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The Last Empress Hardcover – March 21, 2007
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Intrusion: A Novel
A loving couple, grieving the loss of their son, finds their marriage in free fall when a beautiful, long-lost acquaintance inserts herself into their lives. Learn More
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A disclaimer: do not read The Last Empress as straight historical fact. Anchee Min makes no bones about the fact that her writing is meant to "rehabilitate" crucial female figures in Chinese history. Whichever account of Tzu Hsi is correct, the historical tradition that she was an overbearing harridan, selfish, greedy, and bloodthirsty or Min's portrayal of her as a loving mother, trying to protect her country and longing to step down but prevented from doing so by her wishy-washy son, The Last Empress is an endlessly interesting look at palace life, that hermetically sealed world that once existed in China. --Valerie Ryan
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Top Customer Reviews
"It was not a good time to enter the Forbidden City," writes Anchee Min in "The Last Empress," evoking the intrigue and opulence of 19th century China while telling the story of its improbably dominant ruler. "[T]he consequences of a misstep were often deadly."
Orchid did not misstep. Starting at a low rank among the hundreds of concubines, she gradually befriended the eunuchs who ran the palace, then bribed her way into a tryst with the young emperor. They had one nocturnal encounter. She became pregnant and gave birth to a boy -- the first male heir to the throne. For Orchid, it was the equivalent of hitting the jackpot.
Yet she did not stop there. When the emperor died unexpectedly a few years later, Orchid vied to become regent for her son, the new emperor-to-be, until he came of age. She created secret alliances, outfoxed the leading minister and had him publicly beheaded. In the years that followed, Orchid bested every rival who came along, including her co-regent, her emperor son and her emperor nephew, each of whom died in mysterious circumstances. Incredibly, in a culture that generally subjugated women, Orchid ruled China for 47 years. She died in 1908.
Empress Dowager Tzu Hsi, as Orchid was formally known, is a standout even in the impressive pantheon of Chinese history.Read more ›
Known now in the modern English (pinyin) transliteration as Ci Xi, the last Empress of China has long been reviled in China as the Dragon Lady. Portrayed as the manipulative power behind the throne of the last four Emperors of China (her husband and then her own son, followed by a nephew and finally by the infamously impotent Pu Yi), Ci Xi has been portrayed in official Chinese history as evil, power-crazed, and the proximate cause of imperial China's downfall. THE LAST EMPRESS tackles Ci Xi's life from a quite different angle. Based on extensive research Ms. Min conducted in Beijing's archives, she portrays the Dragon Lady as an empathetic figure, a loving wife and perhaps misguided mother, a woman who yearned to be released from the bondage of imperial rule over a nation in rapid decline but for the lack of intellectual capacity and political competence of her husband's successors. Thus, we are presented with an "Empress in handcuffs," chained to her position of power and wealth by the exigencies of China's late 19th Century moment.
For readers like myself not deeply schooled in Chinese imperial history, it is difficult to assess the historical veracity of Ms. Min's interpretation.Read more ›
In Min's version, the empress navigates between competing conservative and reform forces as well as the demands of foreign powers. During much of her reign, China is beset by foreign demands, attacks and wars from Great Britain, France, Germany, the US, and perhaps most ominously, Japan. China is repeatedly forced to grant trade and territorial concessions. China's economy is feeble and its military archaic and ineffectual.
Through it all, in Min's telling, the empress only wants her sons to take the levers of power so that she can fade into the background. Neither is remotely capable of doing so. Someone in the imperial family has to rule and the empress reluctantly gathers the reins to herself. She gradually becomes politically adept at deflecting her enemies and supporting her allies.
Her ability to rule, however, is severely hampered because she is a woman but, even if she wasn't the Manchu are absurdly isolated and weak. They almost never leave the Forbidden City and know very little about the country they rule, let alone the outside world.Late in the book, the empress holds a dinner for the wives of foreign ambassadors, but she sits on a dais without being able to speak a single word to any of them. Nonetheless, this occasion is regarded as a great step forward.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
When I first read this book I assumed it to be fact. However on second reading I wondered whether in fact it is historical fiction? Read morePublished 2 days ago by JLC
I thought that this book was really boring. I thought that it would be better.Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
Beautifully written account of a fascinating time in Chinese history and culture.Published 1 month ago by Yvonne Wellen
A different view of a much malinged woman of history. During the turbulent times of the mid 1800"s, China was under economic and physical attack by many foreign Western and... Read morePublished 2 months ago by C.Sullivan
Anchee Min is one of my all-time favorite writers --- and I read A LOT.
And, amazingly, any single one of her books would put her in my Forever Winner's Circle -- I have just... Read more
A classic and must read, for serious readers. The richness if detail and the depth with which this book is written is exquisite.Published 9 months ago by Amazon Customer