After the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, the Empress Dowager Cixi, the de facto head of the Qing court, undertook projects to reconstitute her identity through the production of photographs and paintings. While they helped to reestablish and strengthen her ties with foreign nations, the paintings and photographs also enabled Cixi to contemplate the fluidity of identity and, subsequently, challenge the authority of colonial narratives. Variations of similar poses and the use of mirrors in highly staged photographs reveal the Empress Dowager's sly civility and mimicry of colonial photographic conventions to subvert the imperial gaze. Combining a reclamation of female authors' voices, including those of Katherine Carl, Sarah Pike Conger, Yu Derling, and Yu Rongling, with close visual analyses of select photographs placed within particular political, historical, and religious contexts, reveals the ways in which the Empress Dowager used photography not only as a space to negotiate political agency, but also as a subversive means to challenge the entire colonial apparatus of knowledge production that hinged so critically on the belief in photography's veracity and authenticity.

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