The Empress Dowager Cixi rose from the position of concubine to become the most powerful woman in China, in a reign that lasted 47 years – from 1861 to 1908. Seen here as a young woman, Cixi had the good fortune to bear the Xianfeng Emperor’s only male heir. After the death of the Emperor, Cixi ruled through her son, who was only five years old when his father died. Then, when the boy Emperor himself died at an early age, Cixi installed her nephew to the throne and ruled through him.
Empress Cixi’s Fan, late 18th-19th century (Qing Dynasty 1644-1911), China. Composed of silk and bamboo. In the Vatican Museums, Vatican City. Empress Dowager Cixi (1861-1908) is widely recognised as one of the most powerful women in the history of China.