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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and well researched
Empress Dowager Cixi born 29 November 1835 and died 15 November 1908 was a powerful and charismatic woman who unofficially but effectively controlled the Manchu Qing dynasty in China for 47 years, from 1861 to her death in 1908. She was selected as an imperial concubine for the Xianfeng Emperor as a young teenager and gave birth to a son, in 1856. With the Emperor’s...
Published 2 months ago by Robin Webster

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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A reliable Historical Biography it AIN'T
I was really looking forward to reading this book having studied the period in China extensively and all the build up referencing quoted research and resources I was led to believe/hope that I was not going to be able to put it down until I'd devoured it.

This, sadly, was far from the case.

From the outset the author has what can only be described as...
Published 8 months ago by Pijo


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and well researched, 26 Sep 2014
By 
Robin Webster "Robin" (England) - See all my reviews
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Empress Dowager Cixi born 29 November 1835 and died 15 November 1908 was a powerful and charismatic woman who unofficially but effectively controlled the Manchu Qing dynasty in China for 47 years, from 1861 to her death in 1908. She was selected as an imperial concubine for the Xianfeng Emperor as a young teenager and gave birth to a son, in 1856. With the Emperor’s death in 1861 the child became the Tongzhi Emperor and she became Empress Dowager. Cixi was the real power behind the throne throughout her son’s short reign and the reign of her adopted son after her son’s death.
The author ‘Jung Chang’ argues and I quote:
‘The past hundred years have been most unfair to Cixi, who has been deemed either tyrannical and vicious or hopelessly incompetent or both. Few of her achievements have been recognized and, when they are, the credit is invariably given to the men serving her.’
Jung Chang’s wish is to paint a more positive picture of Cixi using fact based evidence from historical records as well as interview and written testaments from those who knew her. Jung Chang does not deny or excuse Citi’s flaws or mistakes: especially in relation to the Boxer rebellion at the turn of the century and her ruthlessness in dealing with some who opposed her. However, Jung Chang puts forward a powerful argument that Cixi was responsible for bringing China into the modern age. She passed laws against foot-binding, gave women many more rights than they had had in the past, transformed the education system and opened up trade and gave China its first free press. Cixi also had the difficult job of holding off practically all the world powers from exploiting China for their own ends: this was something she was only partly successful at achieving.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A reliable Historical Biography it AIN'T, 9 April 2014
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This review is from: Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China (Hardcover)
I was really looking forward to reading this book having studied the period in China extensively and all the build up referencing quoted research and resources I was led to believe/hope that I was not going to be able to put it down until I'd devoured it.

This, sadly, was far from the case.

From the outset the author has what can only be described as a totally unexplained bias in favour of Ci-Xi. At times this borders on fantastical. In one scene Chang describes Ci-Xi strolling through the grounds of the Summer Palace with birds encircling her and fish a leapin' out of the lake into her hands - I began to think I was reading the Chinese equivalent of Snow White! The author, on more than one occasion, informs us that Ci-Xi had great foresight when events turned against the regime which Ci-Xi was powerless to influence but knew all along what would happen. Yet when when CI-Xi's own decisions prove disastrous this apparently was because of unforeseen circumstances.

The book is also very repetitive often chapters open with a summary of the information we've been fed at least once in the previous chapter.

The book quotes so liberally, or para phrases, so many passages from the equally gushy books by Katherine Carl and 'Princess' Der Ling that I'm surprised there haven't been copyright problems. In fact I see very little new, which we were promised from the outset, research or revelation at all in this book.

There are instances where the book is downright wrong or very misleading at the least.
Chang maintains Ci-Xi banned the act of foot binding - FALSE it was in fact Dr Sun Yat-sen in the Chinese Republic who did this.
Chang maintains that Ci-Xi was such a kindly gentle soul that she permitted her art mistress to unbind her feet when she visited her in the Summer Palace to instruct her about art - this would have proved excruciatingly painful and certainly would not have provided relief as Chang suggests.
Chang states that the Ci-Xi instructed the 'Pearl' Concubine to be murdered just as she was fleeing the Forbidden City on August 15th - FALSE Ci-XI departed the Peking before August 14th and therefore COULD NOT have been there when Consort Zhen died.

All this could be forgiven in a novel - BUT this book purports to be an historical biography.

SO here is my problem - it is not reliable as an historical biography because of the obvious bias and amount of inaccuracy, but neither can it be considered to be good enough as a novel - it lacks too many elements to make a good readable story. SO on both counts it cannot be relied upon and so I cannot recommend this book.

