Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Tsai-t'ien
TSAI-t'ien 載湉, Aug. 14, 1871–1908, Nov. 14, ninth Emperor of the Ch'ing Dynasty, was a grandson of Emperor Hsüan-tsung (Min-ning, q.v.), a nephew of Emperor Wên-tsung (I-chu, q.v.), and a cousin of Emperor Mu-tsung (Tsai-ch'un, q.v.). He was the second son of Prince I-huan [q. v.]; his mother was a younger sister of Empress Hsiao-ch'in [q. v.]. At the age of two sui he was given the decorations of a first grade official. Early in 1874, at three sui, he was allowed to wear the peacock feather. Late in 1874 he was given the salary of a prince of the sixth degree.
On January 12, 1875, Emperor Mu-tsung died and Empress Hsiao-ch'in chose her nephew, Tsai-t'ien, as successor to the throne, adopting him as her son. This selection violated the dynastic laws of succession (see under Hsiao-ch'in) and was made solely in order to maintain her power. Of all the princes, he was the nearest to her by blood; since he was still a child she could mould his career at will. Foreseeing the objection that this arrangement would leave the deceased Emperor Mu-tsung without an heir, she promised that Tsai-t'ien's first son would be Mu-tsung's heir (see Tsai-ch'un and Wu K'o-tu). Thus, at four sui, Tsai-t'ien became the pawn of an ambitious, unscrupulous woman who undertook to control his whole life, even to depriving him, in advance, of his rightful heir.
The decision making Tsai-t'ien heir to the throne was taken in the evening of January 12, 1875. Shortly after three o'clock the next morning the child arrived at the Palace. On January 15 it was announced, in his name, that the Dowager Empresses, Hsiao-ch'in and Hsiao-chên (see under the former), would rule as co-regents during his minority. On February 25, 1875, he ascended the throne. The title Kuang-hsü 光緒 was used to designate the years of his reign which lasted nominally from January 6, 1875 to January 21, 1909. The two Dowager Empresses ruled jointly as regents from 1875 to 1881 when Hsiao-chên died; and then, from 1881 to 1887, Hsiao-ch'in ruled alone. On February 7, 1887 Tsai-t'ien was proclaimed to be of age, but the power to rule was withheld from him for two years more during which Hsiao-ch'in "instructed him in state affairs" (hsün-chêng 訓政). It was not until March 4, 1889 that she retired to the Summer Palace (see under Hsiao-ch'in). Even so, she did not relinquish the reading of important state documents or the making of appointments to certain offices. Tsai-t'ien had no power to veto her decisions, for from childhood he had been taught to respect, to fear, and to obey her. He was married on February 26, 1889 to a daughter of a maternal uncle—to a cousin who was three years his senior and for whom he had no affection. Obviously, Hsiao-ch'in arranged this marriage, just prior to her retirement, in order that through her niece she could continue to exercise authority over the Emperor, and obtain confidential information on all proposed governmental policies. The hapless bride, known as Empress Hsiao-ting (孝定景皇后, 1868–1913), later held the position of Dowager Empress (Lung-yü Huang-t'ai-hou 隆裕皇太后) from 1908 until her death. At the time of his marriage Tsai-t'ien was given as concubines two sisters: Chin-fei 瑾妃 (1874–1924) and Chên-fei 珍妃 (known to Westerners as the "Pearl Concubine", 1876–1900). They were cousins of Chih-jui [q. v.], and both had been tutored by Wên T'ing-shih [q. v.]. Chên-fei, young and active, was perhaps the only woman Tsai-t'ien ever loved. She tried once, in 1894, to compete with Hsiao-ch'in in influencing appointments to official posts, but caused such a tempest in the Palace that she never tried again. Hsiao-ch'in ordered that she be degraded in rank, and though rank was later restored to her, Chên-fei was never forgiven for her temerity.
