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Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China | [Jung Chang]

Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China

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.
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Publisher's Summary

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 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.

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 listener 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.

©2013 Jung Chang (P)2013 Random House Audio

What the Critics Say

"When an author as thorough, gifted, and immersed in Chinese culture as Chang writes, both scholars and general readers take notice." (Margaret Flanagan, Booklist)

"A fascinating and instructive biography for anyone interested in how today's China began." (Library Journal)

"An impassioned defense of the daughter of a government employee who finagled her way to becoming the long-reigning empress dowager, feminist, and reformer….In an entertaining biography, the empress finally has her day." (Kirkus Reviews)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.8 (56 )
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  •  
    Heidi Maple Valley, WA, United States 01-09-14
    Heidi Maple Valley, WA, United States 01-09-14 Member Since 2011

    I read epic sci-fi and historic fiction, good non-fiction science, classic philosophy, history and little bits of what blows through my ears

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    "Very Important if flawed history of a leader"

    Critics of this work argue that Jung Chang has fallen in love with her subject, lost objectivity, taken a narrow view, abandoned scholarly rigor, and heavens, failed to entertain.
    I am not a scholar of Chinese History and have only a little Mandarin but I feel compelled to respond to some of these assertions.

    Jung Chang clearly sympathizes with Cixi, and I can not imagine her failing to do so. The author has a more intimate connection to her subject than either a doctrinal scholar of the People's Republic or any Western male scholar will. In fact, I find myself becoming incensed by the decidedly male view that seems to suggest that such a constrained, uneducated, besieged woman, standing for the vast and deep heritage of the Dynasty that self-identified as China could have done much better. The author does not hide Cixi's failings, in fact she is careful to attempt to discover how Cixi perceived those now condemnable actions. She does however fail to anticipate the criticism of Cixi's choice to promote constitutional monarchy, and her weak provision for succession.

    We have not been provided with this view before. It is a fascinating study of willful leadership and a sense of responsibility from a position of privileged powerlessness - and somehow feels familiar and understandable even now to an average Western woman in the 21st century. Jolene Kim's appropriately noninflected delivery and slightly accented voice in quotation lend an appropriate atmosphere to the work. The author is doing her level best to give this woman her voice. Western critiques that attack her employment of epithet and mannerism are ignorant of historic cultural forms.

    I do agree however, that better source citation, anticipation and address of objections, and inclusion of the external viewpoint from outside of the court to help us understand what she could and could not have understood and significant junctures in her rule would have improved this work. I also agree that the treatment of some topics are either over-extended or underrepresented.

    I think it is perhaps important to recognize the limits of any human holding together the last moments of a regime with some compassion. To do so, may help our own leaders see in those people the image of themselves.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    MarleneO Okemos, MI, United States 09-10-14
    MarleneO Okemos, MI, United States 09-10-14 Member Since 2010

    MarleneO

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    "Not the Best"
    What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

    Someone else reading this.


    What was most disappointing about Jung Chang’s story?

    I had a difficult time listening to it, so I couldn't say.


    Would you be willing to try another one of Jolene Kim’s performances?

    Never!


    What character would you cut from Empress Dowager Cixi?

    None.


    Any additional comments?

    I bought the tape so I could listen to it while I knitted. I had purchased the book, but thought listening to it would work better because the names were so difficult to pronounce. Not! I ended up reading the book, only listening to the tape intermittently so I knew how to pronounce the Chinese names. The book was a great read; the tape was an awful listen.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Patricia PENSACOLA, FL, United States 03-20-14
    Patricia PENSACOLA, FL, United States 03-20-14 Member Since 2012
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    "God awful narration"
    Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

    Perhaps but the narration has biased me


    Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Jolene Kim?

    Anyone


    Any additional comments?

    I was really looking forward to this but the narrator killed it for me. So much has been written on western political history and I have read and listened to a lot. This seemed to be a break from all that and a glimpse into a different world. Had it been narrated by someone else I think I would have enjoyed it but alas it was not. Her performance reminds me of one reading a children's book.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bookoholics Anon 02-01-14 Listener Since 2009

    No Pink Ponies

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    "Excellent history--different viewpoint"
    What made the experience of listening to Empress Dowager Cixi the most enjoyable?

    I've read almost every bio of Cixi there is since high school, when I studied Chinese history. This bio puts a new and modern spin on how Cixi actually tried to modernize China at the turn of the 20th Century--while maintaining order at home and keeping foreign powers at bay. I knew the players well but the new viewpoint on her reign as empress went contrary to many popular opinions that she was reactionary and a deterrent to modernization. Fascinating! And seeing how Japan, Russia, and the Europeans played their part in disrupting the Ching Dynasty and the entire region is likewise a deep look back into a land of mystery to most Americans.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Cixi is one of history's most fascinating women. But Prince Chun, her brother-in-law (doubly so, half brother of the Emperor and married to Cixi's sister) is equally fascinating in this book, where he mostly plays the bad guy but one who reforms in the end.


    What does Jolene Kim bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    Jolene seems to have good Chinese pronunciation--while I can't be sure, she does seem to do a good job.


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

    Dragon and Phoenix: China's entry into the modern world during the reign of Empress Cixi.


    Any additional comments?

    highly recommended

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Marco Italy 12-14-13
    Marco Italy 12-14-13 Member Since 2009

    Fantasy geek, literature lover!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Very Interesting Stateswoman"
    Where does Empress Dowager Cixi rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    This is a very interesting book, well written and well performed by the narrator. It ranks pretty high in my collection of historical biographies so far.


    What did you like best about this story?

    The author, even though certainly supportive of the empress's achievements, is not overall biased and is frank about certain decisions Cixi had to make in order to preserve her power and the Chinese empire.


    Which character – as performed by Jolene Kim – was your favorite?

    It's funny the way the narrator switches to "chinese" English pronunciation when "performing" the empress in some of her letters or alleged sentences spoken to Ministers or Grandees or other.


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

    "The Dragon Woman"


    Any additional comments?

    This book is a cohesive overview of 19th century China and establishes Cixi as the real "maker". So, it makes an interesting hearing not only for people interested in the Empress tout court but also for people interested in Chinese history. Contrary to many biographies, Ms Chang doesn't give in to gossip. The performer, Jolene Kim, does a very good job (rhythm of the narration, clarity, even "performance" of some of the personages).

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
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