ORIENTAL WOMEN TALK
             Grand Empress Dowager
                        Xiao Zhuang
A remarkable and respectable woman in the history of China

             TOLD by Hani Law Copyright © 2006
               All Rights Reserved
Xiao Zhuang (1613-1688) was the grandmother of Emperor
Kang Xi, one of the greatest Emperors of the Qing Dynasty
in China. She was born in Mongolia, which was a nomadic
state north of China and at that time ruled by Manchuria,
another up-and-coming state north-east of China. In 1625,
when she was only at the tender age of 12 years, she was
selected to be one of the concubines of Huang Tai Ji ,
(1592-1643), who later succeeded as a ruler of Manchuria.
Xiao Zhuang bore him three daughters and a son, Fu Lin,
who later became Emperor Shun Zhi (1638-1661) of the
Qing Dynasty of China.

At that time, it was the Ming Dynasty in China where there
was much corruption not only in the central government but
also in regional and local governments. Eunuchs, who were
castrated male servants working in the royal palace, had
immense influence over the Emperors and were able to
control very senior court officials and thus the governance
of the entire country. Against this background, the Emperor
had to mobilize all of his resources to quell the uprisings in
a number of provinces within China and at the same time,
he had to defend the northern boundaries from invasions
from China’s northern neighbours, especially from
Manchuria, whose ruler at that time was Nurhaci (1559-
1626). Nurhaci was a very able ruler and after he had
united (or conquered) all the different tribes in Manchuria,
he further strengthened his country and looked out for
opportunities to overrun China and become its ruler. He
entitled his dynasty as the Later Jing (Gold) Dynasty of
Manchuria.

During one of the skirmishes with the Chinese army in
1626, Nurhaci was killed by a very famous Chinese
general, General Chong Huan Yuan. He was succeeded by
his son, Huang Tai Ji.

Xiao Zhuang was a wide reader and eager to acquire all
types of knowledge. She was particularly interested in
Chinese classics, which she learned from a Han scholar
who was abducted from China to Manchuria. Most of the
people in China were Han people and all the Chinese
classics were written in the Han language. She was the
sister of one of Nurhaci’s wives. As Nurhaci was Huang Tai
Ji’s father, Xiao Zhuang was in fact Hunag Tai Ji’s aunt,
although he was much older than she.

When Huang Tai Ji was working hard to strengthen his
country in preparation for invasion of China, he knew that it
would not be easy for him to rule a country as big as China
whose people and culture were completely different. He
believed that if ever he had the opportunity of ruling China,
he would win over his acceptance by the Han people by
adopting the Han way of life and customs. He often asked
Xiao Zhuang to draft official papers in Chinese for him.

In one battle, the Manchurians caught a very important
Chinese general, General Cheng Chou Hong, who was a
very learned person and trusted by Emperor Chong Shen.
General Hong refused to surrender to the Manchurians
despite being threatened that he would be executed if he
did not surrender. Although he was imprisoned, he was well
treated by Huang Tai Ji. When Huang Tai Ji was just about
to give up his persuasion and arrange for General Hong to
be executed, Xiao Zhuang advised Huang Tai Ji to be
patient because it was her firm belief that General Hong
would finally surrender.  She told Huang Tai Ji that she had
once seen General Hong brush off some dust from his
clothes. If somebody did not value his life and were
prepared to die for the cause of patriotism, he would not
value his clothes and would not be bothered about some
dust on his clothes. She was proven right at the end as
General Hong eventually succumbed to consistent
persuasion by both Huang Tai Ji and Xiao Zhuang. He
defected to the Manchurians and also gave them advice on
how to conquer China.

Before Huang Tai Ji fulfilled his dream of conquering China,
he died without leaving a will to decree who would succeed
him as the next ruler. A power struggle then ensued
between Huang Tai Ji’s eldest son, Hoo Ge, who was born
to him by another of his wives, and Huang Tai Ji’s step
brother, Duo Er Gun.

Meanwhile, Xiao Zhang knew that she and her young son
might not survive in the power struggle as she was Huang
Tai Ji’s most favourite concubine and had always been
viewed with jealousy by the other members of the royal
family. Knowing that Duo Er Gun, who grew up together
with her in the royal palace, had a crush on her, she went
to seek his help in order to plan a secured future for herself
and her son, who was only six years old at that time. Duo
Er Gun was flattered by Xiao Zhuang’s plea for advice and
promised to offer her protection.

Duo Er Gun then devised a scheme to protect Xiao Zhuang
and her son on the one hand, and also to avoid any direct
conflicts with Hoo Ge on the other. He proposed that Fu Lin
be the next Emperor, but as he was only six years old, he
should be assisted in his court duties by two of Huang Tai Ji’
s brothers as regents: one was Duo Er Gun himself and the
other was his brother Daisan. Despite Hoo Ge’s objection,
the proposal was accepted by the majority of the ministers.
Fu Lin was crowned Emperor in 1643 and entitled Emperor
Shun Zhi. Xiao Zhuang naturally became Grand Empress.  

Xiao Zhuang realized that as long as she could keep Duo
Er Gun on her side, her position would be secured because
Duo Er Gun had fought in many battles, had control of the
army and had the respect of the majority of the court
officials in Manchuria.

In China itself, the rebels led by Ji Cheng Li had repeatedly
defeated the imperial army and they marched into the royal
palace in Beijing on 25 April 1644.A general guarding the
Shan Hai Gate at the border, General San Gui Wu, invited
the Manchurian court to send an army to assist him in
ridding the rebels from Beijing. Therefore 40 days after the
rebels had occupied Beijing, the Manchurian army, led by
General Wu, barged into Beijing. After the rebels had all
been removed, the Manchurians remained in Beijing and
started ruling China. It was the beginning of 267 years’ rule
of China by the Manchurians. The Qing Dynasty was born.

Empress Dowager Xiao Zhuang was a shrewd politician
and could manipulate the different factions in the royal court
to her advantage. Because of her profound knowledge of
Chinese and her high intellectual ability, she had earned
great respects from both Duo Er Gun and her son. She
never attempted to interfere with policies and activities of
the court.

The young Emperor did not like his uncle, Duo Er Gun, who
was the more influential of the two regents because Duo Er
Gun had a tendency of making all the decisions for the
Emperor, without consulting him. However, there was not
much he could do because Duo Er Gun had a firm grip of
power until his death in 1650. The Emperor was 12 years
old at the time. He punished Duo Er Gun by stripping the
titles and benefits of all his family members.

Emperor Shun Zhi had a favourite concubine who died in
1661 after a miscarriage. He was so heart broken that he
left the palace to become a monk at the age of 24 years.
Before he left, he appointed four regents, O boi, So Nin,
Ebi lun to assist the new Emperor who ascended to the
throne when he was only eight years old.  His name was
Xuan Ye and when he became Emperor, his title was
Emperor Kang Xi (1654-1722). He reigned China for 61
years and that made him the longest reigning Emperor of
China.  

Emperor Kang Xi was brought up by her grandmother,
Empress Dowager Xiao Zhuang, after his mother had died
in the year after he was crowned Emperor, and when he
was only nine years old. Kang Xi was often found studying
till the early hours at night. Empress Xiao Zhuang played an
important part in Emperor Kang Xi’s rule of this large
country, especially during the early years. Political strife
was still the order of the day and the young Emperor had
threats to his authority and rule from all directions, not the
least from the Han people.

Xiao Zhuang died in 1688 when she was 75 years old.  

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