Empress Dowager Cixi Pdf 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 sixteen, 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 reader 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Based on newly available, mostly Chinese, historical documents such as court records, official and private correspondence, diaries and eyewitness accounts, this biography will revolutionize historical thinking about a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.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Turbulences of orchid power
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on December 13, 2013
Author Jung Chang was very successful with her semi private history of 20th century China, the Wild Swans. She upset some readers with her next book, a very critical and very readable bio of Mao.
Now she comes out with a new surprise, a rehabilitation of the much reviled Empress Dowager Cixi.
Cixi, in this book, is not the xenophobic shrew with the perverse lusts. That portrait, says JC, was based on her opponents’ sensationalist calumny and ideological dishonesty.
JC’s correction of myths begins pre Cixi, with emperor Qianlong’s famous letter to King George. Qianlong did not reject the British trade and embassy offers out of ignorance, but as a defensive measure. The Qing world was already beginning to crumble. The emperor wanted to keep the foreign devils away. As we know, that failed.
When Cixi started her career as an emperor’s consort, the empire was in very deep trouble. The Taiping rebellion, which was probably the bloodiest civil war in world history, was still going strong, and foreigners had also waged war against China, over a trade dispute. They were winning, which enraged the Qing emperors in their downward slide in history. Cixi maneuvered herself into a dominating position behind the weak men on the throne.
Some parts of the narration are not really so interesting. For example, we learn in much detail what the lady’s hobbies were during her phases of retirement. Even the story how Cixi managed to become a person with power, by a veritable coup d’état, is a bit of a bore.
On the other hand, the consequence was beneficial to China. A relatively long period of peace and prosperity was started, which helped China solve the Taiping crisis, and brought some modernization and progress. The first quarter century after her coup is considered a success. Then she handed over to her nephew, and things went out of shape.
One standard accusation against CX is that she wasted money for the restauration of the Summer Palace, which English and French soldiers had destroyed, and that therefore the navy wasn’t able to modernize due to lack of funds, and therefore China lost an important war to Japan, which had serious long term consequences. JC defends CX against this, and puts the blame fully with the new emperor and his advisers, who stopped modernizing the navy due to a lack of strategic insight.
Japan started an expansionist move and beat China badly in the war. A ruinous peace was enforced, which was the beginning of the end for the Qing dynasty. The treaty of 1895 had extortionist conditions for indemnities, and took Taiwan away from China. JC holds that CX has been unjustly blamed for the defeat and the financial disaster. The defeat also made other foreign powers greedy, as it showed the extent of China’s weakness. Their impertinence enraged CX, which made her sympathize with the Boxers. After the Boxers were beaten, and CX still in place, a decade of unprecedented opening happened, which, however, didn’t help Qing dynastic survival. They were foreign rulers, after all.
JC tends to ascribe all kinds of good intentions and enlightened views to Cixi. I am not sure about the solidity of her proof, so we are never quite sure if she offers solid facts, or maybe she just puts her own picture into it.
JC will also write things like this: Prince Gong’s instinctive reaction was this…, but he did that… While this is all quite possibly what happened, we would like to know how the author knows.
This is an interesting book, but hardly a definitive biography of Cixi.
Gwynn B. Owens
5.0 out of 5 stars Cixi: The ultimate survivor!
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on December 21, 2014
In response to the many criticisms of this biography by Jung Chang being predisposed to admiration of Cixi rather than impartial, let us all imagine the empire of China as it was. Thoroughly despotic, enshrined traditions that refused updating, Emperors isolated and encumbered by court rituals and the courtiers who clung almost irrationally to them, China had imposed self isolation upon itself further encouraging fatal stagnation. For all its intense inventiveness and the one grand voyage of exploration, China faced no real unity, entrenched in Confucian ideology, a corrupt bureaurcracy, and numerous peasant revolts. With no incentive to change, there was no standing professional national army, only regional armies whose governance lay under the governors of those states, no navy, China was in actuality very weak. Foreign nations found her ready for despoliation, and in the classic imperialistic trend of the 19th century, China suffered humiliation after humiliation at their unjust invasions, and found her people enslaved to the opium trade. She was raped and pillaged; her national treasures looted and burned, then made to pay reparations to those who savaged her!
Imagine how Europeans and Americans would respond to enforced religious proselytism, alien take overs of ports, and having alien armed services to quell any revolt against them and to punish any person who harmed one of the occupiers’ people! Imagine being treated as a second class citizen in one’s own country! Imagine the legitimate governments having to bow to their demands, to helplessly watch their populaces succumb to drug addiction with drugs provided by those “civilized Christian” nations!
