The Empress Dowager Ci'an (慈安皇太后) 1837 - April 8, 1881, popularly known in China as the East Empress Dowager (东太后), before she was widowed known as Empress Zhen (贞皇后), and officially known posthumously as the Xiaozhen Empress (孝贞显皇后), was the second Empress Consort of the Xianfeng Emperor (b.1831 - d.1861) of the Manchu Qing Dynasty in China, and then Empress Dowager after 1861. Born the Lady Niuhuru, she was the daughter of Muyangga, an official from a powerful Manchu family, the Niuhuru clan. Her mother was Lady Giyang, of the Giyang clan.
Two years later, in the end of March or beginning of April 1852, after a proper mourning period, the Lady Niuhuru was firstly made an Imperial Concubine (嫔), and was given the name Zhen (Chinese: 贞, meaning "upright", "virtuous", "faithful to the memory of one's husband" i.e. by remaining chaste after his death and not remarrying). In the end of June or beginning of July of the same year, she was promoted from Imperial Concubine Zhen (贞嫔) to Noble Consort Zhen (贞贵妃). Then on July 24, 1852 she was officially made an Empress Consort (皇后).
The Empress Consort Niuhuru was unable to produce a male heir, and it was the Imperial Concubine Yehenara (懿嫔), later known as the Empress Dowager Cixi, who succeeded in giving a son to the Xianfeng Emperor in April 1856. On August 22, 1861, in the wake of the Second Opium War, Emperor Xianfeng died at the Rehe Traveling Palace (热河行宫), 230 km./140 miles northeast of Beijing, where the imperial court had fled. His heir, the son of the Noble Consort Yehenara, who was about to become the Tongzhi Emperor, was only 5 years old. As a consequence, the imperial family was shaken by a struggle over who would assume the regency. Eventually, in November 1861, the Noble Consort Yehenara, with the help of Prince Gong (恭亲王), staged a palace coup known as the Xinyou Coup (辛酉政变), had the opposing princes commit suicide and their leader the Manchu official Sushun beheaded, and succeeded in securing the power into her hands and those of the Empress Consort.
Noble Consort Yehenara was officially made "Holy Mother Empress Dowager" (圣母皇太后), a high privilege considering that she had never been an Empress Consort while Emperor Xianfeng was alive. She was privileged to become an Empress Dowager only because she was the biological mother of the new Emperor. She was also given an honorific name which was Cixi (Chinese: 慈禧 - meaning "motherly and auspicious"). As for the Empress Consort Niuhuru, she was made "Empress Mother Empress Dowager" (母后皇太后), a title giving her precedence over Cixi, and she was given the honorific name Ci'an (Chinese: 慈安 - meaning "motherly and calming"). As she dwelled in the eastern part of the Forbidden City, Empress Dowager Ci'an became popularly known as the East Empress Dowager (东太后), while Empress Dowager Cixi, who dwelled in the western part of the Forbidden City became known as the West Empress Dowager (西太后).
On several occasions after 1861, Empress Dowager Ci'an was given additional honorific names (two Chinese characters at a time), as was customary for emperors and empresses, until by the end of her life her name was a long even string of characters starting with Ci'an.
This long name is still the one that can be seen on Ci'an's tomb today. The short form of her posthumous name is:
Empress Dowager Ci'an was interred amidst the Eastern Qing Tombs (清东陵), 125 kilometers/75 miles east of Beijing, in the Dingdongling (定东陵) tomb complex (literally: the "Tombs east of the Dingling tomb"), along with Empress Dowager Cixi. More precisely, Empress Dowager Ci'an lies in the Puxiangyu Dingdonling (普祥峪定东陵) (literally: the "Tomb east of the Dingling tomb in the Vale of wide good omen"), while Cixi built herself the much larger Putuoyu Dingdongling (菩陀峪定东陵) (literally: the "Tomb east of the Dingling tomb in the Vale of Putuo"). The Dingling tomb (literally: the "Tomb of quietude") is the tomb of the Xianfeng Emperor, the emperor of Empress Dowager Ci'an and Empress Dowager Cixi, which is located indeed west of the Dingdongling. The Vale of Putuo owes its name to Mt Putuo (literally: the "Mountain of the Dharani of the Site of the Buddha's Enlightenment"), at the foot of which the Dingdongling is located.
1. i.e. mother of Tongzhi
2. "filial"; during the Qing Dynasty this was always the first character at the beginning of empresses' posthumous names
3. same character as when she was a concubine
4. this string of 12 characters are the honorific names that she received while alive, with possibly the last characters having been added only just after her death
5. "the Clear", or "the Illustrious"; this is the posthumous name of the Xianfeng Emperor; during the Qing Dynasty the last character of empresses' posthumous names was always the posthumous name of their emperor
Most books in which Ci'an makes an appearance are about Cixi.