Quin quo ging cheng (The Empress Dowager)  (1975)




Director:     Han Hsiang Li. 

Starring:     Lisa Lu (Empress Dowager),  Ivy Ling Po (Empress),  Lung Ti (Emperor),  Yao Hsiao (Concubine),  Ni Tien (Li Chieh),  Tien Miao (Li Lien),  David Chiang (Kou).

Empress Dowager of the Qing Dynasty who was the de facto ruler of China, 1861-1908


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film


Imperial Palace.  A boy runs with an important message to give to the West Empress Dowager.  She is preparing to have her bath.  The message is that Jiang Ning has been won!  A request is made for the young emperor to come to Yangxindian to receive Viceroy  Zen Guo Fan, Jeah Jian Governor, Zeng Guo Quen.

The chief eunuch asks Prince Gunb:  How can you let the Emperor see pornography (actually little sexual carvings) since sex is prohibited.  But the Emperor objects saying that he is not a child.  And he wants to know why the eunuch watches over him all the time.  He adds:  "Mind that I don't have you killed."  The Emperor leaves.  The eunuch grabs the Emperor's close servant, the young Little Lee Tse. He tells him:  "Remember you were employed by the Empress Dowager to keep an eye on the Emperor."  Little Lee Tse responds:  "Uncle, don't worry." 

The West Empress Dowager tells her staff. that she hears that treasures fill Hung Siu Quen's royal residence from the burned palace.  Also Lee Siu Chen took some of the belongings.  The eunuch An De Hai talks to the military man.  He tells him that greediness could cause him to lose his head.  Later Lee Tse hears a woman's moaning.  He looks and sees that An De Hai is giving the West Empress Dowager a foot rub making her moan with pleasure. 

The Emperor runs into a young pretty servant girl named Gui Lien.  She drops the mistress's lotus.  The Emperor seems very impressed with the young woman's beauty.  His mother is seen drinking milk from a woman's breast. 

A young girl named Jade jumped into the river and drowned.  Now her body is seen floating in the river.  Little Lee Tse watches the eunuch.  The Emperor sees him and grabs him.  Little tells the emperor that Gui Lien asked him to do something for her.  The Emperor follows Gui Lien. He catches up with her.  She's surprised to see him.  The Emperor wants to know:  "What place is this ?"  It's Tse Ning Gung, the courtyard of widows.  It is the home of the begums, Muslim women of rank given to women of royalty or aristocracy.  The women make embroiderings on bags and then An De Hai sells them outside.  Gui Lien was talking with her aunt. 

Hordes of young women are taking to the two Empress Dowagers porcelain china pieces to be used for the upcoming big wedding.  And once again the Emperor bumps into Gui Lien forcing her to drop the beautiful porcelain container she carries.  The Emperor is shocked at what happened and Gui Lien's eyes fill with tears.  So the Emperor tells Little Lee Tse to send for Prince Gung.   And he sends two other men to go get a replacement for the broken container.  He tells the men that there's a set of seconds in the palace.  "Get them!"  One of the men objects that if the two Empress Dowagers find out, he will lose his head.  But the Emperor dismisses this concern saying that he will be there. 

The two Empress Dowagers arrive.  Everything goes well until An De Hai gasps at the table of porcelain pieces.  This catches the attention of the West Empress Dowager and she starts to berate Prince Gung who is in charge of the porcelain.  There are supposed to be two sets of dishes each set with 222 pieces.  She orders that Tang She Rung at the porcelain factory be removed from his position.  The Emperor has to speak up and does:  "I accidentally dropped a piece."  The East Empress Dowager speaks up:  "Tell them to replace it." 

The Emperor and Gui Lien run around in a park area and hug.   The emperor's mother (West Empress Dowager) sees their show of affection.  She tells An De Hai that she does not like the girl and she should be given to another.  An De Hai says that he will take the woman.  "You?" says the West Empress Dowager.  An De Hai says, no, not for him, but for his second brother An De Shan. 

There is a big fireworks display and a celebratory atmosphere.  Gui Lien refuses to get dressed in her wedding outfit.  Elderly An arrives and she tells him to let her go back to the palace.  He says call me Second Brother, not Elderly An.  He then tries to kiss her.  She slaps his face twice.  He growls:  "Hit me?"  She tries to stab him as he roughs her up.  She gets free and runs outside screaming.  Second Brother catches up with her and locks her into a room. 

West Empress Dowager seems to be a little paranoid.  Someone tells her that the the Emperor and the nurse mother were singing folks songs with derogatory mentions of her, the Empress Dowager.  She asks them point blank:  "Why mix my name in with your folk songs?"  The two younger people say:  "We didn't."  She responds that it is time to get rid of the nurse mother.  And she says that her son has let her down.  She punishes him for a month by not letting him see anyone.  He is just to study. 

