Shelves: historical , gift , owned-challenge Bullet Review: So bittersweet at the end. The biggest problem with this though was how hurried and rushed it felt in places. But there are trials and struggles, internal and external, not to mention a media and Western world that Bullet Review: So bittersweet at the end. But there are trials and struggles, internal and external, not to mention a media and Western world that loves to portray her as a tyrant and despot. Who is the real Empress Orchid? Maybe this book shows a side that traditional historical writers have omitted.
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This very partial version of events swallows whole the Confucian Chinese male view of history, which, wherever possible, deflects blame for monumental historical catastrophes - such as the collapse of the Qing dynasty in - on to women. But the tide of opinion now seems to be turning for the last empress.
Last year, Chinese television aired a hit drama series about the last years of the Qing dynasty, in which viewers were flabbergasted to see Cixi portrayed as "a nice person". Empress Orchid is a further, feminist step on the road to her rehabilitation. Written by a woman, narrated by Cixi herself, the novel turns the last empress into a dignified, discreet sovereign, holding her country together in the face of foreign invasion, dissolute emperors and scheming courtiers. Born into a declining gentry family in , the year-old Cixi travels to Beijing with her widowed mother, brother and sister.
Once received into the Forbidden City, however, she is ignored by the emperor - who, after all, has several thousand other consorts to occupy him. Immediately after Cixi enters the palace, the empress dowager takes her on an educational visit to see a legless, armless concubine stored in a jar, whose limbs she removed as punishment for monopolising the emperor.
Understandably depressed by the prospect of a lifetime spent tormenting insects, Cixi bribes her way into the imperial bedchamber. But her success brings enemies: the moment her pregnancy is announced, she faces the threat of poisoning by jealous fellow concubines. Beyond the palace walls, meanwhile, China is being torn apart by western invaders and domestic rebellion. Hsien Feng disintegrates under the nervous strain, forcing Cixi to educate herself in government. As the emperor approaches death, Cixi has to fight to avoid being entombed with her husband, is hurled at a pillar by an enemy eunuch, and narrowly escapes assassination.
Considering Anchee Min grew up in China and, according to her author biography, learned her English from Sesame Street, the language is generally pretty competent, and sometimes even engaging: bamboo rafts drift down a river "like a giant loose necklace". Empress Orchid delivers a fictional peek into the intrigues of the Forbidden City and a novel take on the much reviled last empress. Anyone who read only popular books about China published in English could reasonably assume the Middle Kingdom barely had any history before westerners arrived en masse in the 19th century.
The Last Empress
A man who does not like power will suffer from its cruelty. In this highly ordered place -- tradition-bound, ruled by strict etiquette, rife with political and erotic tension -- the Emperor, "the Son of Heaven," performs two duties: he must rule the court and conceive an heir. To achieve the latter, tradition provides a stupendous hierarchy of hundreds of wives and concubines. It is as a minor concubine that the beautiful Tzu Hsi, known as Orchid as a girl, enters the Forbidden City at the age of seventeen.
Behind the wall
It is written in first person and is a sympathetic account of the life of Empress Dowager Cixi - from her humble beginnings to her rise as the Empress Dowager. Names within the story are different in spelling but retain the same pronunciation - allowing the reader to identify each relevant character to his or her real life counterpart. Plot summary[ edit ] The novel follows the life of a young Manchu girl named Orchid Yehonala. The story begins with the death of her father who was once a governor of Wuhu. His death left Orchid, her two siblings and her mother in poverty.