At the age of sixteen, the beautiful and elegant T’zu-hsi entered the Forbidden City in Peking. The daunting walls, enormous buildings and massive pillars loomed around her as she walked deeper and deeper into its confines. She entered the palace as a timid young girl, but it was from within these walls that she would keep her claws around all of China. Marina Warner describes the life of this ruthless enchantress in The Dragon Empress, an essential read for understanding Chinese culture during the 18th and early 19th centuries.
Tz’u-hsi, also known as the empress dowager, ruled all of China from 1861 to 1908. It is amazing that a woman ruled over 400 million people during this time. She began as a courtesan in the emperor’s court, but after bearing a male heir she quickly gained power. After the death of the emperor and the death of her son, Tz’u-hsi appointed her nephew to the throne. She quickly became dissatisfied with him, however, and took all the power for herself. Tz’u-hsi hated the outside powers who were carving up China for themselves, so she encouraged the Boxer Rebellion. The Boxers attacked foreigners in an attempt to get them to leave. Tz’u-hsi also tried to keep China traditional and hated modernization. She was a very powerful and cunning woman who manipulated those around her.
The book begins with the birth of Tz’u-hsi in 1835 and goes on to explain her family situation. It describes her path to power and how she manipulated the eunuchs in the palace to act as her spies and personal confidants. From the circumstances of her birth to her fatal fight with dysentery, Tz’u-hsi’s life is described in great detail within the...
... middle of paper ...
...cited, so it is a great tool in understanding Tz’u-hsi. However, I would have believed Marina more if she cited personal accounts of Chinese people who lived during Tz’u-hsi’s time. I would like to know how the people of China really felt, and if it is how Marina describes it.
Despite any inherent weaknesses in the book, Marina Warner has done an incredible job bringing the story of Tz’u-hsi and a vivid image of China to the world. The photographs that she placed in this book depict court life and compliment the book well. Marina’s mastery of words allows her to paint the scenes of Tz’u-hsi’s life. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in discovering the intimate details of Tz’u-hsi’s life, her road to power, and China at the turn of the century.
Warner, Marina. The Dragon Empress. New York: Atheneum, 1986.
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