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Based on newly available, mostly Chinese, historical documents such as court records, official and private correspondence, diaries and eyewitness accounts, this biography will revolutionize historical thinking about a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.
About Jung ChangSee more books from this Author
...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
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.Read Full Review of Empress Dowager Cixi: The Con... | See more reviews from NY Times
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
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
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.Read Full Review of Empress Dowager Cixi: The Con... | See more reviews from Financial Times
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
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
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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