Reading guide for Empress Orchid by Anchee Min

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Empress Orchid

by Anchee Min

Empress Orchid by Anchee Min X
Empress Orchid by Anchee Min
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Feb 2004, 352 pages

    Paperback:
    Apr 2005, 368 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

We hope the following questions will stimulate discussion for reading groups and provide a deeper understanding of Empress Orchid for every reader.
  1. Orchid's character is based on Tzu Hsi, China's longest-reigning female ruler and its last empress. In what ways does Min develop a convincing voice in Orchid? How does Min make the Forbidden City come to life?
  2. Early in the novel, Orchid hears a beggar singing: "To give it up is to accept your fate. / To give it up is to create peace. / To give it up is to gain the upper hand, and / To give it up is to have it all" (16). How does this song set the tone for the rest of the book?
  3. Success in the Forbidden City rests heavily on loyalty. How does Orchid ensure that those around her are loyal? Can anyone truly be trusted within the walls of the city? How does this affect the society as a whole?
  4. Eunuchs play a vital role in the Forbidden City, and An-te-hai quickly becomes a guide for Orchid. Why do you think An-te-hai is so eager to devote himself to her?
  5. Orchid is willing to go to any lengths to gain the Emperor's attention. What drives her determination to succeed? Do boundaries exist for how far the characters will go to secure attention, power, and affection? Why does Orchid risk her life to visit Big Sister Faun? Does she have anything to lose?
  6. Orchid comments that Emperor Hsien Feng "was his own captive" (119). Does Orchid escape a similar fate?
  7. What enables Orchid to be such a powerful ruler in a society dominated by men? How does she gain respect and remain strong amid the opposition she faces?
  8. Orchid comments: "The Emperor once told me that the Forbidden City was nothing more than a burning straw hut in a vast wilderness" (151). What does the Emperor mean by this? How is this statement illustrated throughout the novel?
  9. Min paints a picture of foreigners imposing their views on another culture. What light does she shed on Western interference with the Chinese imperial family structure? How does this relate to more recent times?
  10. The Forbidden City is a highly ordered place, tradition-bound and ruled by strict etiquette. How would you handle such restrictions? In what ways do you relate to Orchid? What confines exist in your own life and society in general?
  11. Nuharoo tells Orchid: "To truly have something is to not have it at all" (312). Do you agree with this statement? How does it apply to Orchid? To the other characters in the book?
  12. Min's purpose is to show Empress Orchid's heroic effort to revive China. Although Orchid failed, she's courageous in Min's eyes. In what ways is Orchid a heroine?

Copyright © 2007 Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Mariner Books. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • 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 $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

and discover exceptional books
for just $3.75 per month.

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: The Most Precious Substance on Earth
    The Most Precious Substance on Earth
    by Shashi Bhat
    Think of all the worst parts of puberty — all the moments you partially miss or brood about ...
  • Book Jacket
    Lightning Strike
    by William Kent Krueger
    It is the summer of 1963 in Tamarack County, Minnesota. Just outside the small town of Aurora, ...
  • Book Jacket: Bitch
    Bitch
    by Lucy Cooke
    In middle school biology class, many of us were told that men hunt and women nest, that testosterone...
  • Book Jacket: Jackie & Me
    Jackie & Me
    by Louis Bayard
    Louis Bayard's Jackie & Me offers a fictionalized version of the early relationship between John F. ...

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Some of It Was Real
    by Nan Fischer

    A psychic on the verge of stardom and a cynical journalist are brought together by secrets that threaten to tear them apart.

  • Book Jacket

    Dirt Creek
    by Hayley Scrivenor

    "A heart-wrenching mystery, Scrivenor's remarkable sense of place brings Dirt Creek to life. A stellar debut."
    —Jane Harper,

Who Said...

I write to add to the beauty that now belongs to me

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

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

I Wishes W H B W R

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.