Zhenfei — the Pearl Consort


Caroline Young, artwork and text

In 1889, Lady Tatara caught the attention of the Empress Dowager Cixi and was chosen to be the head imperial concubine. Initially, Cixi appreciated her talents and hired top artisans to teach her to paint and play musical instruments.
The Emperor Guangxu loved her dearly and gave her the title, Zhenfei (Pearl Consort).

Having been brought up in the relatively liberal atmosphere of Guangzhou, Zhenfei found it hard to accept the fawning and flattery demanded by court convention. However, with an acute sense of justice and duty and her deep love for the emperor and her country, she supported the Emperor Guangxu’s attempts to implement political reforms.

In doing so, she incurred the wrath of the Empress Dowager, who had her imprisoned in the Cold Palace and the emperor put under house arrest.

During the invasion of the Eight-Nation Alliance in 1900, the imperial court fled from Beijing to Xi’an, and during this time, Zhenfei was believed to have drowned in a well. Because the historical records of the Qing dynasty are missing or censored, the exact circumstances of her death remain unclear.

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As an adopted child of Chinese-American expatriates, I have always been intrigued by how the Chinese culture explained the mysteries of the universe.