Xianfeng was born in 1831 under the name “Yizhu”. He was the fourth son of Emperor Daoguang and the Imperial Consort Quan. Yizhu’s talent in literature and administration far surpassed his brothers and impressed his father, Daoguang who later decided to make him his successor. In 1850, Yizhu took the throne and his reign title became Xianfeng.
Xianfeng inherited his father’s troubled political situation, with a series of large scale rebellions breaking out in various parts of China. Apart from civil skirmishes, a minor incident on the coast of Taijin between the Qing government and the Anglo-French forces triggered the Second Opium War in 1856. After several devastating clashes which ended in victory for the western forces, the Emperor and his entourage fled the Imperial court to their northern palace in Jehol. The defeat had a negative impact on Xianfeng’s health and ability to govern, which in turn lead to division and doubt within the court itself. The Emperor eventually succumbed to his ill health and on August 22, 1861 he died at the Jehol palace to be succeeded by his only son, Zaichun who was 6 years old.
Emperor Xianfeng’s reign nearly saw the collapse of the Qing Dynasty, as a continuation of his father’s troubled reign. The violent political rebellions were not quelled until well into the reign of Emperor Tongzhi. Apart from internal struggles, he was not a successful with his foreign policies either. Like his father, Xianfeng did not understand the western mindset and was unwilling to carry out peaceful negotiations, resulting in millions of deaths and a xenophobic climate across China, culminating in the Opium Wars.
The political strife meant that little artistic progress was made during this unstable period, however the Jingdezhen kilns carried on mass producing porcelain as normal.