|The Hall of Preserving Harmony 保和殿 (Bǎo Hé Diàn) took on new functions in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). Every New Year’s Eve, the fifteenth day of the first lunar month, the emperor held a banquet here for the rulers of vassal states, princes, first and second ranking officials, foreign envoys, and members of the officials’ families. It was also used as a banquet hall for foreign missions which brought tribute. The gifts for the emperor would be presented in a procession passing by the emperor's throne. This would have been done with much pomp to heighten the worth of the gift.
The Shunzhi Emperor was married here. He came to the Forbidden City as a six-year-old child and his mother, Empress Dowager Xiaozhuang, 孝莊文皇后 (Xiàozhuāngwén Huánghòu, 1613-1688), served as one of his regents. He married his mother's cousin, but demoted her later in favor of another.
Shunzhi's great love was an eighteen year old girl, Consort Donggo 董鄂妃, who was brought to the palace as one of his concubines. He fell in love. In 1657 Donggo gave birth to a son. Shunzhi was so happy that he had her promoted to a first rank consort in an elaborate ceremony usually reserved for an empress. He also had it proclaimed to the public from the Meridian Gate. Unfortunately, Donggo's son died within a year and she went into deep mourning. By 1660, she was dead at the age of 21. She probably died of smallpox, unable to fight it off in her weakened state. The emperor went into deep mourning. He had her elevated posthumously to empress so she could be buried in the imperial tombs. Shunzhi died in 1661, also of smallpox, although there are tales of the emperor leaving the palace to become a monk and mourn his lost love. It is unlikely that his mother would have allowed that to happen. Shunzhi's eight-year-old son became the Kangxi Emperor and his grandmother, Empress Dowager Xiaozhuang, was recalled to the palace to help raise him.
As regent to her son and advisor to her grandson, Empress Dowager Xiaozhuang probably had great influence on early approaches to policy within the Qing government. She refused to have her birthday celebrated because such celebrations were too expensive. It is likely she played a role in cutting the numbers of staff that were employed in the palace between the Ming and Qing dynasties.
During the Ming there were about 100,000 eunuchs employed in one capacity or another, 10,000 of them in the imperial court. In addition there were about 9,000 maids. Under the Qing, the Qing Imperial Household Department took the place of eunuchs. The household staff of eunuchs was cut to a thousand. More work was handled by outside workers as needed. The effects on the treasury were immediate. Not only did they save on the food, clothing, and housing of the eunuchs, but also on the graft and corruption that really maintained the eunuchs. There were eunuchs under the Ming Wanli Emperor who had houses and wealth that would put most princes to shame. The Qing government was able to break the power of the eunuchs during the first half of the dynasty, but they again gained power and influence during the later reigns. They never achieved their former numbers.
Last update: January 2010
© Marilyn Shea, 2009