The current transliteration of “Tse Si” is “Cixi.”
FULL TEXT: The London “Daily Telegraph,” in a remarkable memoir of the late Dowager Empress of China [ruled 1861-1908], reported to have been written by Sir Robert Hart, says :—
“Tse Si, in the zenith of her power and the flower of her age, is described by those Mandarins who saw her, as one of the most charming ladies one could meet in a journey through, the Middle Kingdom. She had grown into the perfection of womanhood, as Chinamen understand and appreciate it. She had become fully harmonised with her Imperial surroundings, for, despite her lowly origin, she possessed the instincts of a queen and the charms of a sorceress.
There was nothing feverish about her activity, nothing impulsive in her manner. She was sometimes in haste, but never in a hurry. Her type of face was that, of a Greek or Italian, rather than a Mongolian woman. Her eyes were bright and piercing, but her presence, inspired confidence. In her dealings with her attendants. She could draw with unerring precision the line between ceremonial stiffness and undue familiarity, arid she compelled them to keep well within it; but she was served by all with a degree of devotedness bordering upon affection. Her voice, which was too strident and harsh to please a European, seemed to the native, accustomed to loudness in superiors, to have been expressly created for a female ruler. Her powers of adroitly feigning and seasonably forgetting were unsurpassed, and her self-control was uncommon even in China, where it seems inborn.
Her authority was usually hidden by grace, her fury often masked in meekness, and her set purpose disguised when necessary by stimulated wrath. Her finely chiselled features were but a screen for a soul that would have suited a tigress. Such was the Chinese Becky Sharp, who presided over the destinies of the. most ancient kingdom of the globe. If ambition were the mainspring of this lady’s public acts and power, the only god she worshipped, she was not by any means insensible to other emotions, and her cult had room for lesser idols. So long as her late protector was living she was as faithful to him as a model wife.
But her fidelity was common prudence and love of life. Once she had the reins of government in her own hands she felt that her baser appetites were no longer restrained by motives of prudence, and her code of morals knew none other. In judging a woman like Tse Si it would be unfair to employ European standards of conduct. Still, even in heathen ethics there are degrees and limits, and the Chinese parvenu outran them all. She was wont to select her favourites from among the crowds of students who flocked to Pekin from all corners of the vast Empire to pass the four examinations which should throw open to them the portals of fortune and favour, but which for these chosen ones opened only the gates of death.
She treated all these temporary husbands as Bluebeard dealt with his wives. As soon as she was tired of one, he passed from the presence of his Imperial mistress into the hands of the executioner, and was at once succeeded by another. Love with her was but “a sighing of hearts and filling up of graves.”
She played with human happiness and human life as a naughty child with her pretty toys. Her love was as fierce and as cruel as her hate, and brought certain death to all its objects. The paramours and the enemies of this Chinese Faustime died in untold numbers, “unrespited, unreprieved.”
Still there were some few exceptions, else China would have early lost her most wily diplomatist. Strange, to say, Tse Si manifested traits which usually bespeak a tender and emotional side in human character. She was fond of such music as she was able to appreciate, and she was at the pains to learn to play an instrument.
She also possessed a taste for the art of her own country, and she acquired some skill in painting, if the pictures attributed to her brush were indeed her own handiwork. In truth, she was curious of all branches of culture, and read many Chinese books, including numerous translations from European tongues. Singularly devoid of prejudices, she eschewed nothing because it was new, and was quite ready to adopt any innovation which to her own thinking had anything to recommend it. From physical fear she was absolutely free.
[“A Female Bluebeard.” The Wanganni Chronicle (N.Z.), Jan. 22, 1909, p. 2]
Wikipedia: Empress Dowager Cixi (Empress Dowager Tzu-hsi) 29 November 1835 – 15 November 1908), of the Manchu Yehenara clan, was a powerful and charismatic woman who unofficially but effectively controlled the Manchu Qing dynasty in China for 47 years, from 1861 to her death in 1908.
Selected as an imperial concubine for the Xianfeng Emperor in her adolescence, she gave birth to a son, in 1856. With Xianfeng’s death in 1861 the young boy became the Tongzh Emperor and she became Empress Dowager. Cixi ousted a group of regents appointed by the late emperor and assumed regency, which she shared with the Empress Dowage Ci’an. Cixi then consolidated control over the dynasty when, at the death of the Tongzhi Emperor, contrary to the dynastic rules of succession, she installed her nephew as the Guangxu Emperor in 1875.
Although she refused to adopt Western models of government, she supported technological and military reforms and the Self-Strengthening Movement. Cixi rejected the Hundred Days’ Reforms of 1898 as impractical and detrimental to dynastic power and placed the Guangxu Emperor under house arrest for supporting reformers. After the Boxer Rebellion and the invasion of Allied armies, external and internal pressures led Cixi to effect institutional changes of just the sort she had resisted and to appoint reform-minded officials. The dynasty collapsed in late 1911, three years after her death, and the Republican Era was inaugurated 1 January 1912.
Historians both in China and abroad have generally portrayed her as a despot and villain responsible for the fall of the dynasty, while others have suggested that her opponents among the reformers succeeded in making her a scapegoat for problems beyond her control, that she stepped in to prevent disorder, that she was no more ruthless than other rulers, and that she was even an effective if reluctant reformer in the last years of her life.
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EXCERPT: Cixi ordered executions. The decree that all foreign prisoners be decapitated was issued by her. numerous Chinese and foreigners were killed in this manner.
A torturous method of murder was called “slicing.” The victim was slightly cut repeatedly, scores or hundreds of times, until death resulted from shock or loss of blood.
Poisoning was another means of murder used by Cixi’s subordinates and associates. It is believed that she poisoned her nephew. Her co-dowager and cousin Ci’an (or Niuhuru) died after an unpleasant encounter with Cixi, with poisoning suspected. …
… When Cixi and her entourage were fleeing the Imperial Palace during the Boxer Rebellion, she was stopped by her son’s favorite concubine, known as Pearl Concubine. The girl begged Cixi to stay and defend Beijing. Cixi ordered that she be tossed into a well in the Forbidden City.
[Di Dirk C. Gibson, Legends, Monsters, Or Serial Murderers?: The Real Story Behind an Ancient Crime, 2002, ABC-CLIO, p. 115]
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For links to other cases of woman who murdered 2 or more husbands (or paramours), see Black Widow Serial Killers.