Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China (Paperback)
A New York Times Notable Book
Empress Dowager Cixi (1835–1908) is the most important woman in Chinese history. She ruled China for decades and brought a medieval empire into the modern age.
At the age of sixteen, 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.
Cixi reigned during extraordinary times and had to deal with a host of major national crises: the Taiping and Boxer rebellions, wars with France and Japan—and an invasion by eight allied powers including Britain, Germany, Russia and the United States. Jung Chang not only records the Empress Dowager’s conduct of domestic and foreign affairs, but also takes the reader into the depths of her splendid Summer Palace and the harem of Beijing’s Forbidden City, where she lived surrounded by eunuchs—one of whom she fell in love, with tragic consequences. The world Chang describes here, in fascinating detail, seems almost unbelievable in its extraordinary mixture of the very old and the very new.
Based on newly available, mostly Chinese, historical documents such as court records, official and private correspondence, diaries and eyewitness accounts, this biography will revolutionize historical thinking about a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.
About the Author
Jung Chang is the best-selling author of Wild Swans, which The Asian Wall Street Journal called the most widely read book about China, and Mao: The Unknown Story (with Jon Halliday), which was described by Time as “an atom bomb of a book.” Her books have been translated into more than forty languages and sold more than fifteen million copies outside mainland China, where they are both banned. She was born in China in 1952 and moved to Britain in 1978. She lives in London.
Praise for Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China…
“Cixi’s extraordinary story has all the elements of a good fairy tale: bizarre, sinister, triumphant and terrible.” —The Economist
“A truly authoritative account of Cixi’s rule. Her story is both important and evocative.” —Orville Schell, The New York Times Book Review
“A fantastic Machiavellian tale. . . . Dives into a genuinely fascinating figure: a fierce imperial consort who rules behind the thrones of two successive Chinese emperors and helped ease China into the twentieth century.” —New York magazine
“Certain to become the standard by which all future biographies of the Dowager Empress are measured.” —The Daily Beast
“Jung Chang has written a pathbreaking and generally persuasive book.” —The New York Review of Books
“If there is one woman who mattered in the history of modern China, it is the empress dowager Cixi. . . . [Her] conventional image is queried in this detailed and beautifully narrated biography, which at long last restores the empress dowager to her rightful place.” —The Sunday Times (London)
“Sets out to rehabilitate the reputation of a woman who, [Chang] argues, helped modernize China. . . . While Chang acknowledges Cixi’s missteps—such as allowing the Boxers to fight against a Western invasion, which led to widespread slaughter—she sees her as a woman whose energy, farsightedness, and ruthless pragmatism transformed a country.” —The New Yorker
“[An] authoritative and epic biography.” —The Toronto Star
“Well-researched and provocative. . . . Cixi deserves to be remembered and this book is to be welcomed for giving an important figure in Chinese history the prominence she deserves. . . . This spirited biography reminds us that a greater female presence might be a trigger for much-needed political change.” —New Statesman
“Fascinating. . . . Wonderfully illuminating. . . . Jung Chang’s new book gives the infamous concubine Cixi her due.” —The Spectator
“This is a rich, dramatic story of rebellions, battles, plotting, rivalry, foreign invasion, punishment and forbidden love. . . . [Chang] uses new evidence and meticulous research to cast a spotlight on the amazing woman she regards as the mother of modern China.” —Daily Mail
“Corrects a longstanding misconception about a woman whose impact on China can’t be overstated. It’s a fascinating look at power, politics and the gender divide.” —BookPage
“A rich and fascinating book that never relaxes its hold on the reader despite the marshalling of a mass of complex historical details seen through the prism of Cixi.” —The New York Journal of Books