Saturday, January 14, 2012

Power/Play: China's Empress Dowager

Where: Sackler Gallery

When: through January 29, 2012

The Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) was the dominant political figure of the Qing Court from the 1860s to her death.  The Qing Court was regarded as corrupt, and Cixi was believed to have ordered the death of foreigners and Chinese Christians during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900.

The photographs on display were part of a public relations campaign on Cixi's part to rehabilitate her standing, particularly with foreigners.  These pictures led her to become an enduring symbol of a dying reign and contributed to her being viewed as a "dragon lady."  These photos were given as gifts to foreign heads of state.  One of them was given to Theodore Roosevelt, and was borrowed from Blair House for this exhibit.  Roosevelt's daughter Alice was part of the American delegation that met with Cixi; one does wonder how that meeting went!

Part of the exhibit shows Cixi's eunuchs and female attendants in various poses.  She had them dress up in costumes to appear in tableaux.  She herself would also participate, dressed as the Goddess of Mercy.  Although I'm sure Cixi enjoying herself, I noticed that no one else in the photos looks particularly happy.

Verdict: This show is well worth seeing.  It gives a rather different view of the Qing dynasty than the "Family Matters" show, also on display at the Sackler.

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