Empress Dowager T'zu-hsi
Although she does not appear in the novel, T'zu-hsi is mentioned here because of her central place in the background of the story, for without her support, the Boxers and Red Lanterns might have been controlled by the Imperial Army and the outcome of the Seymour Expedition would have been far different, as would the whole future of China itself.
T'zu-hsi, as regent and empress dowager, effectively controlled China during the final years of the Ch'ing Dynasty. Two years prior to the start of the novel, she staged a coup and had the ruling Emperor, Kuang-Hsü, placed under house arrest within the Forbidden City and ruled China in his stead.
At the beginning of the Boxer uprising, China was almost prostrate, having been compelled to agree to the Unequal treaties, which forced China to cede land, open several of her cities to foreigners as "treaty ports", and to grant extraterritorial privileges to foreign citizens, putting them above local (Chinese) law. This caused mass unrest among the populace, and so, when the I Ho Ch’üan (Fists of Righteous Harmony) and the Hung Têng Chao (Red Lanterns Shining) began burning foreign churches and killing foreign missionaries, the Empress Dowager initially ordered them to be suppressed. This decision was soon reversed, and the Dragon Throne began discretely supporting them in their fight against the Foreign Devils. After the battle of the Taku Forts, she declared war against the foreign powers, leading to an all-out war in North China.
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