Images, ideas and reality: Empress Dowager Cixi's self-image and Western understandings of Cixi

Fang, Shiou-Yun (2006) Images, ideas and reality: Empress Dowager Cixi's self-image and Western understandings of Cixi. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

This thesis, titled Images, Ideas and Reality, mainly focuses on China's Empress Dowager Cixi's image-making (her response to the Western attack on China at the time of the Boxer Rebellion) and on Western views of Cixi. One particular portrait of the Empress is central to the discussion here. Made by an American portraitist, Katherine Carl, it was to be displayed at the 1904 St Louis' World Fair (also called the Louisiana Purchase Exposition) and was planned to be given afterwards as a gift from Cixi to the American government and people. It is made central here because this portrait is the one to which Cixi paid so much attention in terms of her image-making for showing to the West; also it was the one that so many Westerners saw after 1904, so it did indeed have an influence on Western views of her (in comparison with other works). (This particular portrait is titled here 'the LPE portrait of Cixi.') The thesis is thus divided into two main parts, concerning the intended and achieved image of Cixi and their connection with likely reality. In the first part, the manner of Cixi's public appearances in front of crowds outside the imperial palaces and in front of foreign painters, ambassadors and princes and their wives, and so on inside her imperial palaces are examined. Cixi appeared remarkably 'democratic' and much 'Westernized' in the public domain at least at the end of her reign, around the time the LPE portrait was made. As well as making analyses of Cixi's portraits and photographs as to their aesthetics, the LPE portrait of Cixi is also examined in special detail. The thesis identifies the main essence of Cixi's political image, that is, her widowhood. Cixi's widowhood was crucial to establishing her political power, with the help of China's traditional domestic system. But some subsequent flaws caused by her cultivation of widowhood arguably helped lead to her country's downfall. The paradox of Cixi's widowhood - its benefits and flaws - is discussed in the thesis. In the second part. Western pro-Cixi and anti-Cixi views from Cixi's time until the present are analyzed. The thesis points out that Westerners' ideas about Cixi actually reflect their individual personal experiences, and rather seldom who Cixi herself really was. Another discovery is about the prototype of Cixi's bad image that had been kept in the Western mind. That is the demonized mythological figure by which the British Sinologist Sir Edmund Backhouse characterised Cixi. How has the LPE portrait of Cixi been viewed by Western audiences since 1904? Apparently, because of Cixi's friends and foes (both in the West and in China) the portrait was a piece which could not be fully understood. Like the LPE portrait, the real Cixi cannot be easily understood although lots of articles and biographies written by Westerners who have tried to portray her. Until now, Cixi still remains something of a mystery. What this thesis aims to achieve is this: as the title - Images, Ideas and Reality - implies, studies of Cixi's public appearance, her photos and her portraits (images) as well as various opinions about her (ideas) are thought to get as close as possible to the real Cixi. Arguably, the most important approach to her is to understand the LPE portrait. This thesis will try to point to what is the likely reality behind the images and ideas. Here, art history is used to unravel serious confusions of the past affecting the image of a long-reigning Empress and indeed the very image of imperial China.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Adviser: Nicholas Pearce
Keywords: Asian history
Date of Award: 2006
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2006-71856
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 17 May 2019 09:31
Last Modified: 17 May 2019 09:31
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/71856

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