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My Life as Emperor Hardcover – February 16, 2005

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion; First Edition edition (February 16, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 140136666X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1401366667
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,271,341 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

It takes mere days for a shy, wistful 14-year-old prince to turn into a full-fledged terror as emperor when rule over the fictional Xie Empire is unexpectedly bequeathed to him in this gorgeous bloodbath of a novel, the latest from the author of Rice and the Raise the Red Lantern series of novellas (filmed by Zhang Yimou). Told in the first person, the book chronicles the boy-emperor Duanbai's matter-of-fact demands, appetites and diversions, which involve everything from settling paltry old scores with lethal force to removing the tongues of discarded concubines. Only a young court eunuch named Swallow manages to elicit something resembling true affection from the young emperor over the course of their peculiar and at times heartbreaking eight-year relationship. Tong's lush prose style ("The corpses looked like wooden logs lying in the snow-covered wheat fields, though the rank smell of blood hovered above them") provides the perfect counterpoint, as well as startling detail and texture, to the perilous court life it recounts. Threaded in are the moral lessons of the monk Juekong, heeded by Duanbai only after it is far too late. Tong claims in his preface that this "scary dream on a rainy night" is set "in no particular time"; applied to today's world, it becomes powerful allegory.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The latest offering from the author of Raise the Red Lantern (1993) and Rice (1995) is a nightmarish tale that borrows from classical Chinese history but is set in no particular time. When his father dies, Duanbai, the 14-year-old prince, becomes the emperor of the Xie Empire. A palace madman's ominous refrain that "calamity will soon befall the Xie Empire" foreshadows the harsh, childish young ruler's demise, and beginning with his surprising inauguration, Duanbai describes his brief time on the throne and the events that depose him. As in Su Tong's previous work, dark currents of inhumanity, violence, and opulent, shimmering detail flow through the story. Duanbai is an unapologetically repugnant narrator, capable of inconceivable cruelty exercised on childish whims. But the crushing repercussions of his dim-witted self-indulgence, naivete, and brutality, as well as Su Tong's mesmerizing cinematic detail, create a powerful, terrifying, dreamlike story that questions the fateful influences that shape and sustain leaders. Gillian Engberg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Steve Koss VINE VOICE on February 23, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Along with Mo Yan and Gao Xingjian, Su Tong is widely regarded as one of mainland China's premier novelists, and with good reason. MY LIFE AS EMPEROR, the third of Su Tong's works to be published in English (after RAISE THE RED LANTERN and RICE), tells a brilliant and compelling tale of fate, decay and decadence, and palace intrigue fueled by the whims of a fourteen-year-old and his manipulating grandmother, a figure strongly reminiscent of China's famous Qing Dynasty dragon empress, Cixi. Yet within this bleak context of impending doom, the author gives us a phoenix tale, the story of an unlikely rebirth into a life of peace and contemplation.

MY LIFE AS EMPEROR is set in an unknown place at an indistinct time, although the author closes by locating the renamed imperial capitol as Changzhou in Jiangsu Province, not far from his own Suzhou birthplace. At the death of his Emperor father, fourteen-year-old Duanbai - the fifth of his father's sons - is unexpectedly called by his grandmother, Madame Huangfu, to assume the throne of the Xie Empire. Sun Xin, an alchemist and his deceased father's attendant - now reduced to madness - proclaims that calamity will soon befall the Empire. And it indeed does as Duanbai's ascendancy sets off a chain of palace intrigues among his half brothers.

Duanbai himself is feckless and capricious, immature and utterly unprepared for his responsibilities. Duanbai's sleep is filled with night demons, and he is given to acts of pettiness and stunning viciousness alternating with acts of deep sympathy and love. The only person he can trust, his mentor Juekong, is banished from the capitol to live out his life as a monk on Bitter Bamboo Mountain.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By J. C. Baldwin on April 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I am a female on active duty with the navy on the USS Kitty Hawk currently stationed in Japan and being so, I do not write flowerly reviews because my time is short.

