Empress Xiaohuizhang – The longest-reigning Empress Dowager in Qing history




Empress Xiaohuizhang
(public domain)

Empress Xiaohuizhang was the second of the four empresses of Emperor Shunzhi. She became Empress at the age of 13. She became Empress Dowager at the age of 21, and she would become the longest-reigning Empress Dowager in Qing history.[1] Yet, her enduring legacy was that she was the object of filial piety to Emperor Kangxi. While she did not give birth to Emperor Kangxi, he nevertheless treated her as a respected mother. This relationship between Emperor Kangxi and Empress Xiaohuizhang was to be a model example of how Qing emperors should treat their mothers.[2]

Empress Xiaohuizhang was born on 5 November 1641. Her personal name was Borjigit Alatan Qiqige. She was from the noble Mongol Borjigit clan.[3] Her father was Borjigit Chuo’erji, and her mother was Lady Aisin Goro. Her great aunt was Empress Xiaozhuang.[4] 

On 15 October 1653, Emperor Shunzhi deposed his first Empress, Erdeni Bumba, who was also from the Borjigit clan. He demoted her to Consort Jing. Since early Qing rulers often married women from the Borjigit clan, Emperor Shunzhi had no choice but to replace his first empress with another woman from her clan. At the age of 13, Borjigit Alatan Qiqige entered the Forbidden City to become Emperor Shunzhi’s concubine.[5] In August 1654, Borjigit Alatan Qiqige was invested as Empress.[6] 

Empress Alatan Qiqige maintained a harmonious relationship with Emperor Shunzhi’s concubines. Despite her position, she was often neglected by the Emperor. Instead, the Emperor showered all his affections on Consort Donggo.[7] Emperor Shunzhi was so in love with Consort Donggo that he wanted to depose Empress Alatan Qiqige and make Consort Donggo his Empress.[8] However, Consort Donggo refused and pleaded for the Empress by saying, “If Shizu abolished the Empress, she would definitely not dare to survive.” [9] Because of Consort Donggo’s refusal and intercession, Emperor Shunzhi had no choice but to let Alatan Qiqige retain her position as Empress.[10] It would not be until after Consort Donggo died that Emperor Shunzhi would be able to raise his beloved consort’s status to Empress. Consort Donggo became known in history as the posthumous Empress Xiaoxian.

On 5 February 1661, Emperor Shunzhi died. His third son by Lady Tunggiya (who was also made Empress Dowager Cihe upon her son’s enthronement) ascended the throne as Emperor Kangxi. Because Alatan Qiqige was the Empress Consort to Emperor Shunzhi, she was made Empress Dowager Renxian. Empress Dowager Renxian was 21 years old and childless.[11] Even though she was not Emperor Kangxi’s actual mother, they formed a close relationship. [12]He made sure that she would not be lonely and depressed.[13] He even let her raise his fifth brother.[14] The fifth brother would remain faithful to Emperor Kangxi, and Emperor Kangxi believed that the reason why he had a loyal brother was because of how Empress Dowager Renxian had raised him.[15] 

When Empress Dowager Cihe died on 20 March 1663, Emperor Kangxi honoured Empress Dowager Renxian as his actual mother and turned his duties of a filial son to her.[16] Emperor Kangxi let Empress Dowager Renxian accompany him on inspection tours to Southern China.[17] He sent her expensive food when he was travelling. One time when he was out hunting, he killed a deer and gifted it to Empress Dowager Renxian.[18] He held grand celebrations for her on her 60th and 70th birthdays.[19] During her 70th birthday, Emperor Kangxi even danced for Empress Dowager Renxian.[20] He was also the first Qing Emperor to copy sutras on her birthday for an empress dowager.[21] This filial devotion to Empress Dowager Renxian would inspire Emperor Qianlong to have filial devotion to his own mother, Empress Xiaoshengxian.[22]

During Emperor Kangxi’s 56-year reign, Empress Dowager Renxian fell ill. Emperor Kangxi was ill himself, but he got up from his sickbed to attend to his stepmother because he feared he may not see her again.[23] Empress Dowager Renxian was so weak that she could not speak.[24] Empress Dowager Renxian passed away on 7 January 1718. Emperor Kangxi was so grief-stricken that upon her death, he could not stop crying before he read the sacrificial text.[25] He still cried throughout his reading.[26] She was 77 years old.[27] She had been Empress Dowager for 57 years.[28] She was buried in a separate tomb in the Xiao Mausoleum in the Eastern Qing tombs. She received the posthumous title of Empress Xiaohuizhang.[29] Thus, while she did not get any respect from her husband, she was able to get the respect she deserved from her stepson. She was able to maintain a close bond with Emperor Kangxi and even served as his surrogate mother to whom the Emperor made her an object of filial piety. It is no wonder that the close bond between Emperor Kangxi and Empress Xiaohuizhang inspired the filial piety between Emperor Qianlong and Empress Xiaoshengxian.

