Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Historical Context: The Confidant Characters

The Tongzhi Emperor (同治) was the son of Cixi and the only surviving prince of the Xianfeng Emperor. He ascended to the throne at age 5. As a young emperor, the authority was placed in the hands of the Empress Dowagers Cixi and Ci’an, and his uncle Prince Gong. Due to his lack of power, he became uninterested in politics and neglected his education. He allegedly sneaked out of the Forbidden City to visit brothels. He gained the right to rule on his own at age 18, yet he did not know how to handle governmental affairs and caused trouble. In one instance, he issued an edict to rebuild Yuan Ming Yuan, without considering the lack of state funds. When Prince Gong and other ministers disagreed with his plan, he demoted them. His actions were so appalling that the Empress Dowagers appeared in court and forced the Emperor to withdraw his edict. Tongzhi died at the age of 19 without an heir. Official records show that he died of smallpox, but some believe he died from a sexually transmitted disease, contacted while engaging with prostitutes. 

The Jiashun Empress (嘉順皇后), also known as Lady Alute, was the Empress Consort of Tongzhi. She was said to be extremely intelligent, virtuous and beautiful. She was a relative of Ci’an and heavily favoured by Tongzhi, which gained her the wrath of Cixi. Moreover, her grandfather was one of the disposed regents from the Xinyou Coup. Cixi was unhappy that her son spent all his time with Lady Alute, while neglecting the concubines that were favoured by Cixi. She tried to separate the young couple. This action was supposedly what prompted him to seek entertainment from prostitutes. Lady Alute died shortly after Tongzhi. Her death was officially recorded as due to illness, however, speculations are that she was either forced to commit suicide or poisoned by Cixi. It is believed that she was pregnant at the time of Tongzhi’s death and Cixi was worried that her power would be threatened if the baby turned out to be a boy.

Conflict between Lady Alute and Cixi:
Two alleged incidents deepened Cixi’s hatred towards Lady Alute. In the first, Cixi ordered that Lady Alute be slapped on the face by eunuchs over a minor offence. This was considered an extremely degrading punishment to females such that even servants were rarely subjected to it.  Lady Alute pleaded with Cixi to spare her the humiliation because she had entered the palace through the Great Qing Gate (大清) after all. The Great Qing Gate was the palace’s main entrance and used for ceremonial purposes only. During the wedding of the Emperor and Empress, the Empress would be carried into the palace through the Great Qing Gate, which was the case for Lady Alute. But Cixi had only been a concubine to her husband, the Xianfeng Emperor, thus she had only been eligible to enter the palace through a side entrance. Cixi felt that Lady Alute’s comment was meant as an insult and deeply resented her for it. In the second incident, Lady Alute was at the bedside of her ailing husband, Tongzhi, complaining to him about Cixi’s tyranny and spoke of her desire to see him recover so that they can rule the country together. Cixi overheard this and rushed into the room, grabbing her by the hair and hitting her. After this, Cixi vowed to get rid of Lady Alute.

Prince Gong (恭親), personal name Yixin (), was the sixth son of the Daoguang Emperor. During his brother Xianfeng’s reign, he forged an imperial edict to grant his birth mother (step-mother to Xianfeng) the title of Empress Dowager. Xianfeng did not rescind the edict, but thereafter, Prince Gong was only given minor roles within the government. This lasted until the Second Opium War. While Xianfeng fled the capital, Prince Gong was given full authority to negotiate a treaty with the foreigners, culminating in the Convention of Peking. At the onset of his nephew Tongzhi’s reign, he aided the Empress Dowagers to gain power in the Xinyou Coup. To reward his help, he was named Prince-Regent and admitted into the Grand Council (the privy council of the Qing court). He pushed for many reform policies, such as establishing a foreign affairs ministry, creation of a school for learning Western-knowledge, use of foreign technologies and the opening of trade ports. His enthusiasm for foreigners earned him the nickname “鬼子” (Devil Number Six). He irked Cixi in many ways, including his opposition to her plans for rebuilding the Summer Palace and his role in death of An Dehai. Eventually Cixi felt that his increasing political influence was a threat to her power and dismissed him from office by blaming him for the loss in the Sino-French War.

Li Lianying (李連英) was a eunuch that was heavily favoured by Empress Dowager Cixi. Reportedly, he gained her favour because he was very good at flattery and at braiding her hair. Her favouritism towards him is apparent as she made him a second-rank Head Eunuch despite a rule that limited eunuchs to only the fourth rank. Li Lianying has typically been portrayed in a negative light, as a self-interested and greedy eunuch. However, historic records describe him as attentive, cautious and sympathetic. Often, he would try to convince Cixi to spare servants from punishment. Nonetheless, it is true that he accepted briberies from other officials. With his proximity to the Empress Dowager, he had tremendous influence over who was granted an audience with the Cixi, allowing him to accumulate a handsome fortune. After Cixi died, he left the palace and was murdered just before the Revolution of 1911. His murder increased speculations that he had been involved in the poisoning of the Guangxu Emperor.

