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Full Access A Palace of Her Own: Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) and the Reconstruction of the Wanchun Yuan

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A Palace of Her Own: Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) and the Reconstruction of the Wanchun Yuan

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Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) is one of the most significant and controversial political figures in modern Chinese history, yet her comprehensive engagement with court art, a symbolic realm of sovereignty in China, remains understudied and is therefore deserving of close analysis. To examine her patronage of art, this paper scrutinizes Cixi’s involvement in the Wanchun yuan (Garden of ten thousand springs) reconstruction project and argues that it not only exemplifies her strategy of asserting political power through art but also provides a rare glimpse of how a patron’s creation and decoration of space can be read as a self-portrait.The author contends that, on the one hand, Cixi utilized the location and scale of her own palace the Tiandi yijiachun (Spring united between Heaven and Earth) as a symbol of her continuous power struggle with Qing imperial tradition; and, on the other hand, that the palace’s layout and interior décor also suggest Cixi’s feminine and religious identities.


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