There is an exhibit at the Smithsonian on the Empress Dowager who effectively ruled China from 1861 to 1908. The exhibit contained a group of photographs that the Empress commissioned a series of photographs from 1903 to 1905 designed to show her to the world in a more favorable light. Both she and China had taken a reputational "hit" by the Boxer Rebellion where mobs of Chinese rebels attacked foreign interests in China. Some suspected that the Empress supported the Boxers.
So, the Empress decided on charm offensive in which she invited the "ladies" of foreign embassies over for tea and a number of other initiatives designed to soften her image, from the dragon lady depicted in the international press.
I'm not sure the photos did the trick. She looks very grim in all of them. There are a few where she's out in the snow at the Summer Palace outside Beijing. She's got her entourage of attendants and eunuchs in toe. She still looks like a dragon lady.
I was struck by the fact that the Empress knew that her image abroad was having some negative impact on China and needed to be fixed. And I imagined the discussions that took place in advance of this "rehabilitation campaign." It probably sounded a lot like discussions that take place today for companies, organizations or individuals trying to enhance their reputation after a crisis. What kind of pictures should we create? How should we distribute them? Who should we invite to the Palace?
The more things change....