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!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: If We Were Villains
    If We Were Villains
    by M L. Rio
    22 out of 28 of our reviewers rated If We Were Villains four or five stars, giving it an overall ...
  • Book Jacket: The Islamic Enlightenment
    The Islamic Enlightenment
    by Christopher de Bellaigue
    In this comprehensive and well-researched history, de Bellaigue examines the evolution of Islamic ...
  • Book Jacket: The Leavers
    The Leavers
    by Lisa Ko
    The day before Deming Guo saw his mother for the last time, she surprised him at school. A navy blue...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood

A richly layered novel of hearts broken seemingly beyond repair and then bound by a stunning act of human devotion.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Scribe of Siena
    by Melodie Winawer

    Equal parts transporting love story, meticulously researched historical fiction, and compelling time-travel narrative.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Chalk Pit

The Chalk Pit:
A Ruth Galloway Mystery

A string of murders takes Ruth underground in the newest book in the series.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

T W Don't M A R

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 -