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6 Reconfiguring Patriarchal Space: Empress Dowager Cixi (1835–1908) and the Reconstruction of the Gardens of Nurtured Harmony

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Chapter Summary

Located in the western suburbs of Beijing, the Gardens of Nurtured Harmony is the only former Qing imperial garden that preserves the glamour of the old days. This paper illuminates Empress Dowager Cixi’s (1835–1908) matronage of architectural space through scrutinizing the reconstruction of this imperial garden. The author examines the strategies of rebuilding the site into a space dedicated to the Empress Dowager and argues that the Empress Dowager turned the Gardens of Nurtured Harmony into an arena of female agency. It was in this garden where Cixi performed her role as a female ruler and matron of art and theater. In addition to regular meetings with officials, she also organized a formal reception for the visiting Prince Henry of Prussia in 1897. As a matron of art, Cixi conducted a series of experiments in photographic and oil portraits here during 1903 and 1904. Ultimately, Cixi’s invitation to the American portrait painter Katharine Carl (1865–1938) opened the imperial domestic space to international public gaze for the first time in Chinese history, as Carl documented, with illustrations, her stay with the Empress Dowager in her well-circulated memoir published in 1905. 



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