The only surviving son of Emperor Xianfeng and Empress Dowager Cixi, Tongzhi was only 6 years old when he was appointed as the heir to the throne. Since he was too young to take reign of the Empire, his mother Empress Cixi became the unofficial ruler of the court. In fact, the Empress was the one to make all the important decisions and even attempted to restore the Dynasty’s former glory, throughout Tongzhi’s short 12 year reign. Tongzhi died in 1874 at the age of 18, with no heirs to his name. The official reason for his death was claimed to be smallpox but it was widely rumoured that he actually died of syphilis due to his alleged affairs with prostitutes outside the court.
Tongzhi had little influence on political or official affairs of the court, Cixi was the one who orchestrated the “Tongzhi Restoration” which was the name of the plans to reform and modernize the ailing nation. The disastrous events of the preceding Xianfeng Empire was the wake up call needed to rethink the foreign relations with the West, as well as the quelling any domestic disputes and rebellions. She managed to consolidate divided members of the Imperial court through shrewd strategy, bribery and brutal execution of the main opposing members, securing herself as one of the prime rulers “behind the curtain” since women were not allowed to officially rule the Manchu Qing Empire. Her hard line approach to any opposition also meant that she managed to quell the Taiping Rebellions though military intervention, using her rich and powerful connections to finance the army force to do so.