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The Last Empress: The She-dragon of China (Society & Lifestyle) [Paperback]

Keith Laidler
2.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

23 Sep 2003 Society & Lifestyle
In 1851, a sixteen–year–old girl named Yehonala entered the Imperial Palace of China as a concubine third grade, leaving behind her family, the love of her life, and nearly all contact with the outside world. She emerged as Tsu Hsi, Dowager Empress of China and one of the most powerful autocrats in history. A fascinating tale of love, betrayal, murder, intrigue, and survival, The Last Empress offers remarkable insight into life behind the closed doors of the forbidden city.

Product details

  • Paperback: 316 pages
  • Publisher: John Wiley & Sons; 1 edition (23 Sep 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470848812
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470848814
  • Product Dimensions: 2.4 x 13.1 x 20 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,284,284 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

Keith Laidler earned his PhD raising a baby Orang-utan as a human infant, and trying to teach it to talk. He followed this with a 3-year stint as writer-producer for Anglia TV's renowned 'Survival' series, when he visited various exotic locations including the Caribbean and the mountains of Oman. Since that time, Keith has earned his living as a freelance writer and film producer, producing award-winning documentaries and penning books on Pandas, Giant Otters, the Turin Shroud, our present-day Surveillance Society, a Chinese Empress and a psychopathic Madagascan Queen. During the course of these adventures he has spent time with the SAS, visited forbidden vaults in Tibet, been lost in the rainforest for three days, mugged, attacked by killer bees, arrested by secret police, and threatened with execution by a drunken soldier during a Ghanaian coup.
Keith is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and a past member of the Scientific Exploration Society.

Product Description


"a fascinating story" (Publishing News, 19 July 2002)  "…he tells a tale of love betrayal, murder and intrigue…" (Sunday Telegraph, 12 October 2003)

From the Inside Flap

When Yehonala entered the Forbidden City in 1851 she entered a feudal world in which the Manchu Emperor ruled all under heaven and China basked in a deluded belief in its own superiority. Foreigners were viewed as uncultivated barbarians and their ambassadors deemed mere tribute bearers. The Industrial Revolution, the hunger for trade and the Imperialism of the Western powers had passed China by. An approximate contemporary of Queen Victoria, Yehonala lived in a different world. By the end of Yehonala’s reign, over fifty years later, China’s preconceptions and wealth had been all but destroyed by the invasion of Western powers in pursuit of trade. Shortly after Yehanola’s death, the Manchu Dynasty collapsed and China entered a long period of chaos. This book charts not only the life of an extraordinary woman, but also a clash of ideologies that led to the near destruction of a noble and ancient, if also at times, terrible, culture. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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When the Emperor Hsien Feng turned over a jade plaque on the ivory table next to his chamber the fate of the last Dynasty to rule the Middle Kingdom was changed irrecoverably in a single action. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

2.3 out of 5 stars
2.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars To Be Avoided 14 Aug 2004
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
What a waste of time and money this book was. At the turn of the century victorian gentlemane liked to scare and titillate their readers with aprocyphal tales of the Cinese and their demon empress. I thought most of these myths had been exposed for what they are by Sterling Seagrave's in his excellent book Dragon Lady: The Life and Legend of the Last Empress of China. I really don't know why the author bothered writing this book; all he seems to have done is trotted out all the same old poppycock that's been bandied around as history for a long time. There is nothing new in this book at all and it is full of assumptions and the author's prejudices. Don't waste any money on this book. If you're interested in the Last Empress of China buy Seagrave's book, it's well worth your hard earned cash. I also intend to get The Dragon Empress by Marina Warner - I wish I'd seen this first.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing history of an empress 15 Mar 2014
By Timster
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I bought this paperback on Amazon after foolishly lending (losing) my hard-back copy to someone. Of the many books written over the years about this extraordinary woman, who ruled China from 1861 to 1908, this is one of the two best. (The other is Marina Warner's 'The Dragon Empress', 1972). Laidler's biography is an absorbing read, written in an accessible, fluent prose style. The narrative of the Empress' personal and public life - he calls her Yehonala, her Manchu family name, throughout - is clearly set in the wider context of Chinese history, an unhappy decline of its ancient Confucian Imperial through the nineteenth century, between the Opium Wars and Boxer Rebellion, into the first decade of the twentieth. The book is very well-researched and extremely informative, with excellent notes, bibliography, maps, illustrations and a useful timeline and 'who's who' summary. It has the added virtue of being a handsome, handy volume with clear print laid out in a readable font and font size. Recommended.
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2.0 out of 5 stars This is ONE version of events! 8 Jan 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The information for this biography was gleaned from Backhouse who was proved to be a charlatan! I was very disappointed as none of his facts can be trusted.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Quite well-written, but historically somewhat dubious 2 April 2006
By Docendo Discimus - Published on
Keith Laidler's "The Last Empress" is not as bad as all that, even if his background as a writer of popular fiction does shine through here and there.
Mr Laidler writes in a nice, fluid prose style, and there are numerous footnotes and many generally well-chosen quotes. But there are certainly drawbacks, too, although I think two stars is a little too harsh.

