On the occasion of the Dowager Empress’ seventy-third birthday, Yuan Shi-k’ai, Viceroy of Chihli, presented his illustrious patron with two foxfur-lined gowns, two pearland-filigree phoenixes, a piece of calambac studded with jewels and a branch of coral 6 feet long. The Old Buddha had suffered a stroke the previous year and Yuan wanted to remain in favour until the very end of her life. With the acquiescence of doddering Prince Ching, who had been appointed head of the Grand Council following Jung Lu’s death in 1903, he hoped to rule China as co-regent for Ching’s young son.
Tz’u-Hsi, however, had other ideas. Suffering from an attack of dysentery after indulging a passion for cream and crab apples at a picnic for the visiting Dalai Lama, she struggled from her bed on 13 November 1908 and named