Empress Xiaokangzhang – The Qing Dynasty’s shortest-reigning Empress Dowager




Empress Xiaokangzhang
(public domain)

Empress Xiaokangzhang was the fourth Empress of the Shunzhi Emperor. She was also the mother of the Kangxi Emperor. Empress Xiaokangzhang was also known to be the first Han Chinese Empress in the Qing Dynasty. She was also the Qing Dynasty’s shortest-reigning Empress Dowager. Empress Xiaokangzhang was an overlooked concubine who suddenly rose to prominence as the Emperor’s mother.

In 1640 C.E., Empress Xiaokangzhang was born. She was from the Tonggiya clan, who were under the Han military banner. Her father was a general named Tonggiya Tulai.[1] She had two younger brothers named Tonggiya Guowei and Tonggiya Guogang.[2] When Emperor Kangxi ascended the throne, he made his maternal grandfather a duke.[3] Her brothers became her son’s imperial bodyguards.[4]

In 1653 C.E., Lady Tonggiya entered the palace to become a concubine to Emperor Shunzhi. On 4 May 1654 C.E., Lady Tonggiya gave birth to Emperor Shunzhi’s third son, Xuanye. However, Lady Tonggiya was not favoured and was often neglected.[5] She was not given a title or a promotion.[6] Xuanye was also ignored by his own father.[7] Therefore, they continued to be overlooked and unfavoured by Emperor Shunzhi until 1661 C.E.

In 1661 C.E., Emperor Shunzhi fell ill with smallpox. He still had no apparent successor. Emperor Shunzhi finally selected Xuanye to be the Crown Prince.[8] He chose Xuanye because, among all his sons, he was the one who was lucky enough to survive smallpox.[9] Emperor Shunzhi thought that since Xuanye defeated smallpox, he would become a strong and healthy emperor.[10] On 5 February 1661 C.E., Emperor Shunzhi died. Xuanye ascended the throne as the Kangxi Emperor. Lady Tonggiya was made Empress Dowager Cihe. The Tonggiya clan’s Han banner was turned into a Manchu banner.[11] They would become one of the most prosperous clans in the Qing Dynasty.[12]

Two years later, Empress Dowager Cihe fell ill. Emperor Kangxi nursed his sick mother day and night. However, she died on 10 March 1663 C.E. She was twenty-three years old. She was the Empress Dowager for two years. On 30 March 1663 C.E., Empress Xiaokangzhang’s coffin was moved to Bashang. Emperor Kangxi held the ceremony with great composure.[13] However, he lost his composure and shed tears when the servants carried his mother’s coffin out of the palace.[14] Emperor Kangxi was not allowed to attend her funeral because his grandmother would not permit him to leave the Forbidden City.[15] She was buried beside Emperor Shunzhi and Empress Xiaoxian Donggo in the Eastern Qing Mausoleum.[16] On 2 July 1663 C.E., Emperor Kangxi made his mother the posthumous Empress Xiaokangzhang.

Empress Xiaokangzhang was often neglected and overlooked by Emperor Shunzhi. It was through a series of tragic events that her son was able to become Emperor. Upon Emperor Kangxi’s accession, she was finally able to get the respect she deserved. However, she was the shortest-reigning Empress Dowager in the Qing Dynasty. Tragically, she did not live long enough to see her son’s accomplishments as one of China’s greatest emperors.

Sources:

DayDayNews. (March 29, 2020). “How did Emperor Kangxi’s mother become the first Han queen in the Qing Dynasty?” Retrieved on 18 September 2022 from https://daydaynews.cc/en/history/amp/437769.html.

McMahon, K. (2016). Celestial Women: Imperial Wives and Concubines in China from Song to Qing. NY: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Yu, S. & Wang, L. trans. (2015). “Empress Xiao Kang Zhang of the Tonggiya Clan”. Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Women v. 1: The Qing Period, 1644-1911 (1st ed.). (L. X. H. Lee, Ed.; C. Lau, Ed.; A.D. Stefanowska,. Ed.; S. Wiles, Asst. Ed.) NY: Routledge. pp. 347-348.

Swen, L. (2021). Jesuit Mission and Submission: Qing Rulership and the Fate of Christianity in China, 1644-1735. Netherlands: Brill.


[1] Swen, 2001

[2] Swen, 2021

[3] Yu and Wang, 2015

[4] Swen, 2021

[5] DayDayNews, 29 March 2020, “How did Emperor Kangxi’s mother become the first Han queen in the Qing Dynasty?”

[6] DayDayNews, 29 March 2020, “How did Emperor Kangxi’s mother become the first Han queen in the Qing Dynasty?”

[7] DayDayNews, 29 March 2020, “How did Emperor Kangxi’s mother become the first Han queen in the Qing Dynasty?”

[8] Yu and Wang, 2015

[9] Yu and Wang, 2015

[10] Yu and Wang, 2015

[11] DayDayNews, 29 March 2020, “How did Emperor Kangxi’s mother become the first Han queen in the Qing Dynasty?”

[12] DayDayNews, 29 March 2020, “How did Emperor Kangxi’s mother become the first Han queen in the Qing Dynasty?”

[13] Yu and Wang, 2015

[14] Yu and Wang, 2015

[15] Yu and Wang, 2015

[16] McMahon, 2016






About Lauralee Jacks 183 Articles
I am a former 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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