Empress Dowager Cixi

Empress Dowager Cixi

The Concubine Who Launched Modern China

Book - 2013
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From the beloved, internationally bestselling author of Wild Swans , and co-author of the bestselling Mao: The Unknown Story , the dramatic, epic biography of the unusual woman who ruled China for 50 years, from concubine to Empress, overturning centuries of traditions and formalities to bring China into the modern world.

A woman, an Empress of immense wealth who was largely a prisoner within the compound walls of her palaces, a mother, a ruthless enemy, and a brilliant strategist: Chang makes a compelling case that Cixi was one of the most formidable and enlightened rulers of any nation. Cixi led an intense and singular life. Chosen at the age of 12 to be a concubine by the Emperor Xianfeng, she gave birth to his only male heir who at four was designated Emperor when his father died in 1861. In a brilliant move, the young woman enlisted the help of the Emperor's widow and the two women orchestrated a coup that ousted the regents and made Cixi sole Regent. Untrained and untaught, the two studied history and politics together, ruling the huge nation from behind a curtain. When her boy died, Cixi designated a young nephew as Emperor, continuing her reign till her death in 1908. Chang gives us a complex, riveting portrait of Cixi through a reign as long as that of her fellow Empress, Victoria, whom she longed to meet: her ruthlessness in fighting off rivals; her curiosity to learn; her reliance on Westerners who she placed in key positions; and her sensitivity and desire to preserve the distinctiveness of China's past while overturning traditions (she, as Chang reveals--not Mao, as he claimed--banned footbinding) and exposing its culture to western ideas and technology.

Publisher: Toronto : Random House of Canada, 2013
ISBN: 9780307357540
Branch Call Number: 951.035 CIX NVD

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AL_BRIDGET Oct 13, 2017

This book is fascinating. I feel like I actually got to know the empress intimately, as well as enjoying a sweeping look at Chinese history and its role in the geopolitical landscape. I found the ways she had to work within the dynastic system really interesting, and I can't imagine the intelligence and unwavering will she had to posess to get things done and see them through. A great read, with a solid audio book.

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heinrij
Sep 29, 2015

An interesting woman and a good book. If she could have lived another 10 years, China would have been a different country today. Rating G

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mariho
Jun 17, 2015

This book is a page turner. There's a lot of info to digest and many plots and ideas to ponder. Luckily the chapters moves fast on each key events. The most obviously interesting part of the book is the photos. Once I thumb through the photos, I can't put it down. I've only heard bad things about the Empress Dowager who's often labeled as an evil person. This book points out her accomplishments. Court life described by the author reminds me of Henry the VIII where there's a lot of Machiavelli strategy and cruel punishments. This is a must read for history buffs or someone who wants brainy entertainments.

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Eil_1
May 19, 2015

For those who are interested in the final dynasty of China, this book is a must. It is extremely detailed and historically relevant. Despite her errors, she was pivotal in establishing China as a World Power prior to the rule of Mao.

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nerowolfgal
Mar 27, 2015

Many of the early biographies that were written about Cixi were written by Chinese enemies who could heap nothing but blame and scandal on a woman who dared to rule, or were outright lies made up by writers to make their story sensational for the European markets or for political reasons.
The story of a seventeen year old girl brought into the harem along many others, who ten years later was ruling China in her own right is an incredible story. That fact that she had the common people and most of the nobles supporting her for her decades long reign is even more wonderful. She brought China into the modern world with medicine, science, trade, railways, and many other advances. ( When most of the educated people of China believed China was the literal middle of the world, she was already studying world maps and knew precisely where the major powers were.) Much of this book was written using the newly released Chinese Imperial Archives, which are available for the first time. Unfortunately there is little on her early years in the Harem, it was a strictly "forbidden" place and no records were made. Even so this is a story more incredible than any blockbuster movie.

Liz806 Sep 21, 2014

I could hardly put this book down. I enjoyed the historical facts and the day to day tidbits of life. I liked the writing style,and a few good pictures. This book makes me want to read more of the authors' books.

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D060607210
Apr 13, 2014

Author clearly has an agenda, and minimizes many of the Empress' mistakes and downright wicked behaviour, but overall it is a great book about a tremendous woman who was a victim of unbelievably greedy imperialism, all while trying to make positive changes in an ancient society comprising one third of the world's population.

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GLNovak
Apr 13, 2014

This biography was quite interesting. I learned more of the chronology of Chinese history than I ever had before, and learned that the Dowager Empress might not have been as evil and vicious as I had thought. She is portrayed here as quite the forward-thinking reformer who managed to remain at the top for years through her abilities to analyze situations and steer through all perils. It was a hard read because of the unusual way of including research into the body of the narrative. Sometimes I had to go back to see if they were the author's words or quoted. No footnotes to speak of and a section of 'Notes" at the back meant to support the author's quotes in the narrative. I did enjoy seeing the various photos included, and my interest certainly has been piqued to look further into Cixi's life and record.

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SeattleSaul
Apr 05, 2014

A well-written work by a China historian. Chang opens up the curtain on a subject that requires knowledge of China and the language and that is otherwise inaccessible to most Western readers. Chang is obviously a Cixi fan, and takes pains to show her in the best light while pointing out her inevitable human errors, some of which are hard to rationalize.
Cixi has been reviled in other publications, and perhaps she deserves this counterpoint.
Read this book with an open mind and heart.

ChristchurchLib Mar 17, 2014

"Presents an epic portrait of the 19th-century empress that provides coverage of the coup that rendered her regent after her husband's death, her defiance of centuries of traditions and formalities and her role in introducing Western political ideas and technologies." Biography and Memoir March 2014 newsletter http://www.libraryaware.com/996/NewsletterIssues/ViewIssue/1622705f-5af4-4dc2-9e26-3b28d1be098f?postId=f56cf88e-7093-4fd9-bfa7-93d497929bcc

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