Dragon Lady: The Life and Legend of the Last Empress of China

Dragon Lady: The Life and Legend of the Last Empress of China

by Sterling Seagrave
     
 

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The author of The Soong Dynasty gives us our most vivid and reliable biography yet of the Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi, remembered through the exaggeration and falsehood of legend as the ruthless Manchu concubine who seduced and murdered her way to the Chinese throne in 1861.

Overview

The author of The Soong Dynasty gives us our most vivid and reliable biography yet of the Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi, remembered through the exaggeration and falsehood of legend as the ruthless Manchu concubine who seduced and murdered her way to the Chinese throne in 1861.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
The Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi, ruling from behind the silk curtain, held extraordinary power during the last decades of China's tottering empire. Her name has always been linked with unflattering adjectives like ruthless and cunning. Now, Seagrave explains why the woman has had such a bad press. In this quite irresistible history, the author argues that it was a trio of Englishmen who were ruthless and cunning, and it was through their flawed and distorted reporting on the court that Tzu Hsi received the bum rap from which she has never recovered. Seagrave's revisionism is based on the earlier revelations of Hugh Trevor-Roper's Hermit of Peking ( LJ 4/1/77), itself a lively book, but Seagrave is matchless when it comes to turning avid research into engaging history. Wonderful for the general reader (a helpful cast of some 200 characters is provided) but the book also has the notes and bibliography of a scholarly study.-- John H. Boyle, California State Univ., Chico
Booknews
A complete reappraisal of the Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi (1835-1908), exposing earlier biographer Sir Edmund Backhouse's writings about her as a hoax and forgery, and showing that far from being all-powerful, Tzu Hsi was actually a hostage of vengeful Manchu princes who were using her in a power struggle against both Chinese reformers and foreign interference. With five maps and 16 pages of illustrations. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
Spectacularly told debunking of myth and legend surrounding China's last empress—the Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi (1835-1908)—by Seagrave (The Marcos Dynasty, 1988, etc.). Born the obscure daughter of an obscure Manchu officer in 1835, Tzu's notorious ride to fame and power began in the imperial concubinage in 1856, when she gave birth to a boy heir. Seagrave's aim here is primarily to destroy longstanding myths about this most powerful of Chinese women, myths created by Western imperialist adventurers of pen and sword who painted her as the Wicked Witch of the East. The author's primary target and culprit is the infamous British literary agent Edmund Backhouse. Living in China at the turn of the century, Backhouse apparently culled gossip and rumor and fabricated evidence in order to coauthor, with J.O.P. Bland, the influential 1910 book China Under the Dowager Empress—which, according to Seagrave, presented a "bloodthirsty caricature" of Tzu that mixed "Western fantasy and Chinese pornography." Backhouse reported that Tzu's ascent to power included killing off enemies with poisoned cakes, keeping hordes of false eunuchs close at hand, and choreographing wild sexual escapades in the Imperial Palace—escapades to which Backhouse claimed invitation. Seagrave relies partly on Hugh Trevor-Roper's Hermit of Peking (1974) to expose Backhouse as a prurient fraud who willfully set out to create a fictitious empress who would satiate Western stereotypes of sex-starved Asian women and justify British adventuring inside China. Seagrave also exposes other Western writers—including Pearl Buck—who perpetuated Backhouse's seamy portrait. An engrossing, fact-filled read andmasterful debunking of a troubling distortion of Chinese history. (Sixteen pages of illustrations—not seen.)

From the Publisher
"An all-out revisionist assault on the established perception of Tzu Hsi...Seagrave provides as sad and outrageous a record of imperialism as can be found anywhere in the world."
—The San Francisco Chronicle

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780679402305
Publisher:
Knopf Publishing Group
Publication date:
05/05/1992
Edition description:
1st ed
Pages:
601
Product dimensions:
6.69(w) x 9.84(h) x (d)

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