Empress Orchid

by Anchee Min

I like reading historical fictions on royalties, and especially found this one interesting as I visited Beijing last year. It was fun to visualize the places mentioned in the book.  I didn’t go to Prince Kung’s Residence though, and would definitely make the trip should I have a chance to visit again, as the novel protrayed him to be such a likeable character.  Moreover, it was intriguing to try re-translate the poems and songs back to Chinese, to realize they are familiar verses I had studied and loved in high school.

At times though, it seems like the author had a hard time parting with all research data on hand, and the story ended up blogged down with trivial detail. Also, the narration seems to suggest that the “memoir” is written at a much later date than when the book ends, so the ending feels a bit abrupt and rushed, not to mention almost teetering on what makes a bad historical romance.  There are a few good scenes in the book and overall I did enjoy it.

The empress protrayed in the book is quite different from the historical figure though.  Through her son and nephew (her sister Rong’s son, as the former died before leaving an heir) she had practically ruled China for half a century, and had used the desperataly needed navy’s fund to build extravagant a summer garden (after the original one was damaged).  At her death, she had stashed away some eight and a half million pounds sterling in London banks under her name. She survived the two emperors and only died after installing Puyi as the (destined to be the last) emperor of China.

 

This is about the only one photo I can find of the young Cixi, though there are plenty of her as a sour-faced old lady who looks like mother-in-law from hell. 

(Edit to add: thanks for all the kind readers who pointed out that this is not a picture of Cixi, but rather of Zhen Fei, whom I believed was tortured to death by Cixi. ~Please correct me again should I make another error. ~ And let me know too should you indeed know of a picture of Cixi as a young sweet girl!)

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Published in: on April 9, 2008 at 8:29 pm  Comments (5)  

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I read the story by Johan Fabricius about her secret diary. Very exciting story. I lived that book, I imagined how beautiful she was as she depicts herself in the diary. But … I cannot find any pics where she is young and beautiful, nor the pics of her cousin…

  2. The picture does not show Ci Xi.
    It shows striking similarities with the image of the concubine Zhen Fei displayed by the Confucius Institue
    ( http://people.chinese.cn/en/article/2009-09/27/content_8815.htm ).
    According to the China scholar Björn Kjellgren the picture shows Zhen Fei.

  3. Hi
    This is not Cixi, it’s a picture of Zhen Fei, a well loved concubine of Guang Xu who was murdered by Cixi.
    Saw this pic in the Forbidden City in last Dec 🙂

  4. Try the book, Two years in the forbidden city. Written by 1st lady in waiting to the empress. A wonderful insight into everyday life at court.

  5. Came upon your read while doing search on the Dowager. Currently our TV showing ‘the legend of zhen huan’ of how an innocent girl learn to survive in the forbidden city among scheming concubines and murderous happenings, and transformed from a kind hearted girl to a power-hungry cunning woman and becomes Empress Dowager herself, which is just like Cixi. Scary to find the palace scene being played out in the present workplace too. Nice to read of your interest in Chinese history, indeed good to travel to actual places and visualize how life was back in time. Find Consort Zhen to be much prettier and prosperous looking who was once doted by Cixi but hated eventually because of her vocal political views I think. Just a thought, wonder how Cixi looks like as an innocent girl, other than always those sour face pictures 😛


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