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Publisher's Summary

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.

Based on newly available, mostly Chinese, historical documents such as court records, official and private correspondence, diaries, and eyewitness accounts, this biography will revolutionize historical thinking about a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.

©2014 Jung Chang (P)2014 Bolinda Publishing Pty Ltd

Critic Reviews

"A fascinating and instructive biography for anyone interested in how today’s China began." ( Library Journal)
"Cixi’s extraordinary story has all the elements of a good fairy tale: bizarre, sinister, triumphant, and terrible." ( The Economist)
"When an author as thorough, gifted, and immersed in Chinese culture as Chang writes, both scholars and general readers take notice." ( Booklist)

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Average Customer Ratings

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  • Leslie
  • Victoria, BC, Canada
  • 03-22-17

Interesting story about a controversial woman

I chose to listen to this audiobook in preparation for a trip to China, and finished it while there. Quite a different take on the Empress Dowager than the tale told by the tour guides and what I assume is official party line, but it was really interesting to visit the Forbidden Palace and other sites with this point of view in mind. Really enjoyed it.

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rather hard work

I was looking forward to this, but took a long time to get through it. Finally managed it.
The text inevitably consists of a lot of dates and lists of names etc.
Some interesting and enlightening perspectives on events such as the Boxer Rebellion. Part of Chang's aim was to rehabilitate the image of CiXi, which this succeeds in some respects.
I thought it was strange to choose a narrator who is obviously not a native mandarin speaker and who has problems with pronouncing names, places and events using the pinyin. This became confusing at times.

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  • Kirstine
  • 02-01-16

Engaging insight into 19th Century China

Impressed and moved by the author’s book Wild Swans I looked forward to listening to her account of the life and times of the Empress Dowager Cixi and her influence on the course of Chinese history. Knowing little about the latter pre the 20th Century I found this a most interesting insight into the customs and events of 19th century China as well as the learning more about the restricted life of women in the Chinese court. The empress was certainly a formidable character who was influential in modernising her country: all the more amazing for a woman who entered the court as a concubine of the lowest rank, with limited education and hide-bound by the social norms that kept her literally hidden for view.

I have read elsewhere the views of those with knowledge of the era who aver that the author has presented a rose-tinted account of the Empress. Nevertheless the book is an engaging listen from which I learnt a lot about the country.

The narrator is excellent.

9 of 11 people found this review helpful

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  • Pamela
  • 11-20-15

AN INCREDIBLE LIFE

A brilliant account of the life and times of the Dowager Empress Cixi, who began life at the Chinese court as a minor concubine. Author Jung Chang describes in masterful prose, how Cixi, in a ruthlessly male environment, leapfrogged over the heads of the emperor, princes and grandees to rule over the Chinese empire, demonstrating outstanding qualities as a gifted political tactician and major reformer of a feudal society. This remarkable woman shrewdly dealt with foreign powers, greedy for a piece of China, fended off the constant Japanese threat of invasion, and developed her plan to modernise her country in the face of fierce criticism from the Chinese aristocracy,

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • practicalshopper
  • 11-11-17

excellent

I listened to this book after enjoying Wild Swans by the same author and narrator. I was not disappointed.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • A. Faulkner
  • 12-17-16

Electrifying narration of a formidable book

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Absolutely! Pik-sen Lim dramatically brought to life Chang's epic biography. It was an absolutely pleasure to listen to this remarkable story that left me on the edge of my seat for the most part.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Empress Dowager Cixi?

The flight of Cixi from the Royal Palace during the Invasion of the 8 nations and the events that followed when she was in exile and removed from all luxuries.

Which scene did you most enjoy?

The narration of when Cixi staged the initial coup. I could imagine the key players and the machinations behind the doors. The descriptions Chang used displayed the scene well.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes but sadly I didn't have the time

Any additional comments?

Pik-sen Lim's narration was immensely enjoyable!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Barbara Earnshaw -Brown
  • 09-27-16

completely absorbing

I enjoyed this history so much. I am usually more of a fiction fan but this was so beautifully crafted and the subject herself so extraordinary that I found myself completely lost in it. The story is utterly mesmerising and the narration superb. I have not got a bad word to say about it.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Eileen Montador
  • 04-01-15

Intriguing

An interesting view of China told by a great story teller. A different way of looking at the history of the region.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Soranus
  • 09-08-18

Fascinating insight and well read

This book kept me enthralled and entertained for hours at a time. I normally can only concentrate on books like this for about half an hour at a time but this was difficult to put down.

I had the usual very negative impression of Cixi but this book created a great insight into what was a very complex lady. I ended up sympathetic towards her and admiring her achievements in very difficult circumstances. This book puts into context the decision making process and provides a feeling of life in the Forbidden City and life in China at the time.

The book is very well read by Pik-sen Lim.

I will certainly see the Forbidden City in a different light on my next visit.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 08-16-18

Something I knew nothing about-China and the Empre

Loved this book, it's opened up a whole new world for me as I knew nothing of China or the Empress Dowager, I look forward to reading more about China in the future.
I found the narration to be excellent.

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  • sonia evans
  • 07-30-18

I struggled with this book.

I really did struggle with this book. it's definitely a weighty tale but very heavy going. I just couldn't finish it.

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  • Vonny Milonny
  • 12-20-17

FANTASTIC!

I enjoyed EVERYTHING about this beautifully narrated book and couldn't recommend it enough. Such a fascinating look at China as it stepped into the modern age. The Empress Dowager was most definitely a lady ahead of her time.