. It took 13 years for Cixi to change enough minds to launch China’s first rail line, the Beijing- Wuhan railway. She felt it would be a “key component of our blue- print for Making China Strong.” power-hungry Cixi had poisoned her son to cling to power, but no proof for murder exists. Dark rumors circulated around Cixi, and not for the last time. The Taming of the Emperor Cixi again seized the reins of government, adopting the son of her sister and Prince Chun and naming him emperor. Ci’an and Cixi would continue to act as regents to the new emperor, Guangxu—who was barely three years old—until Ci’an’s sud- den death in 1881. After that, Cixi was the sole regent. She embarked on a second wave of modernization, introducing elec- tricity and coal mining. She started a war with France to oppose its territorial am- bitions on the border between China and Vietnam, which ended in a stalemate. Cixi officially ceded power to Guangxu in 1889 when he came of age. Educated in the strictest of Confucian orthodoxy, Guangxu was suspicious of everything Western. His failure to comprehend the modern world later led him to abandon China’s naval program, resulting in a crushing defeat to Japan in 1895, a crisis that made Cixi the de facto ruler again. The tension between Cixi and her ad- opted son, and between reformers and traditionalists, was heightened by the influence of an academic and adviser, Kang Youwei. His reform proposals won over Guangxu, but Cixi mistrusted him. Kang involved the emperor in a plot to assassinate her, but their plans were dis- covered in 1898. Kang fled to Japan, and Guangxu was placed under house arrest, leaving him as a puppet but effectively removing him from power. Cixi continued to rule China until her death. She survived a number of crises, including the Boxer Rebellion, which ended in a defeat for China at the hands of a foreign coalition in 1901. In the face of defeat, the ruling Chinese elite rallied around the dowager empress, who had published the unprecedented Decree of Self-reproach, in which she blamed her- self for the devastation caused by the war. In January 1902 Cixi announced a series of reforms that shook up all aspects of Chinese life. Marriages between Han and Manchu partners were legalized. Foot-binding, a custom long practiced on Han girls, was banned. Freedom of the press was expanded. In 1906 Cixi an- nounced that China would be trans- formed into a constitutional monarchy with elections. Cixi died in November 1908, only one day after Guangxu, whom many believe she had poisoned to ensure the weak sov- ereign would stay out of power. Cixi named her two-year-old great-nephew the heir and designated a new dowager empress to watch over the nation she brought into the modern age. — Josep Maria Casals SCALA, FLORENCE ALBUM IN 1900, the Eight- nation Alliance fought the Boxer Rebellion, as depicted in this illustration from a German publication. CHINA’S FIRST RAILROAD, BUILT IN 1876 BY THE BRITISH, RAN THE 12 MILES BETWEEN SHANGHAI AND WUSONG.