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Xianfeng Emperor

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Xianfeng Emperor
Emperor of the Qing dynasty
Reign9 March 1850 – 22 August 1861
PredecessorDaoguang Emperor
SuccessorTongzhi Emperor
Born(1831-07-17)17 July 1831
Imperial Gardens, Beijing
Died22 August 1861(1861-08-22) (aged 30)
Mountain Estate, Jehol
Ding Mausoleum, Eastern Qing tombs
(m. 1848; died 1850)
(m. 1852)
(m. 1852)
Aisin-Gioro Yizhu (愛新覺羅·奕詝)
Manchu: I ju (ᡳ ᠵᡠ)
Era dates
Xianfeng (咸豐): 1 February 1851 – 29 January 1862
Manchu: Gubci elgiyengge (ᡤᡠᠪᠴᡳ ᡝᠯᡤᡳᠶᡝᠩᡤᡝ)
Mongolian: Түгээмэл Элбэгт (ᠲᠦᠭᠡᠮᠡᠯ ᠡᠯᠪᠡᠭᠲᠦ)
Posthumous name
Emperor Xietian Yiyun Zhizhong Chuimo Maode Zhenwu Shengxiao Yuangong Duanren Kuanmin Zhuangjian Xian (協天翊運執中垂謨懋德振武聖孝淵恭端仁寬敏莊儉顯皇帝
Manchu: Iletu hūwangdi (ᡳᠯᡝᡨᡠ
Temple name
Wenzong (文宗)
Manchu: Wendzung (ᠸᡝᠨᡯᡠᠩ)
FatherDaoguang Emperor
MotherEmpress Xiaoquancheng
Xianfeng Emperor
Traditional Chinese咸豐帝
Simplified Chinese咸丰帝
Literal meaning“Universal Prosperity” Emperor

The Xianfeng Emperor (17 July 1831 – 22 August 1861), also known by his temple name Emperor Wenzong of Qing, personal name Yizhu, was the eighth emperor of the Qing dynasty, and the seventh Qing emperor to rule over China proper. During his reign, the Qing dynasty experienced several wars and rebellions including the Taiping Rebellion, the Nian Rebellion, and the Second Opium War. He was the last Chinese emperor to exercise sole power.

The fourth son of the Daoguang Emperor, he assumed the throne in 1850 and inherited an empire in crisis. A few months after his ascension, the Taiping Rebellion rebellion broke out in southern China and rapidly spread, culminating in the fall of Nanjing in 1853. Contemporaneously, the Nian Rebellion began in the north, followed by ethnic uprisings (the Miao Rebellion and the Panthay Rebellion) in the south. The revolts ravaged large parts of the country, caused millions of deaths and would not be quelled until well into the reign of the Xianfeng Emperor's successor. Qing defeat during the first phase of the Second Opium War led to the Treaty of Tientsin and the Treaty of Aigun, the latter of which resulted in the cession of much of Manchuria to the Russian Empire. Negotiations broke down and hostilities resumed soon after, and in 1860 Anglo-French forces entered Beijing and burned the Old Summer Palace. The Xianfeng Emperor was forced to flee for the imperial estate at Jehol, and the Convention of Peking was negotiated in his absence.

His health was already in rapid decline in the face of mounting Qing losses. He died in 1861 in Jehol at the age of 30 and was succeeded by his six-year-old son, who assumed the throne as the Tongzhi Emperor. On his deathbed, the Xianfeng Emperor appointed eight men to a regency council to assist his young successor. A few months later, Empress Dowager Cixi and Empress Dowager Ci'an along with Prince Gong instigated the Xinyou Coup and ousted the regents. Cixi ultimately rose to sole power and consolidated control over the Qing government.

Family and early life


Yizhu was born in 1831 at the Old Summer Palace, eight kilometres northwest of Beijing. He was from the Manchu Aisin Gioro clan, and was the fourth son of the Daoguang Emperor. His mother was the Noble Consort Quan, of the Manchu Niohuru clan, who was made Empress in 1834, and is known posthumously as Empress Xiaoquancheng. Yizhu was reputed to have an ability in literature and administration which surpassed most of his brothers, which impressed his father, who therefore decided to make him his successor.

