With this book the author gives a balanced account of emperor Huizong, the last factual emperor of the Northern Song dynasty. As he fatally lost half of his empire and his life to the barbarian Jin people, traditional Chinese historiography paints him as vain and and wasteful ( and so as derserving his fate). Furthermore, his strong Daoist tendencies did not much to improve his image with the Confucian establishment. Ebrey, however, shows Huizong as an exceptional artist and patron of fine arts, but also as an only average administrator of the Song empire, who made some seriously wrong choices at decisive moments. While the first three quarters of the book have a very strong (and sometimes a very detailed) emphasis on Huizong as a principal of major works of art and religious canon, the last quarter unsparingly describes the catasprophic downfall of Huizong's court and the humilations and destruction of the former emperor and his familiy at the hands of the Jin. The ample notes are kept at the end of the book, which on one side makes the main text more readable, while on the other side a lot of information is lost if you do not always want to turn pages. The book also contains lots of tables and a few maps (of which there could have been more), and some interesting appendices. "Emperor Huizing" is really an outstanding work, as it is written very well and sometimes reads like a novel (although the tragic end is - of course - already known in advance), while still fully remaining an academic work.
The Emperor Huizong is certainly an interesting figure and I was certainly looking forward to reading this biography. Unfortunately, the thematic approach the author takes, particularly towards Huizong's creative activity, means that information gets repeated - sometimes several tines - and the narrative flow is lost. This id written for other academics to admire rather than for anyone to enjoy reading, and after a while it grows tiring. There is much here to learn, but it could be prsented much more engagingly.