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Empress Orchid: A Novel Hardcover – February 3, 2004


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition edition (February 3, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618068872
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618068876
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (146 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #947,530 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Talk about story arc: poor girl from rural China auditions for a job as royal concubine, winds up as emperor's wife number four, gives birth to the "last Emperor," rules China as regent for 46 years. The fascinating, implausible life of Tsu Hsi, or "Orchid," was reviled by the revolutionary Chinese, but here it receives a sympathetic treatment from Min (Red Azalea; Becoming Madame Mao), who once again brilliantly lifts the public mask of a celebrated woman to reveal a contradictory character. Sexually assertive, intellectually ambitious, socially striving, Min's Orchid is also "isolated, tense, and in some vague but very real way, dissatisfied." Even after giving birth to the emperor's only son, Orchid feels trapped by the stultifying imperial rituals and persecuted by the other residents of the Forbidden City: six other royal wives, 3,000 invisible concubines and 2,000 scheming eunuchs. In addition to these powerful distractions, she has to discipline her overindulged son, outmaneuver the ruthless politician Su Shun (who wants her buried alive when the emperor dies) and advise the ailing emperor how to fend off both the Boxers and the Western "barbarians." Min, herself a survivor of China's Cultural Revolution, has done a prodigious amount of on-site research to capture the glorious, hopeless last days of the Ching dynasty. At times her writing is textbook-flat, and she sometimes loses track of her teeming cast of characters (for example, Orchid's dangerous mother-in-law and mentally ill sister). But readers will be enthralled by the gorgeously woven cultural tapestry and the psychologically astute portrait of the empress-a talented girl from the provinces who married (way) up.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Min, author of the acclaimed Becoming Madame Mao, which fictionalized the life of a woman demonized in history books, again melds exhaustive historical and political research with expertly articulated characters in Empress Orchid. Critics praised the novel's linguistic dexterity (once in the U.S., Min had to learn English in six months or face deportation) and revelatory insights into the lives of women possessing few rights. Too many characters and events muddle the plot, and the style wavers from glittering to dull. Yet ultimately, the novel provides a valuable glimpse into the daily habits of fascinating historical characters and charts the last, decadent days of an empire.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


More About the Author

Anchee Min was born in Shanghai in 1957. At seventeen she was sent to a labor collective, where a talent scout for Madame Mao's Shanghai Film Studio recruited her to work as a movie actress. She came to the United States in 1984 with the help of actress Joan Chen. Her memoir, Red Azalea, was named one of the New York Times Notable Books of 1994 and was an international bestseller, with rights sold in twenty countries. Her novels Becoming Madame Mao and Empress Orchid were published to critical acclaim and were national bestsellers. Her two other novels, Katherine and Wild Ginger, were published to wonderful reviews and impressive foreign sales.

Customer Reviews

The descriptions are vivid, the characters compelling.
Amazon Customer
Anchee Min gives us a look at the way life might have been behind the forbidden walls and how the Empress Tzu Hsi may have come to power.
Loves the View
I loved it so much after reading just a couple of pages from the book.
Y. Xiong

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

84 of 86 people found the following review helpful By Steve Koss VINE VOICE on January 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Anchee Min's latest book demonstrates once again her comfort level with historical novels and shows, as well, her increasing command of English as an acquired language. Ms. Min's writing shows more complexity in her sentence structures, more subtlety in her imagery, richer characterization, and more power of expression than her previous novel, Wild Ginger. As a result, Empress Orchid is a highly engaging and satisfying read, rich in plot and characterization. Her novelization of the Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi may or may not be historically accurate, but I personally do not think precision is required here. The subject matter gives the author a wide field in which to display her story-telling skills while weaving in fascinating elements of Chinese history and culture. Having visited the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace three times myself, and the Summer Resort in Chengde once, I felt that Ms. Min captured their essence perfectly. As I read her descriptions, I felt transported back to those places as I had seen them, but 100 years ealier. Read this book for its atmosphere, its depiction of life in Imperial China, and its fascinating "insider" snippets of Chinese culture. If I had one criticism to offer, it is that I wish more of the "secondary" characters were more fully and thoroughly drawn and more of their interior thoughts, motivations, and reactions were revealed. The author creates fascinating characters in the eunuch An-te-hai, Prince Kung, and Yung Lu -- I would love to know more about them. That said, I will wait anxiously for the next installment in Anchee Min's story of Tzu Hsi. I firmly believe Ms. Min will replace Pearl Buck (and everyone else) as THE English language novelist of Chinese history. I recommend this book highly to anyone who wants to learn more about Chinese history and culture and life as it must have been lived in the Forbidden City in the late 19th Century.
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62 of 66 people found the following review helpful By Joanna Daneman #1 HALL OF FAMETOP 10 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 8, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Anchee Min takes the story of Yehonala, the concubine of Manchu Emperor Hsien Feng and gives it an erotic, feminine twist, creating a memoir-like portrait of this legendary woman. This novel is not perfect, yet it is exciting and takes a great deal of risks in style and substance.
If you aren't familiar with much Chinese history of the Ching Dynasty (ending with "The Last Emperor" Pu Yi) it helps to know a few things beforehand. Orchid, or Yehonala (her family name) became "Tzu Hsi" --Empress of the Western Palace, and was known as The Dowager Empress to the Europeans. She ruled as regent for her infant son Tung Chih after the death of Hsien Feng. She survived a coup attempt, the Opium Wars, the Tai Ping rebellion in Nanking, and the Boxer Rebellion and she died in 1908, on the same day as her nephew, the emperor successor to Tung Chih, who died of smallpox not long after coming of age.
A biography of the Empress by an English adventurer named Backhouse was considered gospel truth by the British, who despised this stubborn woman who kept China from modernizing and prevented the Europeans from establishing as much of a colonial beachhead in China as they had done in India and Indonesia. Backhouse's work was only discredited in 1974, which I find amazing, as I read his book in 1971 and thought it was pure bunkum with stories that surely were colonial propaganda and sensationalism (his tales of sexual escapades and sado-masochism were pure Victorian English erotic fantasy.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Kean Chhay Chang on March 23, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I must say, this is a pretty interesting and enjoyable novel I've ever read about the Empress of China the well known Cixi or also known as Yulan "Orchid" when she was still a concubine.
Though this is imaginative writing. Anchee Min has tried to get as real as possible which I find that its great. The novel is full of realistic points of views of a life of a girl who comes from a background set in those times that would be so hard to eek out a living. There are some points in the novel which I found with a sense of humour etc... overall the novel conveys how she made her way up from a lowly official's daughter through to concubine and then empress dowager.
Through the gates of Peking (modern Bejing) her future was uncertain and through the help of a former palace maid. How life was like in the Forbidden city and how she encounters other Manchurian girls who were chosen to be the Emperor Xiangfeng's wives or concubines. Through selection she manages to rise through the ranks.
Anchee Min conveys thoughts and feelings of what would be going through Orchid's mind in regards to having never seen the palace and going through the large gates only to realise that once she was in she wasn't able to leave at all. Through intrigue, gossip, the palace had ears and eyes that could see and hear what was going on between concubines and eunuchs like An-Te-Hai became a faithful servant who served Orchid with loyalty and through compassion they managed to survive many things that China was going through... having to leave the imperial city and spend time in Chengde or Jehol while the foreign troops raided the imperial city.
This is a wonderful book to read and each page I turned... I found it more inviting to know what lays beyond it each...
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