While studying with some young men, the Emperor is shown a painting of a sexy woman in a book.  She was the mistress of another Emperor.  He shows a real interest in the subject of sex.  Little Lee Tse reports that the Emperor wants to go outside the Imperial Palace.  So An De Hai tells Little to send two people to follow the Emperor.  The Emperor goes to a mixture of circus and carnival where he enjoys watching the various acts of skill.

Gui Lien is forced into a brothel. 

Little Lee Tse receives a very rough spanking for the Emperor's traveling outside the Imperial Palace.  The Emperor's mother then scolds the Emperor for going out.  She wants to know:  "Where did you go?"  Did you go to Tien Qiao (the circus)?"   After the spanking, the men drop Little Lee Tse outside the door well of one of  the formal rooms of the Empress Dowagers.  Both Empress Dowagers are there to continue to scold the Emperor.   Little tries to stick up for the Emperor, but this just irritates the Emperor's mother and she has him picked up and taken away. 

Little Lee Tse tells the Emperor that he saw Gui Lien at Tien Qiao at Ju Mei Garden.  Little and the Emperor got outside to see if they can find her, but they do not.  He visits a whore who has suspicious red dots on her back.  The doctors are called in and they say it's smallpox.  Outside the doctors confer with each other and they are sure that it is a venereal disease.  But they must pretend that they are treating the Emperor for smallpox. 

Qui Lien starts beating up on a client that won't pay for her services.  She follows him outside hitting him and shouting curses at him.  The Emperor sees this and is disgusted.  He says nothing to Qui Lien. 

There is a song being sung about the French and English taking and burning the Yuen Ming palace in Peking (now Beijing).  The Emperor tells his staff that he will rebuild the palace when he takes over the government.  He declares:  "Let those foreigners know we can't be burnt away or burnt out."  Next year is the West Empress Dowager's 40th birthday.  He wants to build the palace by then.  His advisers, however, object.  There are too many other pressing projects and too little money in the treasury to rebuild the palace.  This infuriates the Emperor. 

The Emperor hears the rumor that An De Hai is a false eunuch and has been going outside the Imperial Palace.  He wants the false eunuch to be beheaded.  The objection is that the false eunuch is a favorite of the Emperor's mother.  The Emperor tells Prince Gung to search the false eunuch's house to find illegal treasures.  The house is searched and An De Hai is thrown into jail.  The Emperor speaks about the incident to his mother and she does not like it one bit.  She reminds her son that An De Hai had saved them when the eight main generals were jailing them in Chen De.  She sends a message to free An De Hai to those responsible for holding him prisoner.  But the message arrives too late.  An De Hai is beheaded.  The West Empress Dowager is furious when she learns of his death.  And what's worse for her, the rumor is that she treated the false eunuch very well precisely because he was a false eunuch.  Little Lee Tse tells others that the rumors were actually false, because when they examined the body there was not even a root of the genitals present. 

Qui Lien cries over her fate.  She thinks about her brief time with the Emperor.  The Emperor develops more sores on his body.  The rumor is that the wife gave the Emperor a venereal disease.  And if the Emperor dies, his wife would become the Empress.  And the Emperor's wife is six months pregnant.  The talk is of the upcoming birth, but the doctors say that the Emperor will not live long enough to see his child.  The Emperor's wife rubs her husband's sore chest and her mother-in-law accuses her of being too sexually aggressive and demanding of her son  --  of never leaving her son in peace.  Then the West Empress Dowager sees that the wife has what her husband has (either smallpox or a venereal disease).  The West Empress Dowager asks one of her hand maidens to slap her daughter-in-law across the face.  The maiden approaches the daughter-in-law to slap her, but the daughter-in-law refuses to be slapped by her.  Then the West Empress Dowager tells her that she can put her daughter-in-law in jail.  Then she scratches her face with her long nails.  The daughter-in-law screams and falls to the floor.  As she falls, an incriminating note about the Emperor's real plans slips out from her gown.  If there is a son born, the Emperor will become the regent.  The mother-in-law picks it up and reads it.  She is none too happy.  She rips up the note and throws it in the face of her daughter-in-law.  She then stomps on the poor woman's large belly.  The daughter-in-law screams in pain.  The Emperor crawls from his bed far enough to reach out to grab the hand of his ailing wife.  Then the Emperor dies.  The West Empress Dowager faints. 

The West Empress Dowager heads to the Chan Chun Palace.  The East Empress Dowager talks with her.  She blames the West Empress Dowager for the death of the Qing Dynasty.  She says:  "You had to fight for power with him (the Emperor)."   By her behavior she had forced her son to the brothels, which then brought on his death.  The West Empress Dowager realizes the difficult political position she is now in.  She pretends to faint.  This makes her co-Empress Dowager feel sorry for what she said to her.  The East Empress Dowager destroys some important papers that probably would have politically damaged the West Empress Dowager.  Of course, this pleases the West Empress Dowager because she can continue her abusive reign. 

