The last decades of the nineteenth century were a violent period in Chinas history marked by humiliating foreign incursions and domestic rebellion, ultimately ending in the demise of the Ching dynasty. The only constant during this tumultuous time was the power wielded by one person, the resilient, ever-resourceful Tzu Hsi, Lady Yehonala -- or Empress Orchid, as readers came to know her in Anchee Mins critically acclaimed novel covering the first part of her life.
The Last Empress is the story of Orchids dramatic transition from a strong-willed, instinctive young woman to a wise and politically savvy leader who ruled China for more than four decades. Moving from the intimacy of the concubine quarters into the spotlight of the world stage, Orchid must face not only the perilous condition of her empire but also a series of devastating personal losses, as first her son and then her adopted son succumb to early death. Yearning only to step aside, and yet growing constantly into her role, only sheallied with the progressives, but loyal to the conservative Manchu clan of her dynastycan hold the nations rival factions together.
Anchee Min offers a powerful revisionist portrait based on extensive research of one of the most important figures in Chinese history. Viciously maligned by the western press of the time as the Dragon Lady, a manipulative, blood-thirsty woman who held onto power at all costs, the woman Min gives us is a compelling, very human leader who assumed power reluctantly, and who sacrificed all she had to protect those she loved and an empire that was doomed to die.
.... The result is a strangely dry and emotionless novel which makes it difficult to feel a connection with any of the many secondary characters, because their time on stage is so short. Having said that, The Last Empress has much to offer. Not least of which are vivid details of Imperial court life and an enlightening revisionist portrait of the woman that the Western press maligned as the "Dragon Lady". (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
Los Angeles Times - Seth Faison
In Empress Orchid (2004) ...Min crafted a taut narrative that followed Orchid as she grew from a naive young woman into a capable and conscientious empress. The storytelling was absorbing, and Min used historical events and sensuous, textured descriptions of China to set the scene well.
This time, unfortunately, it is not a convincing portrayal. The Last Empress progressively loses coherence as Orchid rises in authority. When those around her fall away, she laments in not-too-believable fashion, nor do her justifications for seizing power at critical junctures ring true. Her personality is not particularly engaging, and secondary characters — particularly her legendary top eunuchs, An-te-hai and Li Lien-ying — are (contrary to all historical evidence) disappointingly dull.
Washington Post - Donna Riftkind
Today's Tzu Hsi, as Min's revisionist pair of novels imagines her, suits a contemporary Western audience as the vision of an empress who very nearly had it all: vulnerability and strength, motherhood and power, earthiness and dignity, compassion and ambition.
The great swatches of historical detail will enlighten readers who generally view history from a Western perspective, but with Orchid so busy explaining herself, the human story of a woman who denies her instincts never quite emerges.
Min attacks the popular conception of Tzu Hsi as a corrupt, ruthless, power-hungry assassin, but the results read less like a novel than a didactic memoir.
Min consistently blends meticulous historical research with firsthand knowledge of Chinese culture and the female perspective to bring to readers a unique look at women in Chinese history.
Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi
(spelled Cixi in Pinyin;
pronouced Tsoo Shee) had a bad
reputation while she lived and
after she died. However, in
recent decades the tide of
historical opinion has been
shifting. Much of the West's
view of Cixi comes from the
Edmund Backhouse (1873-1944)
who claimed to have had close
contact with the Empress over
many years and portrayed her as
a ruthless, extravagant,
However, in 1974 Backhouse was
revealed to be an unmitigated
fraud. Unfortunately, by that
time, false information about
the Empress had been in
circulation in the West for many
decades; with similar
misinformation circulating in
China, where it suited the
Confucian view of...
From within the hopelessness and terror of one of the darkest passages in human history, Dai Sijie has fashioned a beguiling and unexpected story about the resilience of the human spirit, the wonder of romantic awakening and the magical power of storytelling.
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...