Empress Dowager Cixi



This is a title sequence I made for a book that I am really fond of. The book, Empress Dowager Cixi: who launched modern China, is a biography for Cixi (慈禧), the most controversial and important female historic figure in the modern Chinese history. I felt inspired after I read about all the achievements she had done, so I took this chance to give a whole new perspective to let people reimagine this amazing historic figure Cixi.

Book | Empress Dowager Cixi: who launched modern China

This is a biography of Cixi, but it is written in a way that reverses the verdict of history. Cixi is usually depicted as a malicious woman in historic book even though it is not all true. Through Chang’s writing, we are able to recognize “the most infamous” historic figure in Chinese modern history in a different way.

The book covers from the day that Cixi became a concubine at palace to the days she was ruling the late period of Qing dynasty. In addition, it introduces abundant hidden history about how she used her wisdom to get the power.

Jung Chang is the author of the best-selling books Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China (1991), Mao: The Unknown Story (2005, with Jon Halliday), and Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China (2013). Her books have been translated into more than 40 languages and sold more than 15 million copies worldwide. She has won many awards, including the UK Writers’ Guild Best Non-Fiction and Book of the Year UK.


Main idea
This is a historic figure-based project. However, I did not want to only focus on the figure itself. Instead, I wanted to portray this topic in big picture. Thus, I focused on the late period of Qing dynasty, a cataclysmic era: a time that is intense, chaotic, and vigilant.

During the moment, polarized things intertwined:
- In culture, Traditional customs of China VS. External Western thoughts
- In gender, Men (officials of government) VS. Women (Cixi)
- In technology, Fire VS. Electricity.

I found these contrasts made the era attractive. Thus, I incorporated these ideas to my layout and find a perfect solution to integrate these opposite topics (See below):

I intended to bring out the contrast in the era, so I started out from two colors to represent the topics of opposite sides: One is azurite blue and the other is cinnabar red.

For azurite blue, it is an extravagant pigment made from the mineral azurite, which is also a popular mineral to make jewelry. The reason I selected this color is not only it gives audience a feeling of luxury, but also to display the image of technology, which is what the late Qing dynasty was confronting and trying to adapt. In addition, blue is intuitively a masculine color, which can properly stand for those male officials of Qing dynasty.

For cinnabar red, in Chinese culture, it is a very feminine color since it is the main pigment source of lipsticks for women in the past. Besides, red is a very classic auspicious symbolic colors in Chinese traditional culture. Therefore, red became a perfect option to represent the element of females/ Cixi and Traditional Chinese culture in my project.

Speaking of traditional Chinese art, we cannot neglect the landscape painting, which is usually painted on silk canvases. With this idea, I decided to incorporate this iconic feature into my project.

I found a celebrated Chinese landscape painting, A Panorama of Rivers and Mountainsby Wang Ximeng, and I mimicked the pattern of the canvas: the texture of the silk, the folding patterns etc. Next, in order to create an electronic vibe to meet my need of combination of old and new things, I transferred this pattern into bluish color in order to create the futuristic and technological look.

A close up of Panorama of Rivers and Mountains By Wang Ximeng
千里江山圖 王希孟
Period: Northern Song dynasty (960-1127)
Medium: ink and color on silk
Format: handscroll
Date: 1113
Artist(s): Wang Ximeng (b. 1096)
Dimensions: 51.5 × 1191.5 cm

The old traditional silk canvas was transferred into bluish color

The old traditional silk canvas was transferred into bluish color

Featured Objects

I intended to avoid portraying Cixi too straightforward i.e just integrate a portrait of Cixi into my layout. Therefore, I selected multiple symbolic elements that can represent her image to explore possibilities, including a headgear, a pair of concubine shoes, an empress crown, a hand with fingernail guards, a lotus, and a Buddhism sign: all indicated the elements related to Cixi. For instance, the former fourth objects represent a trajectory of how Cixi transferred from a consort (headgear/palace maid shoes) to an empress dowager (crown/sharp nails) and the latter two objects stand for that Cixi being a religious Buddhist (lotus/ Buddhism sign) in her late life.

I took the reference from real historic pictures and modeled them in Cinema 4D, and I used Sketch & Toon to render out those models only in line. Then, I imported those assets into After Effects to composite the assets with other objets.

Soundtrack | Hougong Crash

I was lucky enough to come across this amazing soundtrack, which gave me tremendous inspiration for my visual direction. With electronic vibe, intense rhythm, and creepy laughing from time to time. I found that it suits well my project’s world view. This soundtrack Hougong Crash (後宮亂鬥) composed by Sonia Calico and made for choreography. I clipped and edited around 70 seconds from it as my soundtrack.



3D: Li-Yu Chen
Motion Design: Li-Yu Chen
Soundtrack: Sonia Calico