one hundred and seventy one natural South Sea pearls,accented by diamonds set in platinum.

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"The Miracle of the SEA"

A 300-carat pearl was valued at $100,000. Known as The Miracle of the Sea" the pearl formerly owned by The Dowager Empress of Tzu - Hsi of the Chiang Dynasty from 1875 to 1908 wore it on a slender chain around her neck as a good luck amulet, the pearl is nearly the size of a small egg and is richly encrusted with platinum filigree work.

Tzu-Hsi (pronounced "Tsoo Shee"), or Cixi, was one of the most formidable women in modern history. She was famed for her beauty and charm. She was either a great friend or terrible enemy. She was power hungry, ruthless and profoundly skilled in court politics. She would rise from a middle class family to a dowager empress affecting Chinese life forever.

She was born on November 29, 1835. Her given name was Yehonala. She was born to parents of the middle ranks of Manchu society. By the time she turned 17, she was one of the concubines of the Emperor Hsien-Feng. "Tzu-Hsi", meaning kindly and virtuous, was her court name. When the emperor would chose to sleep with her, she would be escorted to his room by eunuchs and left naked at the foot of the bed. This was done in order to insure no weapons were brought into his room. The emperor had many wives and concubines, but only Tzu-Hsi gave him a son. Upon the birth of their son, she immediately moved up in the court and upon the death of her husband she was given the title of Empress of the Western Palace. Tzu-Hsi was now the dowager empress.

However, her relations with the Emperor were never that fulfilling. According to Wu, a noted Chinese historian, the relations between the two were never anything but strained. She resented all attempts on his part to exercise real power. Their fights were always a struggle for power between them. When the Emperor died in 1861, her son, Chih, became the Emperor. She was one of the eight regents named by the emperor to rule during Tung Chih's youth, since he was only 5 years old when he took the throne. The other seven regents could have removed her from power, but she had allies. With the support of Jung Lu and his banner men, revolutionary eunuchs, the empress seized control of the government.

However, she still could not rule openly; she had to rule through her son. When Chih turned 17, his mother's reign had come to an end. She selected a wife and four concubines for him, supposedly to keep him so busy that she could rule for him. After a few years, the emperor died of venereal disease in 1875 and Tzu-Hsi became ruler once again. However, the empress still was not totally free to rule, for her son's favorite concubine was pregnant and if she delivered a boy, the boy would be the new emperor and his mother dowager empress. Mysteriously, the concubine died before giving birth. Many historians conjecture that this was done at the request of Tzu-Hsi, while others simply believe that she was mentally unstable and took her own life.

The Boxer Rebellion of 1900 was a key turning point of her reign. The Boxer Rebellion was named after the secret society of the "Righteous and Harmonious Fists" who were poor Chinese who blamed Westerners and their imperialism for their poor standing of living. First organized in 1898, they may have been tacitly supported by Tzu-Hsi's government. Rising in rebellion in early 1900, the empress and her government both helped and hindered the revolt. The Boxers attacked Western missionaries and merchants, as well as the compound in Peking where foreigners lived, beginning a siege which lasted eight weeks. On August 14th the 19,000 troops of the allied armies of the Western imperialist Powers captured Peking and ended the siege. Tzu-Hsi decided to flee the city with the emperor. The Boxer Rebellion was over; at least 250 foreigners had been killed and China had to accept a humiliating peace settlement.

In 1901, she returned to the city with a whole new outlook. She was now in favor of modernizing China and making moral and social reforms. One of her major reforms was to outlaw slicing, a practice of killing people with thousands of small cuts. The empress even promised the people a constitution and representative government. However, this was too little too late.

In 1908, Tzu-Hsi suffered a stroke and, realizing she was dying, she began to think about who she wanted to succeed her. She chose her three year old nephew, P'u Yi. Upon her death she was buried in splendor, covered in diamonds. In 1928, revolutionaries dynamited her tomb and looted it while desecrating her body.

Tzu-Hsi's legacy is clearly an important one. Whether the people liked her or not does not take away the pivotal role she played in the history of China. During her life in politics, Tzu-Hsi was clever and masterful. Her narrow-mindedness and ultra-conservatism in government policy delayed what China needed to do to keep pace with the rest of the world in the late 1800's. By the time she realized, it was too late. Therefore, many historians believe that Tzu-Hsi's success in the politics of her country helped put an end to any realistic hope of a modernized imperial China.

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