Sunday, October 20, 2013


This is the biography of Empress Dowager Cixi, the woman who at the age of 12 became a concubine of Emperor Xianfeng which is a great honor even though she was initially only a low level member of his harem. Fortunately for her, she gave birth to the emperor's first son, and was therefore elevated to #2 concubine. She and #1 were both mothers to Cixi's son.

When the emperor died, Cixi and #1 managed a coup which made them regents over the four-year-old new emperor. The two women acted on Cixi's ability to keep her eye on the big picture as she instituted gradual reforms to pull the country out of abject poverty. Later her son died young and she got her sister's young son designated as the heir. Once again Cixi was the regent, keeping China on a steady course toward power, respectability, and prosperity.

Unfortunately that nephew undid much of the good Cixi had accomplished and he mismanaged relations with Japan so badly that the country was once again plunged into dire poverty. Only when he admitted Cixi into negotiations and political dealings did things improve.

Cixi was virtually a prisoner in the emperor's harem most of her life and yet was able to maneuver the men in power to her way of thinking. When they listened to her, China prospered, when they didn't, the country failed. She died in 1908.

The author was born in China, coming to Great Britain in 1978. This is a work based on scholarly research and the book will have footnotes, bibliography, photographs, and an index. However, it is accessible to the general reader. I didn't know anything about her, so I learned not only her story but quite a bit I had forgotten or didn't know about Chinese history. I come away from my reading with a great admiration for Cixi and for the journey China traveled from a closed country to the power it is today.

Highly recommended especially for women's history
Source: Amazon Vine


  1. Can you imagine being a concubine at age 12? I do enjoy books like this even though they make me angry at times.

  2. I just can't imagine being a woman in such an age when women had absolutely no say in their life. Even after the emperor died, she couldn't leave the harem or remarry or have a real life. She couldn't even be seen by men. No thanks.