Empress Orchid, the first of Anchee
Min's two novels about Empress Tzu Hsi the reader
meets the young girl, later to be known as Orchid,
and her impoverished mother, on their way to Beijing
to bury Orchid's recently deceased father. Once in
Beijing, Orchid learns that the young Emperor Hsien
Feng is looking for brides who, to preserve the
purity of the Imperial line, must be Manchurian,
which she is. She is chosen and exchanges a life of
poverty for the restricted life of a third-grade
concubine in the Forbidden City.
Through wily maneuvering she seduces the Emperor and bares him his first son, who is five years old when declared Emperor on the death of his father. To ensure that both she and her son stay alive, Orchid, who ...
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