The Death of Kuang Hsu and the Empress Dowager

Who knows whether the Dowager Empress will ever repose in the magnificent tomb she has built for herself at such a cost, or whether a new dynasty may not rifle its riches to embellish its own? Tze-Hsi is growing old! According to nature's immutable law her faculties must soon fail her; her iron will must bend and her far-seeing eye grow dim, and after her who will resist the tide of foreign aggression and stem the torrent of inward revolt?
-- Lady Susan Townley in "My Chinese Note Book."

During mid-November of 1908 the Forbidden City of Peking was a blind stage before which an expectant world sat as an audience. It had not long to wait, for on the fifteenth and sixteenth it learned that Kuang Hsu and the Empress Dowager, less than twenty-four hours apart, had taken "the fairy ride and ascended upon the dragon to be guests on high." The world looked on in awe. It expected a demonstration if not a revolution but nothing of the kind happened. But on the other hand one of the most difficult diplomatic problems of her history was solved in a quiet and peaceable, if not a statesman-like way, by the aged Dowager and her officials, and China once more had upon her throne an emperor, though only a child, about whose succession there was no question. And all this was done with less commotion than is caused by the election of a mayor in New York or Chicago, which may or may not be to the credit of an absolute monarchy over a republican form of government.

The world has speculated a good deal as to what happened in the Forbidden City of Peking during the early half of November. Will the curious world ever know? Whether it will or not remains for the future to determine. We have, however, the edicts issued to the foreign legations at Peking and with these at the present we must be content. From them we learn that it was the Empress Dowager and not Kuang Hsu who appointed Prince Chun as Regent, and that this appointment was made -- or at least announced -- twenty-four hours before the death of the Emperor.

On the thirteenth of November the foreign diplomatic representatives received the following edict from the great Dowager through the regular channel of the Foreign Office of which Prince Ching was the president:

"It is the excellent will of Tze-hsi-kuan-yu-k'ang-i-chao-yu- chuang-ch'eng-shou-kung-ch'in-hsien-chung-hsi, the great Empress Dowager that Tsai Feng, Prince of Chun, be appointed Prince Regent (She Chang-wang)."

The above edict was soon followed by another which stated that "Pu I, the son of Tsai Feng, should be reared in the palace and taught in the imperial schoolroom," an indication that he was to be the next emperor, and that Tsai Feng and not Kuang Hsu was to occupy the throne, and all this by the "excellent will" of the Empress Dowager.

On the morning of the fourteenth the following edict came from the Emperor himself:

"From the beginning of August of last year, our health has been poor. We formerly ordered the Tartar generals, viceroys, and governors of every province to recommend physicians of ability. Thereupon the viceroys of Chihli, the Liang Kiang, Hu Kiang, Kiangsu and Chekiang recommended and sent forward Chen Ping-chun, Tsao Yuen-wang, Lu Yung-ping, Chow Ching-tao, Tu Chung-chun, Shih Huan, and Chang Pang-nien, who came to Peking and treated us. But their prescriptions have given no relief. Now the negative and positive elements (Yin-Yang) are both failing. There are ailments both external and internal, and the breath is stopped up, the stomach rebellious, the back and legs painful, appetite failing. On moving, the breath fails and there is coughing and panting. Besides, we have chills and fever, cannot sleep, and experience a general failure of bodily strength which is hard to bear.

"Our heart is very impatient and now the Tartar generals, viceroys, and governors of every province are ordered to select capable physicians, regardless of the official rank, and to send them quickly to Peking to await summons to give medical aid. If any can show beneficial results he will receive extraordinary rewards, and the Tartar generals, viceroys, and governors who recommend them will receive special grace. Let this be published."

This was followed on the same day by the following edict:

"Inasmuch as the Emperor Tung Chih had no issue, on the fifth day of the twelfth moon of that reign (January 12, 1875) an edict was promulgated to the effect that if the late Emperor Kuang Hsu should have a son, the said prince should carry on the succession as the heir of Tung Chih. But now the late Emperor has ascended upon the dragon to be a guest on high, leaving no son, and there is no course open but to appoint Pu I, the son of Tsai Feng, the Prince Regent, as the successor to Tung Chih and also as heir to the Emperor Kuang Hsu."

The next day -- the fifteenth -- another edict, purporting to come from little Pu I, but transcribed by Prince Ching, was sent out to the diplomatic body and to the world. It is as follows:

"I have the honour to inform Your Excellency that on the 21st day of the 10th moon [Nov. 14, 1908] at the yu-ke [5-7 P. M.] the late Emperor ascended on the dragon to be a guest on high. We have received the command of Tze-hsi, etc., the Great Empress Dowager to enter on the succession as Emperor. We lamented to Earth and Heaven. We stretched out our hands, wailing our insufficiency. Prostrate we reflect on how the late Emperor occupied the Imperial Throne for thirty-four years, reverently following the customs of his ancestors, receiving the gracious instruction of the Empress Dowager, exerting himself to the utmost, not failing one day to revere Heaven and observe the laws of his ancestors, devoting himself with diligence to the affairs of government and loving the people, appointing the virtuous to office, changing the laws of the land to make the country powerful, considering new methods of government which arouse the admiration of both Chinese and foreigners. All who have blood and breath cannot but mourn and be moved to the extreme point. We weep tears of blood and beat upon our heart. How can we bear to express our feelings!