EDIT: I originally gave this 1 star I was so annoyed after reading it - on reflection this is unfair as an enormous amount of work has gone into the book, but I still hold my above review stands. I have decided that 3 stars is a better reflection - people should read and make up their own minds.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great introduction to the history of China, 26 April 2014
By 
This review is from: Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China (Hardcover)
I didn't know anything about Chinese history, and wanted to read something that would give me some background before visiting China later this year. This book provided a wonderful description of the transition the country made from ancient to modern in the second half of the nineteenth century - incredibly (given the male-centred culture) under the guidance and inspiration of Cixi, the emperor's concubine.
The book provides a vivid picture of how life in China had been conducted for centuries, and how it had to face up to the realities of modern industry, global trade and relationships with foreign powers (often problematic). Cixi was an amazing woman, who made many mistakes but still had the vision and determination to transform China and improve the lives of its citizens. The times were cruel and inevitably there are references to distressing or violent practices - but in my view the author achieves the right balance, describing only as much as necessary.
The book is not a light read - but very informative, well-researched and thought-provoking.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Moving book and stunning in its detail, 8 Oct 2013
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This review is from: Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China (Hardcover)
This book is stunning and deeply moving. I'm reading it as I work in Beijing and many of the places and cities mentioned are nearby.

It's a very human story about one woman's determination to survive and impose a measure of common sense in a world that was falling into chaos

It's about China at the end of the dynastic period that had lasted more than 5000 years, China's government, such as it was, was stuck in rigid formality and petrified protocols unable to respond to external threats and challenges.

The facts that pepper the book are fascinating and I cannot begin to list them but each opens a window onto a stylised fantasy world that was the Forbidden City and a brutal world that was Court politics.

Plenty of sex and violence, and combinations that I had not thought of...

Really excellence read
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History masterpiece., 16 Mar 2014
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When the most fascinating periods of history are presented as beautifully and grippingly as this, for me. there is no genre to compete. So far, fifteen stars and only limited by Amazon's parameters. Her three masterpieces are most of what you need to know about China in the last one hundred years. And you do need to know.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars End of Empire, 21 May 2014
By 
DB "davidbirkett" (Co. Kildare, Ireland (but born & raised Liverpool, UK)) - See all my reviews
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This is a very enjoyable book about a period in Chinese history that I new scandalously little about: from the Opium Wars to the time of "The Last Emperor". I knew a bit about the Japanese sinking a Chinese fleet, but I had in the back of my mind that it was battleships v wooden junks. It turns out it wasn't quite that one sided - a start had been made to modernise the Chinese Navy, but they hadn't progressed as rapidly as the Japanese. I knew about the Japanese occupying Manchuria, and a little about the Boxer rebellion, but about Chinese politics of the time? Nothing.

So it's good to get the period coloured in, but it has to be borne in mind that this is revisionist history and that the "official" history of CiXi still has lots of adherents. And I'm in no position to judge. So while you should most definitely read the book, you should also read some of the most helpful critical reviews, plus the Wikipedia entry on CiXi.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gave me more about the transission of China into modernity than any other book, 21 Mar 2014
By 
Nils Finn Munch-petersen (Gudhjem, Denmark) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China (Hardcover)
Exiting and superbly well written giving the feeling of being in China at the time. I was not soimpressed by Jung Chang's book about Mao, which was probably too close to present to write without (understandable) hatred. The story about Cixi is a masterpiece
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, 2 Oct 2013
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Excellent book, kept me really absorbed. I do not know enough of this period of Chinese history to be able to judge its overall accuracy, but it provided a fascinating insight into the customs and traditions of the Imperial Court.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Empress Dowager Cixi, 4 Jan 2014
By 
S Riaz "S Riaz" (England) - See all my reviews
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This is an absolutely fascinating biography. Subtitled, "the Concubine who launched modern China" it takes you from 1835 to 1908 and tells the story of a young woman who first entered the Forbidden City at the age of 16. Chosen as a concubine to the Emperor Xianfeng, she was entered in the court register as, "the woman of the Nala family" - too lowly to even be given a name of her own. However, she had already helped her family raise funds, when her grandfather was imprisoned and her help in the crisis had become a family legend. Her father said, "this daughter of mine is really more like a son!" which was praise indeed, and she was certainly intelligent and capable. However, her willingness to voice her opinion was not appreciation by the Emperor; who resented her suggestions and she was not favoured. Luckily, the Empress Zhen, head of the harem, protected her and, even more in her favour was the fact that she gave birth to the Emperor's only living son, Zaichun. When the Emperor died, Cixi and Zhen organised a coup to control power through Cixi's son.

This then is the story of how a woman effectively ruled China. Cixi was eager to create amicable relations with the West and asked whether foreign trade and an open door policy was a bad thing for her country, as her husband has always asserted? She took the first steps towards modernisation and was eager to find out about other ways of life and methods of government. However, things were never easy. Cixi was to face opposition, tragedy, wars, and the loss of power when her son (and later adopted son) came of age. She was never able to fully rule, certainly not in her own name, or even to receive men without a screen between her and them and resented these restrictions. This biography takes us all the way through her life; with its amazing ups and downs, successes and tragedies, her ambitions and desire to push China from medieval times into the modern age. I have to admit that I know nothing about this period of history, so, if there are mistakes I would be unable to spot them. However, simply as a fascinating biography, it is an informative and enjoyable read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enpress Doweger Cixi, 24 Nov 2013
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This review is from: Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China (Hardcover)
Extremely readable, great historically and also very entertaining eventhough Cixi was a female despot. Shed a lot of light on omen status in China.
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