Early reign


Yizhu succeeded the throne in 1850, at age 19, and was a relatively young emperor. He inherited a dynasty that faced not only internal but also foreign challenges. Yizhu's reign title, "Xianfeng", which means "universal prosperity", did not reflect the situation. In 1850, the first of a series of popular rebellions began that would nearly destroy the Qing dynasty. The Taiping Rebellion began in December 1850, when Hong Xiuquan, a Hakka leader of a syncretic Christian sect, defeated local forces sent to disperse his followers. Hong then proclaimed the establishment of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom and the rebellion spread to several provinces with amazing speed. The following year, the Nian Rebellion started in North China. Unlike the Christian-influenced Taiping rebels, the Nian movement lacked a clear political program, but they became a serious threat to the Qing capital, Beijing, with the mobility of their cavalry-based armies. The Qing imperial forces suffered repeated defeats at the hands of both rebel movements.

Rebellions and wars


In 1853, the Taiping rebels captured Nanjing and for a while it seemed that Beijing would fall next; but the Taiping northern expedition was defeated and the situation stabilized. The Xianfeng Emperor dispatched several prominent mandarins, such as Zeng Guofan and the Mongol general Sengge Rinchen, to crush the rebellions, but they only obtained limited success. The biggest revolt of the Miao people against Chinese rule in history started in 1854, and ravaged the region until finally put down in 1873. In 1856, an attempt to regain Nanjing was defeated and the Panthay Rebellion broke out in Yunnan.

Portrait of the Xianfeng Emperor in his gardens

Meanwhile, an initially minor incident on the coasts triggered the Second Opium War. The British and French, after engaging in a number of minor military confrontations on the coast near Tianjin, attempted to start negotiations with the Qing government. The Xianfeng Emperor believed in Chinese superiority and would not agree to any demands from the European powers. He delegated Prince Gong for several negotiations but relations broke down completely when a British diplomat, Sir Harry Parkes, was taken hostage by Chinese forces during negotiations on 18 September.

Anglo-French forces clashed with Sengge Rinchen's Mongol cavalry on 18 September near Zhangjiawan before proceeding toward the outskirts of Beijing for a decisive battle in Tongzhou District, Beijing. On 21 September, at the Battle of Palikao, Sengge Rinchen's 10,000 troops, including his elite Mongol cavalrymen, were completely annihilated after several doomed frontal charges against the concentrated firepower of the Anglo-French forces, which entered Beijing on 6 October. On 18 October 1860, British and French forces sacked and burnt Old Summer Palace. Upon learning about this news, the Xianfeng Emperor's health quickly deteriorated.

During the Xianfeng Emperor's reign, China lost part of Manchuria to the Russian Empire. In 1858, according to the Treaty of Aigun, the territory between the Stanovoy Range and the Amur River was ceded to Russia, and in 1860, according to the Treaty of Beijing, the same thing happened also to the area east of the Ussuri River. After that treaty, the Russians founded the city of Vladivostok in the area they had annexed.

While negotiations with British, French and Russian officials were being held, the Xianfeng Emperor and his imperial entourage fled to Jehol province in the name of conducting the annual imperial hunting expedition. As his health worsened, the emperor's ability to govern also deteriorated, and competing ideologies in court led to the formation of two distinct factions — one led by the senior official Sushun and the princes Zaiyuan and Duanhua, and the other led by Noble Consort Yi, who was supported by the general Ronglu and the Bannermen of the Yehe Nara clan.



The Xianfeng Emperor died on 22 August 1861, from a short life of overindulgence, at the Chengde Mountain Resort, 230 kilometres northeast of Beijing. His successor was his surviving five-year-old son, Zaichun. A day before his death, the Xianfeng Emperor had summoned Sushun and his supporters to his bedside and gave them an imperial edict that dictated the power structure during his son's minority. The edict appointed eight men – Zaiyuan, Duanhua, Jingshou, Sushun, Muyin, Kuangyuan, Du Han and Jiao Youying – as an eight-member regency council to aid Zaichun, who was later enthroned as the Tongzhi Emperor.[1] Xianfeng gave the eight men the power of regency, but their edicts would have to be endorsed by Noble Consort Yi and Empress Consort Zhen. By tradition, after the death of an emperor, the emperor's body was to be accompanied to the capital by the regents. Noble Consort Yi and Empress Consort Zhen, who were now known as Empress Dowagers Cixi and Ci'an travelled ahead to Beijing and planned a coup with Prince Gong that ousted the eight regents. Empress Dowager Cixi then effectively ruled China over the subsequent 47 years as a regent.

