Yixuan, Prince Chun

Yixuan (16 October 1840 - 1 January 1891), titled Prince Chun (Prince Ch'un in Wade–Giles) or more formally Prince Chun of the First Rank (醇親王), was a Manchu prince and statesman of the late qing dynasty. He was the father of the dynasty's last-but-one emperor, the Guangxu Emperor, and the paternal grandfather of China's last emperor Puyi.

Family background

Yixuan was born of the Manchu Aisin Gioro clan as the seventh son of the Daoguang Emperor. His mother was Lady Uya (烏雅氏). Four months after his birth, Lady Uya, a concubine of the Daoguang Emperor who was recently promoted to "Noble Lady Lin" (琳貴人), was further elevated to the status of "Imperial Concubine Lin" (琳嬪), a rare distinction. Lady Uya's rapid rise through the ranks continued she was promoted to "Consort Lin" (琳妃) and "Noble Consort Lin" (琳貴妃) in 1842 and 1846 respectively. She was ultimately granted by the Tongzhi Emperor a posthumous title of "Imperial Noble Consort Zhuangshun" (莊順皇貴妃), making her second only to the Empress.

During the Xianfeng and Tongzhi emperors' reigns

In February 1850, the Daoguang Emperor died and was succeeded by his fourth son Yizhu, who became known as the Xianfeng Emperor. Yixuan was instated by the Xianfeng Emperor as "Prince Chun of the Second Rank" (醇郡王). Although Yixuan kept a low profile in the Qing imperial court during the Xianfeng Emperor's 11-year reign, his fortune was made by his sister-in-law Noble Consort Yi (later Empress Dowager Cixi) after Xianfeng's death in 1861.

In 1860, by the Xianfeng Emperor's decree, Yixuan married Wanzhen of the Yehenara clan, who was a younger sister of Empress Dowager Cixi. The marriage forged a close bond between Yixuan and Empress Dowager Cixi, who would become the de facto ruler of China from 1861 to 1908. The Xianfeng Emperor died on 22 August 1861 and was succeeded by his young son, who became known as the Tongzhi Emperor. Before his death, the Xianfeng Emperor appointed eight regents (led by Duanhua and Sushun) to assist his successor. In November 1861, Yixuan sided with Empress Dowager Cixi and his older half-brother Prince Gong to launch a Xinyou Coup (辛酉政變) to seize power from the eight regents. Yixuan carried out the order to arrest Sushun and brought him back to the capital Beijing where he was executed.

As a consequence of this event, Yixuan found himself elevated to the highest ranks in the Qing imperial court. In the 14-year reign of the Tongzhi Emperor from 1861 to 1875, Yixuan led both a military and civil career. In 1872 he was promoted to the status of "Prince Chun of the First Rank" (醇親王).

During the Guangxu Emperor's reign

In January 1875 the Tongzhi Emperor died without an heir, so Empress Dowager Cixi chose Yixuan's second son Zaitian to be the new ruler. Zaitian ascended to the throne as the Guangxu Emperor. This choice brought advantages to Cixi: Zaitian was her nephew (Zaitian's mother was Cixi's younger sister Wanzhen); Zaitian's father, Yixuan, had been a loyal supporter of Cixi; Zaitian was still young so Cixi could continue ruling as regent. As for Yixuan, however, Cixi's choice was a catastrophe for him. When Yixuan heard that his son would become the new emperor, he reportedly hit his head and wept bitterly before sinking into unconsciousness.

Being the living father of an emperor was an unusual situation in the last centuries of imperial China, a situation that had existed only between 1796 and 1799 when the Qianlong Emperor abdicated in favour of his son, the Jiaqing Emperor, and became known as a Retired Emperor. Respect for parents is a revered value in traditional Chinese culture, so this meant that Yixuan, as the father of the emperor, would receive the highest honours and privileges. However this was an extremely dangerous and uncomfortable position for Yixuan, given the prickly nature of Empress Dowager Cixi and her obsessional paranoia of any challenge to her power.

