From the beloved, internationally bestselling author of Wild Swans, and co-author of the bestselling Mao: The Unknown Story, the dramatic, epic biography of the unusual woman who ruled China for 50 years, from concubine to Empress, overturning centuries of traditions and formalities to bring China into the modern world.
A woman, an Empress of immense wealth who was largely a prisoner within the compound walls of her palaces, a mother, a ruthless enemy, and a brilliant strategist: Chang makes a compelling case that Cixi was one of the most formidable and enlightened rulers of any nation. Cixi led an intense and singular life. Chosen at the age of 12 to be a concubine by the Emperor Xianfeng, she gave birth to his only male heir who at four was designated Emperor when his father died in 1861. In a brilliant move, the young woman enlisted the help of the Emperor's widow and the two women orchestrated a coup that ousted the regents and made Cixi sole Regent. Untrained and untaught, the two studied history and politics together, ruling the huge nation from behind a curtain. When her boy died, Cixi designated a young nephew as Emperor, continuing her reign till her death in 1908. Chang gives us a complex, riveting portrait of Cixi through a reign as long as that of her fellow Empress, Victoria, whom she longed to meet: her ruthlessness in fighting off rivals; her curiosity to learn; her reliance on Westerners who she placed in key positions; and her sensitivity and desire to preserve the distinctiveness of China's past while overturning traditions (she, as Chang reveals--not Mao, as he claimed--banned footbinding) and exposing its culture to western ideas and technology.
A New York Times Notable Book
A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice
An Economist Best Book for Fall
“Empress Dowager Cixi is revisionist history at its most exuberant. As with her damning Mao exegesis, Chang hasn’t only a gut conviction about her subject. Extensive research, often into previously unexamined sources, produces hard evidence of both Cixi’s formidable gifts as a strategist, and her sincere efforts at reform. It is a wild narrative ride…. Her enthusiasm for Cixi, along with the astounding details of a half-century of outsized Chinese history, makes for a compelling, lively account, rich with drama and intrigue.” —Charles Foran, The Globe and Mail
“Absorbing…. [Chang’s] extensive use of new Chinese sources makes a strong case for a reappraisal…. What makes reading this new biography so provocative are the similarities between the challenges faced by the Qing court a century ago and those confronting the Chinese Communist Party today…. There is much to learn here from the experiences of Empress Dowager Cixi.” —Orville Schell, The New York Times Book Review
“A comprehensive biography that is three-dimensional in scope…. The portrait Chang paints of Cixi is complex….With this authoritative and epic biography, Chang harnesses Cixi’s ambition and makes a bold attempt to broadcast Cixi’s achievements against the weight of history while chronicling China at the crossroads of a new era of change.” —Jason Beerman, Toronto Star
“If there is one woman who mattered in the history of modern China, it is the empress dowager Cixi…. She was much maligned as a brutal despot and diehard conservative responsible for the fall of the Qing dynasty. That conventional image is queried in this detailed and beautifully narrated biography, which at long last restores the empress dowager to her rightful place…. [Chang] has a wonderful eye for the telling detail and excels at unraveling palace intrigues and corridor politics…. She is the first to devote a whole book to Cixi and place her at the very heart of modern Chinese history.” —Frank Dikotter, The Sunday Times
“[Empress Dowager Cixi] is…a model of the biographical form. Meticulously researched, and written in crystalline prose, the book fashions, from the indeterminate detail of Cixi’s life, and the tumultuous history though which she led her country, a narrative of remarkable cohesion and concision.” —Jonathan Chatwin, Asian Review of Books
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