An Dehai (安德海preceded Li Lianying as Head Eunuch. He had been successful in winning the affections of both the Xianfeng Emperor and Empress Dowager Cixi. He was a clever sweet-talker and very attentive to his master’s needs. For example, he especially built a theatre and trained a group of performers so that Cixi could watch opera at any time she liked. During the Xinyou Coup, he acted as a messenger between the Empress Dowagers and Prince Gong. For his role, he was promoted to the position of Head Eunuch. Relying on his close relationship with Cixi, An Dehai showed little respect to everyone else, including Tongzhi and Prince Gong. He often gossiped to Cixi about the young Emperor, causing their mother-son relationship to be strained. He also began to interfere in political matters even though Qing traditions strictly prohibited eunuchs from taking part in politics. Seeing Prince Gong as an obstacle, he persuaded Cixi to demote the Prince. His actions displeased many in the royal court, yet they could not do anything since he was Cixi’s favourite. Although he was a eunuch, An Dehai married a 19-year-old opera singer. As his wedding gift, Cixi granted him 1000 pieces of silver and 100 bundles of fine satin. His marriage fuelled rumours that he was a fake eunuch that was kept by Cixi to satisfy her sexual desires. 

His death: (Possible Spoilers!)

In The Confidant, Li Lianying (Wayne Lai) and An Dehai (Raymond Cho) are portrayed as good friends who had entered the palace together as young kids. In reality, An Dehai entered the palace before Li Lianying and was able to gain Cixi’s favour after the Xinyou Coup in 1861. By the time Li Lianying was sent to work at Cixi’s residence in 1864, An Dehai had already been made Head Eunuch. Due to their difference in status, it is unlikely that they became good friends.

Prince Chun is the seventh son of the Daoguang Emperor and married to Cixi’s younger sister. He lent military support to the Empress Dowagers in the Xinyou Coup and was responsible for the capture of Sushun. As a result, he was given increasingly prestigious roles and honours and became a close ally of Cixi. When Tongzhi died without an heir, his son was installed as the Guangxu Emperor. Fearing that Cixi may eventually perceive him as a threat (since he was the father of the Emperor), he resigned from all his posts. However, he later accepted an invitation to be in charge of his son’s education. Seeing his brother Prince Gong’s fall from grace and Ci’an’s sudden death (possibly at the hands of Cixi), Prince Chun was eager to please Cixi. When he was appointed to oversee the establishment of the navy, he diverted military funds towards the rebuilding of the Summer Palace for her. With the completion of that project, he died peacefully and his title of “Prince Chun” was passed onto his son. His son, the 2nd Prince Chun, would become the father and regent of the last Qing Emperor, Puyi.

Other true historical characters:

Aimee Chan as 和碩公 – She is the 9th daughter of the Daoguang Emperor, sharing the same mother as Prince Chun. She is married to a man named Duk Fei (), but he dies after 1+ years of marriage. (We have surely not seen the last of Aimee. She will likely return to the palace after her husband’s death.)

Selena Li as 婉太 – She is the concubine of the Xianfeng Emperor, however, she died too early in The Confidant. In reality, she died in the 20th year of the Guangxu era, which takes place after Tongzhi’s (Oscar Leung) reign.

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Cilia Kung as – She is the concubine of the Tongzhi Emperor. She was Cixi’s choice to be Empress, but Tongzhi picked Lady Alute (Natalie Tong) instead. As Cixi’s favourite, she was quickly made into an Imperial Noble Consort (皇貴, ranking second only to the Empress) ahead of the other concubines.

Tsui Wing as – He was a military general who sided with Cixi in the Xinyou Coup. However, his long string of military losses and arrogant attitude led to other ministers complaining about him. He was convicted on charges such as falsifying military defeats as victories and fabricating military achievements, and forced to commit suicide.

Chung King-fai as 劉多生 – He was the eunuch responsible for the imperial seal during the Xianfeng era. He would later move to the Imperial Household Deprtmant (內務) to be the assistant to Li Lianying. Once, when he was making funeral arrangements for Cixi’s mother, he met a Taoist priest. From then on, he became very devoted to Taoism, even using his personal wealth to build and repair temples.

Peter Pang as – He is Cixi’s younger brother and granted the title of 承恩. However, he was not given this title until his daughter (the future Empress Dowager Longyu) married the Guangxu Emperor, thus it is inaccurate to refer to him by this title in The Confidant.

Mandy Lam as 婉貞 – She is Cixi’s younger sister and Prince Chun’s wife. She is the mother of the future Guangxu Emperor.

More Historical Context posts:
The Empress Dowager
The Xinyou Coup - How Cixi came to power
The Burning of Yuan Ming Yuan
The Confidant & Curse of the Royal Harem Connection - Relationship Map of Late Qing Emperors

1 comment:

  1. Fabulous write-up Miriam!! Although I rarely write about historical context (since I do poorly in history classes), I enjoy reading about them. Tried my best to avoid the spoilers. hee.

    Would love to be an affiliate. :)