Empress Dowager Cixi

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Oct 29, 2013 - History - 448 pages
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A New York Times Notable Book

Empress Dowager Cixi (1835–1908) is the most important woman in Chinese history. She ruled China for decades and brought a medieval empire into the modern age.
At the age of sixteen, 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.

Cixi reigned during extraordinary times and had to deal with a host of major national crises: the Taiping and Boxer rebellions, wars with France and Japan—and an invasion by eight allied powers including Britain, Germany, Russia and the United States. Jung Chang not only records the Empress Dowager’s conduct of domestic and foreign affairs, but also takes the reader into the depths of her splendid Summer Palace and the harem of Beijing’s Forbidden City, where she lived surrounded by eunuchs—one of whom she fell in love, with tragic consequences. The world Chang describes here, in fascinating detail, seems almost unbelievable in its extraordinary mixture of the very old and the very new.

Based on newly available, mostly Chinese, historical documents such as court records, official and private correspondence, diaries and eyewitness accounts, this biography will revolutionize historical thinking about a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.


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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - john257hopper - LibraryThing

This is a well researched biography by the author better known for Wild Swans. Cixi was the most powerful woman in Chinese history effectively exercising executive power over the largest state in the ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - bookbrig - LibraryThing

This book is SO GOOD. (The audio was also great.) I feel like I actually got to know the empress intimately, as well as getting a sweeping look at Chinese history and its role in the geopolitical ... Read full review


List of Illustrations
Concubine to an Emperor 183556
From the Opium War to the Burning of the Old Summer Palace 183960
Emperor Xianfeng Dies 186061
PART TWO Reigning Behind Her Sons Throne 18611875
Virgin Journeys to the West 186171
Love Doomed 1869
Life and Death of Emperor Tongzhi 186175
A Plot to Kill Cixi September 1898
Desperate to Dethrone Her Adopted Son 18981900
To War against the World Powers with the Boxers 18991900
Fighting to a Bitter End 1900
Flight 19001
Remorse 19001
PART SIX The Real Revolution of Modern China 19011908
The Vote 19058

PART THREE Ruling Through an Adopted Son 18751889
Defender of the Empire 187589
PART FOUR Emperor Guangxu Takes Over 18891898
The Summer Palace 188694
War with Japan 1894
A Peace that Ruined China 1895
The Reforms of 1898 1898
Deaths 1908
China after Empress Dowager Cixi
Archives Consulted
About the Author

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About the author (2013)

Jung Chang is the best-selling author of Wild Swans, which The Asian Wall Street Journal called the most widely read book about China, and Mao: The Unknown Story (with Jon Halliday), which was described by Time as “an atom bomb of a book.” Her books have been translated into more than forty languages and sold more than fifteen million copies outside mainland China, where they are both banned. She was born in China in 1952 and moved to Britain in 1978. She lives in London.

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