Empress Dowager Cixi


Empress Dowager Cixi'The Dragon Lady'

(b. 1835 - d. 1908)

"I have 400,000,000 people, all dependent on my judgement."



About Empress Dowager Cixi

Even though she never sat on the dragon throne, she was always there, behind the screen, on her own seat of power. Meet The Dragon Lady, Empress Dowager Cixi, who held the reins of the empire for over 50 years.  

She entered the Forbidden City as a low-ranking concubine, but having given birth to the only surviving son of Emperor Xianfeng, she became Empress Dowager, mother of the emperor, upon Xianfeng's death. A lover of opera, she was fashionable, crafty and cunning. It was Dowager Empress Cixi who named her 3-year-old nephew Puyi (The Last Emperor) as the new emperor three days before her death..

Within the Forbidden City

As Empress Dowager, Cixi had the whole of the Forbidden City at her disposal… except the dragon throne.

Hall of Great Elegance

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Related Objects

Imagine having a collection of dishes that only you could use! Empress Dowager Cixi's very particular tastes dictated a special collection of porcelain, to which this piece belongs. She designed, reviewed and approved the pieces, and all were fired at the imperial kilns.


chaofuChild's Informal Robe and Leggings
Tigers were believed to impart valour and strength, but only imperial boys could wear tiger patterned clothing. Emperor Tongzhi, who became Emperor when he was just six years old, wore this summer robe to play in.



Hair OrnamentHair Ornament
Empress Dowager Cixi came to the Forbidden City from Manchuria when she was sixteen. Manchu noblewomen wore a unique, traditional two-pointed hairdo that used flat hairpins such as this to hold all the wrappings in place. The higher the status of a court woman, the more elaborate the hairpin.


changyiWoman's informal outer gown (changyi)
Empress Dowager Cixi was very conscious of how she looked, and often even the most informal of gowns, such as ones like this, would require hundreds of yards of cloth, and craftsmen, to create it.






nail guardWoman's nail guard
Elite women in the Forbidden City grew extremely long fingernails, and wearing embellished nail guards on the pinky and ring fingers became the fashion. None were more splendidly decorated than those of the Empress Dowager, and her image was rarely captured without them.