Empress Dowager Cixi by Jung Chang
The Concubine Who Launched Modern China

70%

8 Critic Reviews

With this authoritative and epic biography, Chang harnesses Cixi’s ambition and makes a bold attempt to broadcast Cixi’s achievements against the weight of history while chronicling China at the crossroads of a new era of change.
-Toronto Star

Synopsis

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Based on newly available, mostly Chinese, historical documents such as court records, official and private correspondence, diaries and eyewitness accounts, this biography will revolutionize historical thinking about a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




From the Hardcover edition.
 

About Jung Chang

See more books from this Author
JUNG CHANG was born in Sichuan Province, China, in 1952. She was a Red Guard briefly at the age of fourteen and then worked as a peasant, a "barefoot doctor," a steelworker, and an electrician before becoming an English-language student and, later, an assistant lecturer at Sichuan University. She left China for Britain in 1978 and was subsequently awarded a scholarship by York University, where she obtained a Ph.D. in linguistics in 1982, the first person from the People's Republic of China to receive a doctorate from a British university.













Author Residence: London













Author Hometown: China
 
Published October 29, 2013 by Knopf. 498 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Travel. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for Empress Dowager Cixi
All: 8 | Positive: 7 | Negative: 1

Kirkus

Above average
on Aug 19 2013

...this tenacious empress rebounded from an assassination plot and exile to implement a series of remarkable reforms in the six years before her death in 1908. In an entertaining biography, the empress finally has her day.

Read Full Review of Empress Dowager Cixi: The Con... | See more reviews from Kirkus

NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Orville Schell on Oct 25 2013

What makes reading this new biography so provocative are the similarities between the challenges faced by the Qing court a century ago and those confronting the Chinese Communist Party today.

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Isabel Hilton on Oct 25 2013

This approving biography advances a vigorous defence of a woman whom history has often demonised as a venal reactionary: one who murdered without a second thought to protect her own interests, who squandered the national treasury on her own pleasures and who set back reform in China to preserve herself.

Read Full Review of Empress Dowager Cixi: The Con... | See more reviews from Guardian

NY Journal of Books

Good
Reviewed by Jane Haile on Sep 03 2013

This is a rich and fascinating book that never relaxes its hold on the reader despite the marshalling of a mass of complex historical details seen through the prism of Cixi.

Read Full Review of Empress Dowager Cixi: The Con... | See more reviews from NY Journal of Books

Financial Times

Below average
Reviewed by Jeffrey Wasserstrom on Nov 22 2013

In her acclaimed Cleopatra: A Life (2010), Stacey Schiff combines spirited storytelling with careful dissection of the varied ways a ruler’s tale has been told...I would love to read a comparably satisfying popular biography of Cixi. Unfortunately, this isn’t it.

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Washington Times

Above average
Reviewed by Claire Hopley on Mar 03 2014

Ms. Chang’s new broom sweeps briskly throughout her book, and she clears a lot of ground. Much of Cixi’s history remains murky...Nonetheless, the demon Cixi painted by other commentators fades as Ms. Chang clears the dust to reveal a fresher, more nuanced, picture. “She was a giant, but not a saint,” she writes, and that seems to have been true.

Read Full Review of Empress Dowager Cixi: The Con... | See more reviews from Washington Times

Toronto Star

Good
Reviewed by Jason Beerman on Oct 29 2013

With this authoritative and epic biography, Chang harnesses Cixi’s ambition and makes a bold attempt to broadcast Cixi’s achievements against the weight of history while chronicling China at the crossroads of a new era of change.

Read Full Review of Empress Dowager Cixi: The Con... | See more reviews from Toronto Star

The Economist

Good
on Nov 30 2013

Jung Chang is a vivid guide to these tumultuous decades, as readers of “Wild Swans”, her prize-winning 1991 book, would expect. She has a novelist’s eye for the telling detail...

Read Full Review of Empress Dowager Cixi: The Con... | See more reviews from The Economist

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