Sources:

Chang, M. G. (2007). A Court on Horseback: Imperial Touring and Construction of Qing Rule, 1680-1785 (Harvard East Asian Monographs). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

“Empress Xiaohuizhang was 21 years old as Empress Dowager, not favored by Emperor Shunzhi, but for 57 years as Empress Dowager”. (n.d.). Inf.news. Retrieved on 26 January 2022 from https://inf.news/en/history/992fa1afb81fae7bfcb3709b8f5fbcae.html.

Wang, D.Y. & Stuart, J. (Ed). (2018). Empresses of China’s Forbidden City, 1644-1912. Salem, MA: Peabody Essex Museum.


[1] “Empress Xiaohuizhang was 21 years old as Empress Dowager, not favored by Emperor Shunzhi, but for 57 years as Empress Dowager”, Inf.news, n.d.

[2] Wang & Stuart (Ed.), 2018

[3] Chang, 2007

[4] Chang, 2007

[5] Wang & Stuart (Ed.), 2018

[6] Wang & Stuart (Ed.), 2018

[7] Wang & Stuart (Ed.), 2018

[8] Wang & Stuart (Ed.), 2018

[9] “Empress Xiaohuizhang was 21 years old as Empress Dowager, not favored by Emperor Shunzhi, but for 57 years as Empress Dowager”, Inf.news, n.d., para. 9

[10] Wang & Stuart (Ed.), 2018

[11] Wang & Stuart (Ed.), 2018

[12] Wang & Stuart (Ed.), 2018

[13] “Empress Xiaohuizhang was 21 years old as Empress Dowager, not favored by Emperor Shunzhi, but for 57 years as Empress Dowager”, Inf.news, n.d.

[14] “Empress Xiaohuizhang was 21 years old as Empress Dowager, not favored by Emperor Shunzhi, but for 57 years as Empress Dowager”, Inf.news, n.d.

[15] “Empress Xiaohuizhang was 21 years old as Empress Dowager, not favored by Emperor Shunzhi, but for 57 years as Empress Dowager”, Inf.news, n.d.

[16] Wang & Stuart (Ed.), 2018

[17] Chang, 2007

[18] “Empress Xiaohuizhang was 21 years old as Empress Dowager, not favored by Emperor Shunzhi, but for 57 years as Empress Dowager”, Inf.news, n.d.

[19] Wang & Stuart (Ed.), 2018

[20] “Empress Xiaohuizhang was 21 years old as Empress Dowager, not favored by Emperor Shunzhi, but for 57 years as Empress Dowager”, Inf.news, n.d.

[21] Wang & Stuart (Ed.), 2018

[22] Wang & Stuart (Ed.), 2018

[23] “Empress Xiaohuizhang was 21 years old as Empress Dowager, not favored by Emperor Shunzhi, but for 57 years as Empress Dowager”, Inf.news, n.d.

[24] “Empress Xiaohuizhang was 21 years old as Empress Dowager, not favored by Emperor Shunzhi, but for 57 years as Empress Dowager”, Inf.news, n.d.

[25] “Empress Xiaohuizhang was 21 years old as Empress Dowager, not favored by Emperor Shunzhi, but for 57 years as Empress Dowager”, Inf.news, n.d.

[26] “Empress Xiaohuizhang was 21 years old as Empress Dowager, not favored by Emperor Shunzhi, but for 57 years as Empress Dowager”, Inf.news, n.d.

[27] “Empress Xiaohuizhang was 21 years old as Empress Dowager, not favored by Emperor Shunzhi, but for 57 years as Empress Dowager”, Inf.news, n.d.

[28] “Empress Xiaohuizhang was 21 years old as Empress Dowager, not favored by Emperor Shunzhi, but for 57 years as Empress Dowager”, Inf.news, n.d.

[29] Wang & Stuart (Ed.), 2018

 






About Lauralee Jacks 98 Articles
I am a third grade elementary teacher in Tennessee. I have a bachelor’s degree in Liberal and Civic Studies from St. Mary’s College of California, a master’s in Elementary Education from the University of Phoenix, and a doctorate in Educational Leadership from the College of Saint Mary. Because my family are from East Asia, I have a passion for historical Chinese and Korean television shows. I always wanted to separate fact from fiction in dramas. Writing articles from History of Royal Women gives me a chance to dig deeper and explore these royal women as they might have been in real life. Also, it gives me a chance to look at the history and culture of where my family originated. I love researching East Asian royalty because they rarely get enough attention in the West often being overshadowed by European royalty. I find these royal women to be just as fascinating and their stories deserve to be told. Thus, I am excited to write for History of Royal Women!

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