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

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.

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 ...

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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.

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.

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Editorial Reviews

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
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.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679733690
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/28/1993
  • Series: Vintage Series
  • Edition description: 1st Vintage Books ed
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 624
  • Sales rank: 1,048,816
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.08 (d)

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 29, 2009

    The Evil Empress Dowager is a myth

    As at May 2009 this is still the latest substantial biography on the Empress Dowager. Sterling Seagrave in this very thoroughly-researched biography of the Empress Dowager has presented compelling evidence that the traditional view that the Dowager was all powerful and evil was based on false facts mainly concocted by Sir Edmund Backhouse. The evidence he presented was that the Dowager was powerless and surrounded by powerful men who had their own agenda and aims.

    The strength of this book is that it is not confined to the life of the Dowager. This is understandable as so little is known of her life. We do not even know her name. When she became Empress Dowager, she was known by the title Tzu Hsi, meaning Empress of the West, because she lived in pavilions on the west side of the Forbidden City. (see p18-19 )


    This book also described the events of Manchu China from the two infamous Opium Wars carried out by the English to the Boxer Rebellion/ Uprising (a misnomer as there was no rebellion/ uprising. The Boxers' aim was to exterminate all Chinese Christians and the foreign missionaries and not to overthrow the Manchu Empire).

    This book also described in detail the lives of Sir Robert Hart and Dr George Ernest Morrison in China. Hart came to China age 19. He was an Irishman who loved China. He rose to become a trusted confidant of the Manchu court and was the Inspector General of Chinese Customs from 1861 age 26 till 1908 age 73 when he finally decided to leave China forever. He died in England in 1911 while preparing to return to China to finish his life in his beloved China. (See pages 146, 419 and 453). Dr Morrison was the correspondent for the Times of London.

    I commend the writers for their dilligence and scholarship.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2000

    An Extremely Detailed History of Events During the Empress Dowager's Reign

    This is an outstanding and extremely detailed nonfiction which highlights almost every single historical event (at least to me, it seem like it) that occured during Tzu Hsi's reign. It describes how the corruption between the royal princes and ministers lead to the fall of the Ching Dynasty, and what the real life as the secluded empress dowager lived. Although many of these events, such as the Boxer Uprising, helped somewhat a little in understanding Tzu Hsi, I personally felt that it was not worth hundreds of hours trying to read through details of small battles. I was attracted to this book because of its caption, 'The Life and Legend of the Last Empress of China,' not other political happenings during her life. The book could have been shorten to a quarter of its present quantity. However, I would like to congratulate Seagrave's defense of how Tzu Hsi wasn't an evil and murderous woman, displacing unaccounted writings of Bland and Backhouse. I strongly recommend this book for students studying China during Tzu Hsi's time, but not as strong to those who wish to read solely about Tzu Hsi.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 23, 1999

    Interesting story about China's empress Tzu Hsi

    Seagrave's biography of the Empress dowager, Tzu Hsi, is interesting and informative. However, the book is not just a biography, but also a history of modern China from 1860 to the early 1900s. The author includes important historical events like the Arrow War and infamous Boxer Rebellion. Emphasis is placed on Western influence and trade in China and the empress as China's sometimes ruler, but not a totalitarian tyrant as others have portrayed her to be. I would recommend that anyone interested in Empress Tzu Hsi's life and reign and anyone interested in Chinese history from the mid-1800s to early 1900s read this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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