The Emperor's widow is so distraught that she tries to hang herself.  A number of the West Empress Dowager's guards stop her.  They then tell the West Empress Dowager about the incident.  She replies:  "Fine.  I'll help her."  The men tie up the widow's feet and hands.  They attach ropes to her and then haul her body up to the very top of the interior side of the palace roof, a very long distance indeed.    Then they suddenly drop her body.  The fall, of course, kills her. 


Good movie.  But you have to read a little of the historical background at least or you will probably be very confused as my wife and I were when we watched the movie.  At first I thought the two Empress Dowagers were sisters.  I had to read the historical background to realize fully that the two Empress Dowagers, one called East and the other called West, were not biologically related.  If you can understand the start-up of the movie, you can probably follow it without too much confusion.  I think we would have enjoyed the movie much more if we had some historical knowledge from the get-go.  The movie is one of the classic struggle for power among people who want the whole enchilada.  And it is about the depths people will sink to in order to get what they want.  (The sub-titles in English have a lot of mistakes in them which may or may not be reflected in the summary.)

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


1644-1912  --  the reign of the Qing Dynasty (a.k.a., the Manchu Dynasty), which was the last ruling dynasty of China. The dynasty was founded by the Manchu clan Aisin Gioro in today's northeast China (Manchuria).

late 1840s  --  Lady Niuhuru (later Empress Zhen and the future Empress Dowager Ci'an or the East Empress Dowager) enters the Imperial Palace and becomes a concubine of the crown prince, the future Xianfeng Emperor.

1850-1861 --  the Xianfeng Emperor, the eighth Emperor of the Manchu Qing Dynasty, ruled China  he had a concubine, who later became Empress Dowager Cixi, who had almost total control over the court under the nominal rule of her son the Tongzhi Emperor and later of her nephew the Guangxu Emperor.

1856  --  Concubine Yi gives birth to Zaichun, the only male heir of the Xianfeng Emperor, and the future Tongzhi Emperor. 

1856-1860  --  the Second Opium War; fought between the United Kingdom and the Second French Empire against the Qing Dynasty of China. Emperor Xianfeng fled to the northern traveling palace in Jehol, 230 kilometers northeast of Beijing.  His court broke into two factions:  one led by the rich Manchu Sushan and Princes Yi and Zheng; the other led by the Concubine Yi (the future West Empress Dowager Cixi), supported by Gen. Ronglu and Yehenala Bannermen.

1860  --  western forces looted and burned the Imperial Summer Palaces of Qingyi Yun and Yunmng Yun.

1861 (August 22)  --  Xian Feng dies at the Jehol Traveling Palace. Concubine Yi and Empress Zhen were both given titles of Empress Dowager (West and East Empress Dowager, respectively). 

An eight-member new regency begins to help Xianfeng's one surviving son, Zaichun (the Tongzhi Emperor), who was only 6 years old.  Among the members were Sushun and his group:  three members of the Imperial line: Zaiyuan (the Prince Yi), Duanhua (the Prince Zheng), and Duke Jingshou; and four Ministers (Muyin, Kuangyuan, Du Han, and Jiao Youying.  

The two Empress Dowagers (East and West) planned the coup that ousted Sushun from the regency. The Empress Dowager Cixi  would subsequently rule China for the next 47 years.

His birth mother (West Empress Dowager), father's Empress (the East Empress Dowager) and his uncle Prince Gong became regents after the removal of former regent, Sushun. 

1861-1908  --  Empress Dowager Cixi (1835 1908) popularly known in China as the West Dowager Empress, who ruled over China for 47 years from 1861 to her death in 1908. 

1861-1875  --  the Tongzhi Emperor, born Zaichun (18561875), the ninth emperor of the Manchu Qing Dynasty, ruled China from 1861 to 1875.  His rule was really controlled by his mother, the West Empress Dowager, Cixi. 

Tongzhi married Lady Alute from a Mongol clan.

1875  --  death of Tongzhi by smallpox at the age of 18.  (Rumors said that Tongzhi actually syphilis.)  A few months later, Empress Alute died either from suicide or from her mother-in-law Cixi starving her to death.

1875-1908  --  the Guangxu Emperor (18711908), born Zaitian, the nephew of Cixi through her sister, was the tenth emperor of the Manchu Qing dynasty, 1875 to 1908.

1889-1898  --  the real period of reign of Zaitan, who in practice ruled only under Empress Dowager Cizi. 

1898  --  Empress Dowager Cizi abruptly stopped Zaitan's Hundred Days' Reform when she launched a coup.  He was held under house arrest until his death.

1899 (November) - 1901 (September 7)  --  the Boxer Rebellion, which was a Chinese uprising against influence of foreigners in trade, politics, religion and technology.

1908  --  death of the Guangxu Emperor. 

1908  --  death of the West Empress Dowager. 


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