Under such unfavorable circumstances, Tsai-t'ien, surprisingly enough, grew up to be a man of considerable character. For this, credit must be given to Wêng T'ung-ho [q. v.], one of his tutors and his closest friend. It is said that as a child he was afraid of thunder and often, when he heard it, would hide his head in Wêng's lap. Wêng's diary is a valuable record of the Emperor's schooling. Besides the usual subjects, Tsai-t'ien studied English under two former students of the T'ung-wên Kuan (see under Tung Hsün), namely, Shên To 沈鐸 and Chang Tê-i 張德彝 ( 在初, 1847–1919), Minister to Great Britain, 1901–05. He was described as being an impetuous and ill-tempered child, but under Wêng's patient guidance he became a conscientious man with strong moral convictions. It is likely that he could have become an outstanding ruler but for his fear of his foster mother, Hsiao-ch'in—a fear which she had deliberately and firmly planted in his mind.
During the Hundred Days' Reform of 1898 (see under T'an Ssŭ-t'ung) Tsai-t'ien rebelled against her domination, but when Yüan Shih-k'ai (see under Yüan Chia-san) divulged the plot to overthrow her, she and the conservatives anticipated the coup. She returned to Peking from her retirement in the Summer Palace on September 22, 1898, and confined Tsai-t'ien in a pavillion known as Ying-t'ai 瀛臺, on an island in the Imperial Park west of the Palace. In his name she issued decrees denouncing the reformers and begging herself to resume control of the government. Rumors of his illness were spread, and physicians were regularly summoned to lend support to the story. There was a plot either to dethrone him, or o put him to death, but because of covert protests from Liu K'un-i [q. v.] and other provincial officials, and veiled warnings from foreign diplomats, it was not carried out. However, on January 24, 1900, Hsiao-ch'in and her protégé, Tsai-i (see under I-tsung), appointed the latter's son as Heir Apparent, not to Tsai-t'ien, but to the preceding Emperor, Mu-tsung.
Attributing the frustration of their plan to dethrone Tsai-t'ien to the influence of foreigners, Hsiao-ch'in and Tsai-i decided to drive them out of China by force Tsai-t'ien knew the folly of making war on the Powers, but his protests were ignored. The Empress proeeded to sponsor the anti-foreign mob known as Boxers, thus precipitating, in 1900, the Boxer Uprising (see under Jung-lu). Finally, early in the morning of August 14, foreign troops were reported to be entering the capital. Hsiao-ch'in decided to flee, but she would not leave Tsai-t'ien behind. His favorite consort, Chên-fei, courageously suggested that the Emperor be left in Peking to negotiate a peace; but for her presumption she was by Hsiao-ch'in's order thrown down a well. Surrounded as he was by her supporters, Tsai-t'ien had no choice but to accompany the Empress Dowager. However, had he managed to remain in Peking, he could have gained control of the throne, and the Empress might have been barred from resuming her power.
During the flight and the stay in Sian (see under Hsiao-ch'in), Tsai-t'ien was granted more freedom than in the preceding two years. He was under surveillance, but was allowed some voice in matters of state. Hsiao-ch'in used him, however, as a scapegoat to issue decrees in which he supposedly blamed himself and the officials at Court for the fiasco of the Boxer War. As soon as she was assured that her position would suffer no change, she ignored him. After their return to Peking she delegated to him only ceremonial duties and he enjoyed little more freedom than during his confinement. Nevertheless he patiently prepared himself for the day when his foster mother should die and leave him a free hand. He continued to read books on national and foreign affairs, and even resumed his study of the English language. Yet he was never permitted, for even one day, to rule by himself. Hsiao-ch'in died on November 15, 1908; the death of Tsai-t'ien being announced as having occurred on the preceding day. He was given the posthumous title, Ching Huang-ti 景皇帝, and the temple name, Tê-tsung 德宗. His tomb, the last one erected in the Ch'ing imperial burial grounds southwest of Peking, was named Ch'ung-ling 崇陵, where he was buried in 1913. Probably he did not die a ntural death. Some writers conjecture that he was murdered after Hsiao-ch'in died, but that his decease was announced first, in order to disguised the sequence of events.
