Dragon Lady: the life and legend of the last Empress of China

 
9780333593912: Dragon Lady: the life and legend of the last Empress of China

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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From 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 and masterful debunking of a troubling distortion of Chinese history. (Sixteen pages of illustrations--not seen.) -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From 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
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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