At the age of 16, in a nationwide selection for royal consorts, Cixi was chosen as one of the emperor’s numerous concubines. When he died, in 1861, their five-year-old son succeeded to the throne. Cixi at once launched a palace coup against the regents appointed by her husband and made herself the real ruler of China - behind the throne, literally, with a silk screen separating her from her officials who were all male.
In this groundbreaking biography, Jung Chang vividly describes how Cixi fought against monumental obstacles to change China. Under her the ancient country attained virtually all the attributes of a modern state: industries, railways, electricity, the telegraph, and an army and navy with up-to-date weaponry. It was she who abolished gruesome punishments like “death by a thousand cuts” and put an end to foot-binding. She inaugurated women’s liberation and embarked on the path to introduce parliamentary elections to China. Chang comprehensively overturns the conventional view of Cixi as a diehard conservative and cruel despot.
Based on newly available, mostly Chinese, historical documents such as court records, official and private correspondence, diaries, and eyewitness accounts, this biography will revolutionize historical thinking about a crucial period in China’s - and the world’s - history. Packed with drama, fast paced, and gripping, it is both a panoramic depiction of the birth of modern China and an intimate portrait of a woman: as the concubine to a monarch, as the absolute ruler of a third of the world’s population, and as a unique stateswoman.
"A fascinating and instructive biography for anyone interested in how today’s China began." (
"Cixi’s extraordinary story has all the elements of a good fairy tale: bizarre, sinister, triumphant, and terrible." ( The Economist)
"When an author as thorough, gifted, and immersed in Chinese culture as Chang writes, both scholars and general readers take notice." ( Booklist)
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