The Xianfeng Emperor was interred in the Eastern Qing Tombs, 125 kilometres/75 miles east of Beijing, in the Ding (定; lit. "Quietude") mausoleum complex.


Yanbozhishuang Hall, where the Xianfeng Emperor died on 22 August 1861

The Qing dynasty continued to decline during the reign of the Xianfeng Emperor. Rebellions in the country, which began the first year of his reign, would not be quelled until well into the reign of the Tongzhi Emperor and resulted in millions of deaths. The Xianfeng Emperor also had to deal with the British and French and their ever-growing appetite to expand trade further into China. The Xianfeng Emperor, like his father, the Daoguang Emperor, understood very little about Europeans and their mindset. He viewed non-Chinese as inferior and regarded the repeated requests by the Europeans for the establishment of diplomatic relations as an offence. When the Europeans introduced the long-held concept of an exchanged consular relationship, the Xianfeng Emperor quickly rebuffed the idea. At the time of his death, he had not met with any foreign dignitary.

Despite his tumultuous decade of reign, the Xianfeng Emperor was commonly seen as the last Qing emperor to have held paramount authority, ruling in his own right. The reigns of his son and subsequent successors were overseen by regents, a trend present until the fall of the Qing dynasty.




Imperial Noble Consort

Noble Consort

  • Noble Consort Wen (玟貴妃) of the Xu clan (徐氏; 1835 – 20 December 1890)
    • Prince Min of the Second Rank (憫郡王; 8 January 1859 – ?), second son
  • Noble Consort Wan (婉貴妃) of the Socoro clan (索綽絡氏; 17 November 1835 – 20 June 1894)


  • Consort Xi (禧妃) of the Cahala clan (察哈喇氏; 4 October 1842 – 26 June 1877)
  • Consort Qing (慶妃) of the Zhang clan (張氏; 25 October 1840 – 15 June 1885)


  • Concubine Yun (雲嬪) of the Wugiya clan (武佳氏; ? – 11 January 1856), personal name Qiyun (绮云)
  • Concubine Rong (容嬪) of the Irgen-Gioro clan (伊爾根覺羅氏; 6 July 1837 – 21 June 1869)
  • Concubine Shu (璹嬪) of the Yehe-Nara clan (葉赫那拉氏; 27 March 1840 – 9 May 1874)
  • Concubine Yu (玉嬪) of the Yehe-Nara clan (葉赫那拉氏; 14 August 1843 – 26 December 1863)

First Class Attendant

  • First Class Attendant Chun (瑃常在) of the Ming'an clan (暝谙氏; 1835–1859)
  • First Class Attendant Xin (鑫常在) of the Daigiya clan (戴佳氏; ? – 27 May 1859)
  • First Class Attendant Ping (玶常在) of the Irgen-Gioro clan (伊尔根觉罗氏; ? – 1856)


Qianlong Emperor (1711–1799)
Jiaqing Emperor (1760–1820)
Empress Xiaoyichun (1727–1775)
Daoguang Emperor (1782–1850)
Empress Xiaoshurui (1760–1797)
Lady Wanggiya
Xianfeng Emperor (1831–1861)
Mukedengbu (d. 1803))
Empress Xiaoquancheng (1808–1840)
Lady Uya

See also





  1. ^ Wakeman, Frederic (1975). The fall of Imperial China. ISBN 9780029336908.


Books about Empress Dowager Cixi
Xianfeng Emperor
Born: 17 July 1831 Died: 22 August 1861
Regnal titles
Preceded by Emperor of the Qing dynasty
Emperor of China

Succeeded by