Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The Last Empress

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Last Empress

by Anchee Min

The Last Empress by Anchee Min
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Mar 2007, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2008, 336 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team

Buy This Book

About this Book

Beyond the Book

Print Review

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 writings of Edmund Backhouse (1873-1944) who claimed to have had close contact with the Empress over many years and portrayed her as a ruthless, extravagant, psychopathic nymphomaniac. 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 history to blame the woman whenever possible!

Artist Katherine Carl spent 10 months with the Empress in 1903 while painting her portrait and described her as shrewd, but with great presence, charm, and graceful movements resulting in "an unusually attractive personality". Charles Denby, American envoy to China, reported in 1898 that Tzu Hsi "has shown herself to be benevolent and economical," and went on to add, "Her private character is spotless."

What was the Empress Cixi really like? We'll never know for certain, but it's likely that she was somewhere between Min's portrayal, and the woman described as the "mastermind of pure evil and intrigue" by Chinese textbooks as recently as 1991.


Pronouncing Chinese
Pinyin uses Roman letters to represent sounds in Standard Mandarin (the dialect of Mandarin spoken in Beijing). The system was developed in 1954 by the Chinese Ministry of Education in order to improve the literacy rates of adult Chinese (a couple of dozen letters being easier to learn than the more than 40,000 characters that make up Standard Mandarin). The only catch from an English speaker's point of view is that many of the Roman letters representing the Mandarin sounds do not match the sounds that English speakers associate with these letters. So if you have not studied Chinese or the Pinyin system beware of sounding out Chinese words written in Pinyin! If you feel inclined to brush up on your Chinese pronunciation try visiting pinyinpractice.com (click on the syllables in the middle of the screen to hear how they are supposed to be pronounced).


Interesting Links

This article was originally published in May 2007, and has been updated for the April 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This article is available to non-members for a limited time. You can also read these articles for free. For full access become a member today.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

One-Month Free Membership

Discover your next great read here

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Caught in the Revolution
    Caught in the Revolution
    by Helen Rappaport
    So taken were BookBrowse's First Impression reviewers by the inside look at the start of the Russian...
  • Book Jacket: Hillbilly Elegy
    Hillbilly Elegy
    by J.D. Vance
    In this illuminating memoir, Vance recounts his trajectory from growing up a "hillbilly" in ...
  • Book Jacket: The Dark Flood Rises
    The Dark Flood Rises
    by Margaret Drabble
    Margaret Drabble, the award-winning novelist and literary critic who is approaching eighty and ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Atomic Weight of Love
by Elizabeth J. Church

In the spirit of The Aviator's Wife, this resonant debut spans from World War II through the Vietnam War.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Lola
    by Melissa Scrivner Love

    An astonishing debut crime thriller about an unforgettable woman.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Our Short History
    by Lauren Grodstein

    Lauren Grodstein breaks your heart, then miraculously pieces it back together so it's stronger, than before.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

O My D B

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
Modal popup -