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Of Silk and Statecraft: Dowager Empress Cixi (1835–1908) and Power Dressing in Late Qing Dynasty China, 1860–1911

by Felicia Yao

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By 1900, Dowager Empress Cixi (1835–1908) was associated with the unmitigated greed and corruption of the rapidly declining Qing Dynasty. In an effort to improve her image and regain stability, Cixi instituted a series of reforms to facilitate modernisation and improve international relations. She abandoned the isolationist policies of her forebears, opening her court to foreign visitors and sharing her image with other national leaders. As a female ruler without precedent, she adapted Manchu sumptuary laws, resulting in the production of many unique articles of women’s clothing. This article will examine those garments, then explore the effects of western technology on the production of these garments, before analyzing how these garments fit into her foreign policy.

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