I have seen the film version of "Raise the Red Lantern" which left such a profound impact on me when I saw this book written by the same author I had to purchase and immediately read the book. So far the shock and awe (to borrow a term from CNN) of "My Life..." has lived up to the same feeling I get from watching "Raise the Red Lantern"

I try as I am reading this to imagine how life would be if I were a spoiled 14 year old boy suddenly thrown into the role as Emperor. Nothing I can imagine even comes close to the horrors this young man demands performed. From cutting out the tongues of wailing women so they do not disturb his sleep, to ordering the torture of a man who tried to stand against this young snot nosed child. All the man did was ask for the taxes to be lowered in an area struck with bad luck during the farming year.

I am a little more than half way through the book and so far it's hard to put down at night so I can rest before work. This is not a book for the light hearted nor for someone with a weak stomach. The careless way this young man can order the drowning of a maid to cover his selfish needs makes me glad I am a good mom who has raise a teenaged daughter with enough common sense and compassion to think of others and not herself.

Please pick up this book and give it a go.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Richard K. Weems on August 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Su Tong made a quick name for himself when his novella _Raise the Red Lantern_ was made into a great film. One might think that such success could spoil an author to continue to write what has already been successful, but his next book, _Rice_, offered its own challenges when Su Tong took on a deeply disturbed and violent man as his protagonist. _Rice_ was a great book, because even through horrific events, Tong looked for the rationale of every character and allowed them to present themselves in honest ways. Now, with _My Life as Emperor_, Su Tong takes the other perspective--rather than focus on a poor crook, his focus is now a young man named emperor of the fictional Xie Empire.

Su Tong has fully confirmed his masterful ability to mix the harsh and cruel realities of social commentary with genuine pathos for the characters within those commentaries. It is a wise and splendid mix--Su Tong addresses the problems of the hierarchies of people while treating the people themselves with compassion and empathy. Duanbai, who ascends to the throne of the Xie Empire at the age of 14 even though he was not the first-born to the dead emperor, is a troublesome narrator, for he is spoiled and gets drunk on his own power quite easily, but still he is someone to sympathize for, for even with the power to have a person's tongue removed at his whim, he is still under the thumb of his grandmother, who will gladly strike out with her longevity cane. The implications of Duanbai's rash ruling are not as clear as they could be to convey the misery the new emperor is inciting in his own empire, but the growth of Duanbai in his friendship with a eunuch named Swallow and of course the problems people find with his claim on the throne, makes this a wise and wonderful book.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By T. Hooper on August 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover
My Life As Emperor by Su Tong is really hard to put down once you start. His writing style just pulls you in as you try to figure out the mind of the protagonist, Duanbai, the fifth emperor of the Xie Empire. The tale starts out with the death of the fourth emperor and the unexpected appointment of his fifth son, Duanbai, as the emperor. Duanbai is only 14 years old, and is completely unprepared for the job. While he wastes his time with his pursuits, the real government is his overbearing grandmother who rules with an iron fist. On commiting his first act of cruelty, he feels regret, but his grandmother tells him that he would do the same, so he goes down the road to being a cruel and thoughtless ruler. His frustration at his powerlessness and his complete inability to rule leads him to strike out at those around him. This tendency is made worse by his poor mental health. As his empire crumbles around him, though, he begins to see some things which offer him some comfort and perhaps a path to a better life.

It may be difficult to imagine the cruelty which the protagonist enjoys, and some may be put off by it. Some may even claim that such cruelty is unimaginable, but I don't think that is true. The world around us is surrounded with cruelty which is just as bad as anything this emperor does. The only difference is that we have come to accept that cutting out prisoners' tongues is unacceptable, while we rationalize the cruelties of our modern age. In reading this book, I hope that you step back from the fictional world of Duanbai's empire, and take a look at our own world. If you do that, reading this book can become a powerful experience.
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