It is written in first person and is a sympathetic account of the life of Empress Dowager Cixi - from her humble beginnings to her rise as the Empress Dowager. Names within the story are different in spelling but retain the same pronunciation - allowing the reader to identify each relevant character to his or her real life counterpart.
Soon after her death, Edmund Blackhouse, a charlatan foreign correspondent, forged Chinese court documents portraying her as a psychopathic nymphomaniac; ever since, Cixi's many western biographers have gleefully wallowed in allegations of her badness: This very partial version of events swallows whole the Confucian Chinese male view of history, which, wherever possible, deflects blame for monumental historical catastrophes - such as the collapse of the Qing dynasty in - on to women.
But the tide of opinion now seems to be turning for the last empress. Last year, Chinese television aired a hit drama series about the last years of the Qing dynasty, in which viewers were flabbergasted to see Cixi portrayed as "a nice person".
Deeply perturbed, China's rulers - all of them men - soon weighed in to criticise the show's historical heresies. Empress Orchid is a further, feminist step on the road to her rehabilitation.
Written by a woman, narrated by Cixi herself, the novel turns the last empress into a dignified, discreet sovereign, holding her country together in the face of foreign invasion, dissolute emperors and scheming courtiers.
Born into a declining gentry family inthe year-old Cixi travels to Beijing with her widowed mother, brother and sister. There they are sheltered by Cixi's uncle until she restores the family's fortunes by being selected as one of Emperor Hsien Feng's legion of concubines.
Once received into the Forbidden City, however, she is ignored by the emperor - who, after all, has several thousand other consorts to occupy him. Thus neglected, she is left to contemplate the life choices open to imperial concu bines: Immediately after Cixi enters the palace, the empress dowager takes her on an educational visit to see a legless, armless concubine stored in a jar, whose limbs she removed as punishment for monopolising the emperor.
Understandably depressed by the prospect of a lifetime spent tormenting insects, Cixi bribes her way into the imperial bedchamber.
Once there, she wins the jaded and impotent emperor's affections through a combination of plucky outspokenness and sexual wiles, and soon falls pregnant. But her success brings enemies: Beyond the palace walls, meanwhile, China is being torn apart by western invaders and domestic rebellion.
Hsien Feng disintegrates under the nervous strain, forcing Cixi to educate herself in government. As the emperor approaches death, Cixi has to fight to avoid being entombed with her husband, is hurled at a pillar by an enemy eunuch, and narrowly escapes assassination.
A maid sent to spy on Cixi is beaten to death; when the empress protests, her chief eunuch shrugs: Considering Anchee Min grew up in China and, according to her author biography, learned her English from Sesame Street, the language is generally pretty competent, and sometimes even engaging: Empress Orchid delivers a fictional peek into the intrigues of the Forbidden City and a novel take on the much reviled last empress.
But now that we have both the knives-out and revisionist versions of Cixi's life, maybe non-academic English-speaking authors could find someone else from the Chinese past to write about. Western fascination with Cixi springs from the west's fascination with itself: Anyone who read only popular books about China published in English could reasonably assume the Middle Kingdom barely had any history before westerners arrived en masse in the 19th century.
Right now, China might have fewer cars, fridges and washing machines per capita than Britain, but history is one thing it isn't short of.
It's high time we began taking interest in a bit more of one of the world's longest continuous civilisations.Empress Orchid is the first book in a duology which follows Orchid Yehonala, or better known as Empress Dowager Cixi.
In this first book we see her life as a young and poor Manchu girl, and how she decides to compete to become one of the Emperor's wives/5. Empress Orchid by Anchee Min is the story of a girl who rises from poverty to the role of Empress Dowager of China. Told as a first person narrative, the book submerges the reader into her world.
As such, the story appears as viewed through the lens of a camera - Orchid's eyes/5(48). The Last Empress (novel) The Last Empress is a historical novel by Anchee Min that provides a sympathetic account of the life of Empress Dowager Cixi (referred to as Empress Orchid), from her rise to power as Empress Tzu-Hsi, until her death at 72 years of r-bridal.comher: Houghton Mifflin.
I regret not being able to read Empress Orchid by Anchee Min before reading The Last Empress. I assume Empress Orchid reveals Orchid's childhood and rise to the throne.
Reading the books in sequence would have filled in some of the gaps, nevertheless, Min supplies the necessary information to understand the Empress's life/5. Book Summary. Empress Orchid sweeps readers into the heart of the Forbidden City to tell the fascinating story of a young concubine who becomes China's last empress.
Min introduces the beautiful Tzu Hsi, known as Orchid, and weaves an epic tale about the country girl who seized power through seduction, murder, and endless intrigue. Anchee Min's Orchid demonstrates persistence in fighting for her son's power (and thus her own as well). She is not portrayed as a sharp political operator, but rather a somewhat reluctant one.
While this book was enjoyable and interesting in its own right, it mainly serves to set the table for the main course, the story of the long reign of the dowager empress which Min continues in The Last Empress: A Novel/5(89).