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4.4 out of 5 stars
258
4.4 out of 5 stars
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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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on 22 August 2017
So controversial as to polarize opinion - but thats what makes this entirely new defence of Empress Cixi's hitherto much maligned rule so interesting. The author has delved into thousands of original manuscripts in Mandarin to back her perspective, which must surely appeal to scholars - whether critics or admirers. Feminists, historians and lovers of non fiction are sure to be intrigued by Cixi's complex personality and take the study further themselves. An extremely enjoyable read!
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on 9 March 2014
Extraordinary enjoyable book about a complex character in a complex world and the power struggles in the Imperial Chinese Court which had become moribund and isolated in court ritual and unable to move forward or to embrace the changes and progress of the West.
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on 23 March 2017
Bought as a gift
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on 21 September 2017
Jung Chang brings historical events to life with her authenticity and attention to detail. Her writing combines accuracy with fascinating personal details which entice the reader.
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on 2 May 2017
Fascinating book, well written. Long but definitely worth reading.
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on 31 August 2017
I learned that cixi not Mao stopped foot binding ! I learned how dreadful the UK was to China who were very tolerant.
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on 22 October 2014
okay
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on 4 May 2017
fine
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on 7 September 2014
I would certainly say read this book.
I had never read any history books on China and was a little unsure when I start it, but the author drew me in, and the story of this remarkable woman - she was first a concubine, then an Empress and Empress Dowager after the death of her husband, shows a woman with an iron spirit.
Start the book today and you won't be able to put it down.
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