"But we think upon our heavy responsibility and our weakness, and we must depend upon the great and small civil and military officials of Peking and the provinces to show public spirit and patriotism, and aid in the government. The viceroys and governors should harmonize the people and arrange carefully methods of government to comfort the spirit of the late Emperor in heaven. This is our earnest expectation."

On the sixteenth day of November, three days after she had appointed the regent, and two days after she had appointed Pu I, the diplomatic representatives received the following from Prince Ching:

"Your Excellency:

"I have the honour to inform Your Excellency that we have reverently received the following testamentary statement of Her Imperial Majesty Tze-hsi, etc., the Great Empress Dowager:

" 'Although of scanty merit, I received the command of His Majesty the Emperor Wen Tsung-hsien (the posthumous title of Hsien Feng) to occupy a throne prepared for me in the palace. When the Emperor Mu Tsung I (Tung Chih) as a child succeeded to the throne, violence and confusion prevailed. It was a critical period of suppression by force. "Long-hairs" (Tai-ping rebels) and the "twisted turbans" (Nien Fei) were in rebellion. The Mohammedans and the aborigines had commenced to make trouble. There were many disturbances along the seacoast. The people were destitute. Ulcers and sores met the eye on every side. Cooperating with the Empress Dowager Hsiao Chen-hsien, I supported and taught the Emperor and toiled day and night. According to the instructions contained in the testamentary counsels of the Emperor Wen Tsung-hsien (Hsien Feng) I urged on the officials of Peking and the provinces and all the military commanders, determining the policy to be followed, diligently searching the right way of governing, choosing the upright for official positions, rescuing from calamity and pitying the people, and so obtained the protection of Heaven, gaining peace and tranquillity instead of distress and danger. Then the Emperor Mu Tsung I (Tung Chih) departed this life and the late Emperor succeeded to the throne. The times became still harder and the people in still greater straits, sorrow within and calamity without, confusion and noise; I had no recourse but to give instruction in government once more.

" 'The year before last the preparatory measures for the institution of constitutional government were published. This year the time limits for the measures preparatory to constitutional government have been promulgated. Attending to these myriad affairs the strength of my heart has been exhausted. Fortunately my constitution was originally strong and up to the present I have stood the strain. Unexpectedly from the summer and autumn of this year I have been ill and have not been able to assist in the multitudinous affairs of government with tranquillity. Appetite and the power to sleep have gone. This has continued for a long time until my strength is exhausted and I have not dared to rest for even a day. On the 21st of this moon [November 14th] came the sorrow of the death of the late Emperor, and I was unable to control myself, so that my illness increased till I was unable to rise from my bed. I look back upon our fifty years of sorrow and trouble. I have been continually in a state of high tension without a moment's respite. Now a reform in the method of government has been commenced and there begins to be a clue to follow. The Emperor now succeeding to the throne is in his infancy. All depends upon his instruction and guidance. The Prince Regent and all the officials of Peking and the provinces should exert themselves to strengthen the foundations of our empire. Let the Emperor now succeedings to the throne make his country's affairs of first importance and moderate his sorrow, diligently attending to his studies so that he may in future illustrate the instruction which he has received. This is my devout hope. Let the mourning period be for twenty-seven days only. Let this be proclaimed to the empire that all may know.' "

Still one more edict was necessary to complete this remarkable list, and this was sent to the legations on the 17th of November. It is as follows:

"I have the honour to inform Your Excellency that on the 22d of the moon [November 15, 1908] I reverently received the following edict:

"We received in our early childhood the love and care of Tze-hsi, etc., the Great Empress Dowager. Our gratitude is boundless. We have received the command to succeed to the throne and we fully expected that the gentle Empress Dowager would be vigorous and reach a hundred years so that we might be cherished and made glad and reverently receive her instructions so that our government might be established and the state made firm. But her toil by day and night gradually weakened her. Medicine was constantly administered in the hope that she might recover. Contrary to our hopes, on the 21st day of the moon [November 14th] at the wei-k'o [1-3 P.M.] she took the fairy ride and ascended to the far country. We cried out and mourned how frantically! We learn from her testamentary statement that the period of full mourning is to be limited to twenty-seven days. We certainly cannot be satisfied with this. Full mourning must be worn for one hundred days and half mourning for twenty-seven months, by which our grief may be partly expressed. The order to restrain grief so that the affairs of the empire may be of first importance we dare not disregard, as it is her parting command. We will strive to be temperate so as to comfort the spirit of the late Empress in Heaven."

We call attention to the fact that according to the fourth of these edicts the death of the Emperor is put at from 5 to 7 P. M on the evening of the 14th of November, while that of the Empress Dowager is from 1 to 3 P. M. of the same day at least two hours earlier, and that in her last edict she is made to speak of the death of Kuang Hsu. Whether these dates have become mixed in crossing to America we have not been able to ascertain, though we think it more than likely that her death occurred on November 15th instead of the 14th.

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