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Friday, 17 October 2014

Jung Chang - Empress Dowager Cixi

review written by Brian Lowen & read on the bookshow 2014

This is the story of Cixi who rose from being a lowly concubine in the Emperor’s harem in his palace in Beijing to become the virtual ruler of all China, from 1861 to 1908.

She was lucky in being the first concubine to produce a healthy son for the Emperor, which dramatically raised her status.

Emperor Xianfeng hated foreigners and kept China’s borders and ports closed to visiting traders from other nations, but after losing the Opium Wars with Britain and France he was forced to open up some ports to trade and this was when Britain acquired the deserted and desolate island of Hong Kong as a port for her ships.

On the death of the Emperor, Cixi led a coup to gain power from the eight Regents appointed under the Emperor’s will until Cixi’s son was old enough to take power. She gained the confidence of one of the Princes and reigned with the Emperor’s widow, the Dowager. Cixi was also made a Dowager and so China was effectively ruled by two Empress Dowagers behind the front of Prince Gong and his Council of Advisors. All edicts issued were not legal unless they bore the seal of the two Empress Dowagers. Empress Dowager Zhen did all the administration and was content to let Cixzi make the policy. 

When her son was made Emperor at the age of sixteen he was a disappointment – more interested in having fun than ruling the country. He was content to let his Mother continue to do all the work with him as the figurehead. When he died prematurely young the way was open for Cixi to continue her modernisation plans, after a suitable period of mourning.
She sent envoys to many western countries and then introduced the telegraph system, coal mining and railways, to which there was much opposition as it was feared that the trains would disturb the dead in their graves.

She appointed another young child as Emperor and she continued to rule for forty years until she died in 1908, when Mao seized power, assisted by Russia. She was a remarkable woman who survived several assassination attempts and the Boxer revolution, plus wars with Britain, Germany, Russia and Japan.

She brought modernity to China and set a standard that has not been matched. Under her leadership China began to acquire all the attributes of a modern state.

A truly remarkable women which makes a great read. Very interesting as she is virtually unknown in today’s world.

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