"The Last Empress" is the story of Wang Xiaoqian, a young girl born in 1834 or 1835 in a village called Xipo. She joined the harem of the Xianfeng emperor at the age of 16 or 17, and bore him a son who became the Tongzhi emperor. During the boy's minority (he was only five when his father died), his mother reigned with a firm hand, and she continued to do so more or less until her death in 1908. You may have seen her portrayed with eerie charisma by actress Lisa Lu in a brief but memorable scene in Bernardo Bertolucci's classic "The Last Emperor".

Now, this sounds like an exciting story, right? Well, it is, and Keith Laidler tells it well, but he does rely an awful lot on anecdotal "evidence", and, in some cases, pure speculation.
And he constantly refers to the empress dowager as "Yehonala", as though this was her first name, when it was in fact the name of the clan into which she was adopted as a young girl. "Yeho-Nala", usually romanized as "Yehe-Nara", is not a given name, but rather like a surname (her actual name, post-adoption, was Yehe-Nara Yulan, that is "Yulan of the Yehe-Nara clan").
That annoyed me a first, until I got used to it. Especially because everybody in the Western world who has ever heard of "the western empress dowager", as she was called, probably know her as Cixi, or, in Wade-Giles' more pronouncement-friendly romanization, Tzu Hsi. That is "motherly auspicious" or "august mother".

But I'm losing my train of thought here. Again, as I said, the book is well-written and quite exciting, but unfortunately it is of doubtful historical value. Nobody really knows how the young Yulan became the emperor's favorite lover, but Keith Laidler makes up a fanciful story about her astounding abilities in bed, which is one of the low points of the book.
And there are few surprising mistakes as well, such as Mr Laidler's claim that "she (Tzu Hsi) came as close as any woman in Chinese history to ascending the Dragon Throne".
Honestly! If you're interested in Chinese history, you must read up on the fascinating story of the empress Wu Zhao (623 or 625 - 705), who took over the government when her husband, the Gaozong emperor, fell ill in late 660. She ruled "from behind the curtain" (quite literally, since regents traditionally sat behind a yellow curtain right behind the imperial throne and whispered their advise to the emperor) for 23 years until the death of the emperor. Then her son Li Zhe became the Zhongzong emperor, but after a brief reign his mother swapped him for her younger, and presumably more manageable, son Li Dan, the Ruizong emperor. And finally, in late 690, the old empress dowager deposed him as well, but not, like Tzu Hsi, in favour of a hapless child during whose minority she could continue to rule unopposed. Instead she took the title "Shensheng Huangdi", that is "holy spirit emperor", and ascended the Dragon Throne herself.

Anyway. You should borrow Mr Laidler's book at your local library and give it a try. It's a pretty good read.
Just don't consider it pure, unadulterated historical fact.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars History for Non-History Majors 2 Jan 2008
By Patrick Artz - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
I heartily recommend this book to anyone who is visiting China in the near future and wants to learn more about the decline and fall of the last imperial dynasty. I recently visited, and I wish I would have read this book before seeing the Winter Palace and the Forbidden City.

The author is not a historian. This is a good thing. My bookshelf is full of accurate and comprehensive history books, but I wouldn't recommend too many of them to anyone other than historians. Laidler writes in a style that allows the general reader to follow along and actually want to turn the pages to learn more.

I would recommend the book to students of leadership as well as folks who want to learn more about Chinese history. It is a case study in power for the sake of survival and power itself. I wonder how Chinese history of the 1900s might have been different with a different power behind the throne. The ol' "do people make history or does history make people' debate ...

I can't give it five stars. In spots, it reads more like historical fiction than fact. That is okay with me, but I would relegate those speculations to sidebars if this was a magazine rather than a book. Also, the author should use the more commonly accepted name of the main character - my Chinese friends were a bit mystified by my earnest description of the book until I used the commonly used name Cixi. Also, a few maps would help the general reader.

All in all, a very satisfying read. If you are confused by recent Chinese history, then this will fill in a lot of gaps.
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