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1st Prince Chun
The 1st Prince Chun (Chinese: 醇賢親王, officially Prince of the First Rank Chun Xian) (October 16, 1840 - January 1, 1891), commonly known in his days as the Seventh Prince (七王爺) was born Yixuan (Chinese: 奕譞; Wade-Giles: I-hsüan), of the Manchu Aisin-Gioro clan (the Qing Dynasty imperial family ruling over China). His courtesy name (字) was Pu'an (樸菴). He was the seventh son of the Daoguang Emperor (1782-1850). His mother was the (Manchu) concubine Lin (琳) ( ? -1866), of the Uya clan. She posthumously became the Imperial concubine of the 1st rank Zhuangshun (莊順皇貴妃).
His principal wife was the younger sister of Cixi, from the (Manchu) Yehe-Nara clan. She died in the mid-1890s. He also had three concubines: the first one was the Lady Yanja, from the (Manchu) Yanja clan, who died early; the second one was the Lady Lingiya (1866-1925), a Han Chinese maid of his mansion whose original Chinese family name was Liu (劉) and was changed into the Manchu clan's name Lingyia when she was made a Manchu, which was required in order to become the concubine of a Manchu prince; the third one was the Lady Ligyia, probably also a Han Chinese maid whose Chinese family name Li (李) was changed into Ligyiya. His oldest surviving son, born to his principal wife, became the Guangxu Emperor. His second oldest surviving son, born to his second concubine, became the 2nd prince Chun, father of Puyi the Last Emperor.
In February 1850 his older half-brother Yizhu (奕詝) ascended the throne to become the Xianfeng Emperor, and Yixuan was made Prince of the Second Rank Chun (醇郡王). Although Prince Chun led quite an undistinguished life at court during the 11-year reign of Xianfeng, his fortune was made by Empress Dowager Cixi after the death of Xianfeng.
This resulted from two major events in his life. In 1860 he was married by imperial decree of Xianfeng to the younger sister of Cixi, from the (Manchu) Yehe-Nara clan. This created close ties between the house of Prince Chun and the woman who was about to become the absolute ruler of China. Then on August 22, 1861, the Xianfeng Emperor died, leaving the 5-year old son of Cixi as his only heir, soon to become the Tongzhi Emperor. In the ensuing struggle over who would assume the regency, Prince Chun sided with Cixi's party. Eventually, in November 1861, as Cixi launched the Xinyou Coup (辛酉政變) with the help of Prince Gong (older half-brother of the 1st prince Chun), the 1st prince Chun carried out the arrest of Sushun (肅順), the leader of the opposing party, and carried him back to Beijing where he was beheaded.
As a result of this, the inexperienced 21-year-old prince Chun was appointed overnight to the highest posts in the military and the government. During the following 14 years of the Tongzhi Emperor's reign, he led a prestigious career in the military and the government. In 1872 he was officially elevated to Prince of the First Rank Chun (醇親王).
The third major event in his life happened as the Tongzhi Emperor died without an heir in January 1875. Empress Dowager Cixi then chose the eldest son of the 1st prince Chun, a 2-year-old boy, to become the new emperor, the Guangxu Emperor. The choice had many advantages for Cixi: the young boy was her nephew (his mother, the principal wife of the 1st prince Chun, was the younger daughter of Cixi, as was explained above); the 1st prince Chun had always been a loyal follower of Cixi; the boy was only 2-year old, which would give Cixi another period of regency. For the 1st prince Chun however, the choice was a catastrophe. As he heard the announcement that his son had been chosen for emperor, he reportedly beat his head and cried bitterly, and then fell unconscious on the floor. Being the living father of an emperor was quite an extraordinary situation in the last centuries of imperial China, a situation which had existed only between 1796 and 1799 when the famous Qianlong Emperor had abdicated in favor of his son the Jiaqing Emperor. The tremendous respect for parents which is central to Chinese culture meant that as the father of the emperor, the 1st prince Chun would receive the highest honors and privileges. This was an extremely dangerous and uncomfortable position for him, given the prickly nature of Empress Dowager Cixi and her obsessional paranoia of any challenge to her absolute power.
The first decision of Prince Chun after his son became the Guangxu Emperor was to resign all his official positions. He tried to keep a low profile, but was lavished with honors and privileges, to which he tried to resist as much as possible. Soon after his son became emperor, the title of Prince of the First Rank (親王) was made hereditary for the 1st prince Chun's descendants, a very high privilege with which he could not dispense. In 1876 he went as far as sending a memorandum to the throne in which he condemned in advance anyone that would propose to grant him a special position in the hierarchy of power due to his condition of father of the emperor. Following the resignation of his military and government 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, the 1st prince Chun became unwillingly the most powerful figure at the imperial court after only Cixi. Cixi even ordered all ministers to discuss matters with Prince Chun before making decisions. Each step further, however, was making his position more dangerous, and the potential fall more frightening.
In 1881 Empress Dowager Ci'an died suddenly, and rumors had it that she had been poisoned by Cixi. This made the 1st prince Chun even more cautious and eager to please Cixi in all possible ways. In the beginning of 1887, the Guangxu Emperor came of age, but Prince Chun officially asked Cixi to prolong her regency.
In 1885 Cixi appointed him Controller of the Admiralty, in charge of supervising the building of the new imperial navy. He was sent on an inspection tour to the navy yards on the coast of China. In the following years, he was involved in the infamous embezzlement of public funds initially allocated to the building of the navy but which were used instead in a large measure for the restoration and enlargement of the Summer Palace for Cixi, in order to replace the Old Summer Palace which had been destroyed by the English-French expeditionary forces in 1860. The Chinese imperial navy, deprived of funding, was to suffer a humiliating defeat in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895). His desire to please Cixi was such that he did not even stop work on the Summer Palace to relieve the victims of the terrible flooding that hit the region of Beijing; and so the enlargement of the Summer Palace was completed as early as the Spring of 1891. The 1st prince Chun died shortly before completion, on January 1, 1891. His second oldest surviving son became the new prince of the first rank Chun on that same day (see 2nd Prince Chun).
He was given the posthumous name Xian (賢 - meaning "the Sage" [i.e. he who possesses both moral qualities and practical skills]) which, added to his princely title in Chinese, helps to differentiate him from his son the 2nd prince Chun: the former is Prince of the First Rank Chun Xian (醇賢親王), while the latter is only Prince of the First Rank Chun (醇親王).
He was interred in a tomb of princely rank (園寢), now popularly known as the "Grave of the Seventh Prince" (七王坟), located 35 km/22 miles northwest of Beijing. According to Puyi's autobiography, a ginkgo tree grew on the tomb of the 1st prince Chun, and became very tall and imposing. This fact was reported to Empress Dowager Cixi and greatly alarmed her. In Chinese, the first character of the word "ginkgo tree" is bai (白), while the first character of the word "emperor" is huang (皇), which combines the character bai with the character wang (王 - meaning "prince", 親王). A ginkgo (character 白) growing on the tomb of the 1st prince Chun (character 王) was interpreted as a sign that a new emperor (character 皇) would emerge in the house of Prince Chun. This was unacceptable for the very superstitious Cixi, as obsessed as ever with thwarting any challenge to her power, and so she promptly had the tree felled. The tomb of the 1st prince Chun was restored by the People's Republic of China after 1949 and is now one of the tourist attractions around Beijing.
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