Chang’s biography of this amazing woman who overcame the stigma of her sex, her lack of formal education, and whose survival skills allowed her to become a formidable force, reveals Cixi to be thoroughly human, a complex woman with many more virtues than flaws. She had no points of reference from which she could derive deduced plans of action; she had to learn by doing, so of course she made mistakes, of course she authorized actions that came from her gut reaction to the almost impossible horrific situations created by the so-called civilized countries. In the end she regretted her missteps bespeaking her conscience.
She never had recognition as the legitimate leader of her country; she could not interact with foreigners because of court protocol. She was constantly balancing her rule with managing her obstreperous Court Advisors, all while learning how to interact with aggressive, pugnacious, greedy, avaricious foreign powers. She was almost literally blindfolded with her hands tied behind her back! Remember, China had no previous foreign missions, no previous diplomatic contact, and no one who could or would school her. China had closed her doors; China now found herself totally unprepared for the whirlwind landing on her shores.
Cixi overcame her inexperience by being precociously able to evolve; she overcame her prejudices by becoming open to change. Placed into her shoes with only her knowledge of her environment, who among us could rise (let alone survive) from concubine to empress, then from a virtually powerless ceremonial position to being the invisible ultimate power of the largest nation in the world even while constrained by obsolescent but nearly insurmountable court protocol!
Chang did an amazing scholarly work relying on newly uncovered primary resources that bely previous held beliefs about Cixi. This is an amazingly well written biography that is also easily read. Considering it is not welcome in China may speak to its veracity.
For future editions, a pronunciation guide would be welcomed by most. Also numbered footnotes would be lovely.
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating revisionist biography
Reviewed in the United Kingdom 🇬🇧 on July 31, 2021
This is a well researched biography by the author better known for Wild Swans. Cixi was the most powerful woman in Chinese history effectively exercising executive power over the largest state in the world for most of the period between 1861, when her young son became Emperor Tongzhi, and 1908 when she died. The role of the concubine in the Chinese imperial hierarchy could be very powerful if she was the mother of the emperor, and she exercised power in the early years of this period with her husband’s Empress, Zhen, a much weaker figure personally and politically, though apparently they got on well. Tongzhi assumed power for himself for just a couple of years before he died, possibly of syphilis, in 1875. The next Emperor was Cixi’s adopted son (actually nephew) Guangxu, another boy over whom she could exert influence and rule herself (though there no real other candidates for the imperial role). She struggled to bring China into the modern age through bringing in trains, telegraphs and industry through more positive relations with foreign countries. There were several foreign invasions with nearly all the Western powers, plus Japan, invading and obtaining chunks of Chinese territory in the name of trade and economic expansion. So the difficult balance for Cixi was to learn from the west to bring China into the modern age, while patriotically fighting their imperial pretensions against Chinese territory. This contradiction was most clearly demonstrated in the nationalist Boxer uprising in 1900. After nearly being dethroned, she managed to draw on deep wells of support and come back to power, instituting what by Chinese standards, a fairly radical programme of reform, including abolishing footbinding and torture, a wider curriculum for mandarins beyond the Confucian classics and including travel abroad, promoting education for women, legal reform and even an outline for a form of parliamentary democracy, albeit still with imperial executive power ultimately still intact. Historians differ over the interpretation of these events, with the author challenging the traditional view that Guangxu was behind these reforms and Cixi conservatively opposing them. Jung Chang’s interpretation seems more likely given the thrust of her life and policies over the decades of her rule and Chang considers that “Few of her achievements have been recognised and, when they are, the credit is invariably given to the men serving her. This is largely due to a basic handicap: that she was a woman and could only rule in the name of her sons – so her precise role has been little known.” Cixi seems a fascinating and contradictory figure, a mixture of the Medieval and modern, a cautious reformer but with a capacity for ruthlessness that shocks on occasion.
About Jung Chang Author Of Empress Dowager Cixi pdf Book
Jung Chang (simplified Chinese: 张戎; traditional Chinese: 張戎; pinyin: Zhāng Róng; Wade-Giles: Chang Jung, born March 25, 1952 in Yibin, Sichuan) is a Chinese-born British writer now living in London, best known for her family autobiography Wild Swans, selling over 10 million copies worldwide but banned in mainland China.
Empress Dowager Cixi pdf, Paperback, Hardcover Book Information
- Publisher : Knopf; 1st edition (October 29, 2013)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 464 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0307271609
- ISBN-13 : 978-0307271600
- Item Weight : 1.91 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.62 x 1.55 x 9.56 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #634,857 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #1,027 in Chinese History (Books)
- #2,179 in Women in History
- #6,905 in Women’s Biographies
- Customer Reviews: 4.4 out of 5 stars 1,160 ratings
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