However this may be, before she died, Hsiao-ch'in named as successor to the childless Tsai-t'ien his nephew, and her grand-nephew, P'u-i 溥儀 (b. Feb. 7, 1906), then three sui. P'u-i was the son of Tsai-t'ien's younger brother, Tsai-fêng (see under I-huan), and his mother was a daughter of Jung-lu [q. v.]. He was treated as the adopted son of both Tsai-t'ien and Mu-tsung—a dual system of relationships known in China as chien-t'iao 兼祧. His own father, Tsai-fêng, was named by Hsiao-ch'in to serve as regent during his minority, to rule in co-operation with Tsai-t'ien's widow, the above-mentioned Empress Hsiao-ting. P'u-i ruled for three years (January 22, 1909–February 17, 1912), under the reign title of Hsüan-t'ung 宣統. On February 12, 1912 his father and his foster mother agreed for him to abdicate the throne in favor of a republican form of government, thus ending the Ch'ing Dynasty which had ruled China for 268 years. Though no longer Emperor, he was permitted to live in the Palace in Peking. In 1917 an ambitious general, Chang Hsün 張勳 ( 少軒, 松壽老人, 1854–1923), staged an ill-fated coup d'état and restored P'u-i to the throne (July 1), but twelve days later (July 12) was defeated by republican forces and P'u-i again abdicated. In 1924 he was forced by General Fêng Yü-hsiang (see under Sung Ch'ing) to vacate the Palace. Thereafter he lived in the Japanese Concession in Tietsin until 1932 when he became the nominal head of the Japanese sponsored Manchurian regime.
There are many stories concerning the tragic life of Tsai-t'ien, some of which may well be true but cannot be substantiated by the facts at hand. Others are clearly fantastic. Statements to the effect that he was stupid or even feeble-minded were invented and circulated, probably by ambitious princes and officials who planned to dethrone him in 1900. Der-ling (see under Hsiao-ch'in) who lived in the palace for two years as lady-in-waiting to the Empress Dowager, states that he was intelligent, studious, fond of music, and well-informed on a variety of subjects. His tragedy was that he could not escape the control of his foster mother without breaking the conventional rules of filial piety. Although the actual power, throughout the thirty-three years of his reign, was in the hands of Hsiao-ch'in, the official history of those years is recorded under Tsai-t'ien's name and is entitled Tê-tsung Ching Huang-ti shih-lu (實錄), 579 + 4 chüan. It was completed in 1921 and is accompanied by a collection of edicts, entitled Tê-tsung Ching Huang-ti shêng-hsün (聖訓), 145 chüan. He has credited to him also a collection of notes on Chinese historical events, entitled 讀史隨筆 Tu-shih sui-pi, 4 chüan.
[1/23–35; Wêng T'ung-ho, Wêng Wên-kung kung jih-chi, vols. 13–40; Li Tz'ŭ-ming [q. v.], Yüeh-man t'ang jih-chi, vols. 21–36; Ch'ing Huang-shih ssŭ-p'u (see under Fu-lung-an); Der-ling, Two Years in the Forbidden City (1911); Johnston, R.F., Twilight in the Forbidden City (1934), chapters 1–10; Reid, John Gilbert, The Manchu Abdication and the Powers, 1908–1912 (1935); Yün Yü-ting, Ch'ung-ling ch'uan-hsin lu ("Stories Relating to Tsai-t'ien") in 庸言 Yung-yen, vol. 2 (1914), and in 青鶴 Ch'ing-ho, vol.5 (1936); idem, Tz'ŭ-hsi ch'uan-hsin lu chai-ch'ao ("Selected Stories Relating to Hsiao-ch'in"), in Ch'ing-ho, vol.5 (1936–37); Wang Chao 王照, 德宗遺事 Tê-tsung i-shih; Ch'ü Kuei-t'ing, Chên-chih Kuang-hsü Huang-ti mi-chi ("Diagnosis of the Illness of Kuang-hsü, Privately Recorded") in 逸經 I-ching, no. 29 (May 1937); Chao Ping-lin, Kuang-hsü ta-shih hui-chien (see bibl. under Yüan Chia-san).]