At the age of 16, in a nationwide selection for royal consorts, Cixi was chosen as one of the emperor’s numerous concubines. When he died, in 1861, their five-year-old son succeeded to the throne. Cixi at once launched a palace coup against the regents appointed by her husband and made herself the real ruler of China - behind the throne, literally, with a silk screen separating her from her officials who were all male.
In this groundbreaking biography, Jung Chang vividly describes how Cixi fought against monumental obstacles to change China. Under her the ancient country attained virtually all the attributes of a modern state: industries, railways, electricity, the telegraph, and an army and navy with up-to-date weaponry. It was she who abolished gruesome punishments like “death by a thousand cuts” and put an end to foot-binding. She inaugurated women’s liberation and embarked on the path to introduce parliamentary elections to China. Chang comprehensively overturns the conventional view of Cixi as a diehard conservative and cruel despot.
Based on newly available, mostly Chinese, historical documents such as court records, official and private correspondence, diaries, and eyewitness accounts, this biography will revolutionize historical thinking about a crucial period in China’s - and the world’s - history. Packed with drama, fast paced, and gripping, it is both a panoramic depiction of the birth of modern China and an intimate portrait of a woman: as the concubine to a monarch, as the absolute ruler of a third of the world’s population, and as a unique stateswoman.
©2014 Jung Chang (P)2014 Bolinda Publishing Pty Ltd
"A fascinating and instructive biography for anyone interested in how today’s China began." (Library Journal)
"Cixi’s extraordinary story has all the elements of a good fairy tale: bizarre, sinister, triumphant, and terrible." (The Economist)
"When an author as thorough, gifted, and immersed in Chinese culture as Chang writes, both scholars and general readers take notice." (Booklist)
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"Engaging insight into 19th Century China"
Impressed and moved by the author’s book Wild Swans I looked forward to listening to her account of the life and times of the Empress Dowager Cixi and her influence on the course of Chinese history. Knowing little about the latter pre the 20th Century I found this a most interesting insight into the customs and events of 19th century China as well as the learning more about the restricted life of women in the Chinese court. The empress was certainly a formidable character who was influential in modernising her country: all the more amazing for a woman who entered the court as a concubine of the lowest rank, with limited education and hide-bound by the social norms that kept her literally hidden for view.
I have read elsewhere the views of those with knowledge of the era who aver that the author has presented a rose-tinted account of the Empress. Nevertheless the book is an engaging listen from which I learnt a lot about the country.
The narrator is excellent.
"AN INCREDIBLE LIFE"
A brilliant account of the life and times of the Dowager Empress Cixi, who began life at the Chinese court as a minor concubine. Author Jung Chang describes in masterful prose, how Cixi, in a ruthlessly male environment, leapfrogged over the heads of the emperor, princes and grandees to rule over the Chinese empire, demonstrating outstanding qualities as a gifted political tactician and major reformer of a feudal society. This remarkable woman shrewdly dealt with foreign powers, greedy for a piece of China, fended off the constant Japanese threat of invasion, and developed her plan to modernise her country in the face of fierce criticism from the Chinese aristocracy,
As a teacher of this period, the subject comes across as somewhat unbelievable. It is difficult to check the historical evidence for the various claims made. Given that the book goes against much of what other historians argue, this would seem to be a significant problem.
I enjoyed this history so much. I am usually more of a fiction fan but this was so beautifully crafted and the subject herself so extraordinary that I found myself completely lost in it. The story is utterly mesmerising and the narration superb. I have not got a bad word to say about it.
An interesting view of China told by a great story teller. A different way of looking at the history of the region.
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