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The photographs of the Empress Dowager Cixi taken by Xunling are more Western than Eastern in style. (Freer and Sackler Galleries, SI)

Presenting China's Last Empress Dowager

The early 20th-century photograph of Empress Dowager Cixi captures political spin, Qing dynasty-style

Xunling remained in China, suffering from ailments probably brought on by the photographic chemicals he used. He died in 1943, during World War II, when he may have been unable to get necessary medicine. He was in his early 60s.

“Xunling’s photographs are significant less because they are important historical documents of the last regent of China, but more because of what they say about the willful use of photography to shape history,” says Callahan. “The Dragon Lady may have been behind the curve when it came to political reform, but she was ahead of it when it came to using the medium to control her image.”

Owen Edwards is a freelance writer and author of the book Elegant Solutions.

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About Owen Edwards
Owen Edwards

Owen Edwards is a freelance writer who previously wrote the "Object at Hand" column in Smithsonian magazine.

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