The first decision of Yixuan after his son came to the throne was to resign from all his official positions. He tried to keep a low profile, but was lavished with honours and privileges, which he tried to refuse as much as possible. Soon after his son became emperor, Yixuan's status as a "Prince of the First Rank" (親王) was made hereditary for his descendants, a high privilege that he could not decline.

In 1876 Yixuan wrote a memorial to the Guangxu Emperor, condemning in advance anyone who would propose to grant him a special position in the hierarchy because he was the father of the emperor. Following resignation from his military and civil posts, he was entrusted with the education of the young emperor, to which he consented. In the following years, with the disgrace of Prince Gong, Yixuan unwillingly became the second most powerful figure in the Qing court after Empress Dowager Cixi. Cixi even ordered all ministers to discuss matters with Yixuan before making decisions.

In 1881, Empress Dowager Ci'an died suddenly, and rumours had it that she had been poisoned by Cixi. This made Yixuan even more cautious and eager to please Cixi in all possible ways. In the beginning of 1887, the Guangxu Emperor came to of age, but Yixuan officially asked Cixi to prolong her regency.

In 1885 Cixi appointed Yixuan as "Controller of the Admiralty", putting him in charge of supervising the building of a new imperial navy. Yixuan was sent on an inspection tour to the naval shipyards on the coast of China. Later, he became involved in the embezzlement of imperial treasury funds, initially allocated to the construction of the navy, but were instead used for the restoration and enlargement of the Summer Palace for Cixi, to replace the Old Summer Palace that was destroyed in 1860.

The Qing imperial navy, deprived of funding, was to suffer a humiliating defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895). Yixuan's desire to please Cixi was such that he did not even stop work on the Summer Palace to relieve the victims of the floods that hit Beijing ; and so the enlargement of the Summer Palace was completed as early as the spring of 1891.

Yixuan died shortly before completion, on 1 January 1891. His second eldest surviving son, Zaifeng, inherited his title of "Prince Chun of the First Rank". Yixuan was granted a posthumous name xian (賢), so his full posthumous title became "Prince Chunxian of the First Rank" (醇賢親王).

Personal information


Daoguang Emperor


Imperial Noble Consort Zhuangshun, from the Uya (烏雅) clan, daughter of Lingshou (靈壽).


Primary spouse: Wanzhen (婉貞; 13 September 1841 - 19 June 1896), from the Yehenara clan, younger sister of Empress Dowager Cixi.

Secondary spouses:

Lady Yanja (顏扎氏), daughter of Laifu (來福). She was specially chosen from the Imperial Household Department for Yixuan by Empress Dowager Cixi.

Lady Lingiya (劉佳氏; 1866 - 1925), daughter of Fifth Grade Ceremonial Guard (五品典衛) Deqing (德慶).

Lady Ligiya (李佳氏; d. 1928), daughter of Dechun (德純).


Zaihan (載瀚; 1 February 1865 - 9 December 1866), Yixuan's eldest son, born to Wanzhen.

Zaitian, Yixuan's second son, born to Wanzhen, became the Guangxu Emperor.

Third son (13 February 1875 - 14 February 1875), unnamed, Yixuan's third son, born to Wanzhen.

Zaiguang (載洸; 28 November 1880 - 18 May 1884), Yixuan's fourth son, born to Wanzhen.

Zaifeng, Yixuan's fifth son, born to Lady Lingiya, father of Puyi, inherited Yixuan's princely title.

Zaixun, Yixuan's sixth son, born to Lady Lingiya, adopted by Yizhi (奕誌), served as a naval officer.

Zaitao, Yixuan's seventh son, born to Lady Lingiya, adopted by Yihe (奕詥), served as a general staff officer.

Eldest daughter (11 April 1861 - 24 November 1866), name unknown, born to Lady Yanja.

Second daughter, name unknown, born to Lady Lingiya, died at the age of three.

Third daughter, name unknown, born to Lady Ligiya, died at the age of 28.

Last update 01-06-2012

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