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Imperial Woman (1956)

by Pearl S. Buck

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,2192616,440 (4.03)67
The story of Tzu Hsi is the story of the last Empress in China. In this audio book, Pearl S. Buck recreates the life of one of the most intriguing rules during a time of intense turbulence. Tzu Hsi was born into one of the lowly ranks of the Imperial dynasty. According to custom, she moved to the Forbidden City at the age of seventeen to become one of hundreds of concubines. But her singular beauty and powers of manipulation quickly moved her into the position of Second Consort. Tzu Hsi was feared and hated by many in the court, but adored by the people. The Empresss rise to power (even during her husbands life) parallels the story of Chinas transition from the ancient to the modern way. Pearl S. Bucks knowledge of and fascination with the Empresss life are contagious. She reveals the essence of this self-involved and infamous last Empress, at the same time she takes the listener through Chinas struggle for freedom and democracy.… (more)
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English (24)  Spanish (2)  All languages (26)
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
This has been on my "must read" list since I first visited the Peal Buck House Museum in Bucks County. This was also a part of my husband's Grandmother's Library Collection we acquired at her death. Very interesting story. The journey of a young woman who becomes a concubine rising to Empress. The decisions and manipulation she administered in her rise to power. Engrossing read. I don't know how much of this story is based on actual fact or if it is a total fictionalization of the Empress's life. A definite good read. ( )
  booklovers2 | Jan 18, 2024 |
This is a biographical novel based on the life of Empress Tzu Hsi (Sacred Mother), the most powerful figure in late 19th century China and the real power behind the throne during the reigns of two of the last three weak Emperors in China. She was originally chosen as one of many concubines to the young Emperor Hsien Feng. Her position confirmed when she gave birth to a healthy male heir, she then became Regent to her son when Hsien Feng died aged 30 ("For ten years of her young womanhood she must rule in her son’s place. And what was her realm? A country vaster than she could guess, a nation older than history, a people whose number had never been counted, to whom she was herself an alien"). She ruled over her equally weak nephew when her son died at an even younger age. In many ways an arch-conservative, she was unable to stem the tide of other countries' attempts to exploit China economically, and failed to realise the need for her country to compete through developing industry and railways and trading more overseas. As depicted in this novel, she is a compelling figure, clearly dominating the court with a strong sense of what she at least sure as China's imperial and national interest ("a man’s mind in a woman’s body"), dealing with the competing forces of aggressive foreign nations, the Tai Ping rebellion and later the extreme nationalist Boxers. An autocrat of course, but seeing herself as a benevolent one, "she set herself to clean away rebels and reformers from among the Chinese whom she ruled, and to bring the whole people under the power of her own hand and heart again". This novel ends a few years before her death in 1908. The author records in a foreword that "decades after she was dead I came upon villages in the inlands of China where the people thought she still lived and were frightened when they heard she was dead. "Who will care for us now?" they cried". ( )
  john257hopper | May 12, 2022 |
I was somewhat surprised at how quickly and completely I became immersed in this fictionalized rendering of the life of a real Chinese Empress, variously known as Noble Consort Yi, Dowager Empress Cixi, and Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi. Tzu Hsi began her life at Court as one of many concubines of the Xianfeng Emperor, a young dissolute ruler whose vices were already diminishing his health and power. Determined from the start to rise through the ranks and become important in her own right, Tzu Hsi soon found favor with the Emperor, and ultimately cemented her position by giving birth to his only son. She spent her down time reading and studying, and observing closely the intrigues of life among concubines, eunuchs, Princes and politicians. She became the power behind the throne for the Xianfeng Emperor, later for her son, and finally for the nephew she elevated to the Dragon Throne upon the death of her son. Not one of these three had the wits or will to oppose her. For over 45 years, the Dowager Empress reigned from "behind the curtain", guiding her country through famines, wars and rebel uprisings, striving to maintain the glory of the Empire, and to keep Western influence at bay. Eventually, however, she was instrumental in easing China forward into the 20th century by encouraging education, eliminating some of the more brutal practices of the past (foot-binding, death by "slicing", and other atrocities) and allowing some modernization.

Buck has us believe that the child Tzu Hsi bore was actually fathered by her kinsman, an Imperial Guard she had been betrothed to before being chosen for the Emperor's harem, a man who served as an advisor to her throughout her long reign. I have not seen the existence of such a person suggested in historical accounts, which do mention contemporary suspicions that the Dowager Empress poisoned either her son, her nephew, or both. Buck does not include those allegations in her version.

I really enjoyed getting lost in this story; it took me back to the days when every book I picked up was a treat, I couldn't tell the good ones from the bad ones and didn't care, and the world between the covers was a magical unfamiliar place I could happily explore for hours. I'm going to give Pearl Buck a chance to do that for me again.

June 2019 ( )
1 vote laytonwoman3rd | Mar 14, 2022 |
The story and the setting were really interesting, but the long and winding descriptions made this book a chore to read. ( )
  ladyars | Jan 4, 2021 |
As a work of historical fiction, Imperial Woman follows the political history, as well as the gossipy side of that history, pretty well. And as is usually the case with Buck's fiction, her storytelling skills immediately bring the reader into the novel. For what is the fourth or fifth time, I began reading a Buck novel with only the intent to look at the first few pages and quickly found myself some ninety pages in.

I am not sure about Buck's accuracy in detailing actual Chinese beliefs and cultural attitudes--she often seems to read her own values into theirs, whether they be Chinese peasants or aristocrats. But Buck does manage to pull off quite a feat in making Western readers side almost entirely with the Chinese view of Western inroads into China. More than that, Buck can cock a snook better than anyone when criticizing Western missionaries, ambassadors, their wives, and merchants.

Against this grand context of China versus the West during the last half of the nineteenth century, there is also the personal story of the Empress Tzu Hsi (Cixi). Quite a story it is, of a concubine who works her way to the throne and ultimate power, dispensing with three emperors along the way and a host of princes, generals, retainers, and imperial eunuchs. Always a reactionary, Tzu Hsi nevertheless generates sympathy all the while. And even when Buck ends the novel, the reader finds Tzu Hsi plotting to control yet a fourth emperor, the boy emperor Puyi. Then, Buck chooses to close her book before that equally tragic tale can begin in full--which would come on the very deathbed of Tzu Hsi. ( )
  PaulCornelius | Apr 12, 2020 |
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» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Pearl S. Buckprimary authorall editionscalculated
Oddera, BrunoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Potter KirstenNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Foreword: Tzu Hsi, the last ruling Empress of China, was a woman so diverse in her gifts, so contradictory in her behavior, so rich in the many aspects of her personality, that it is difficult to comprehend and convey her whole self.
It was April in the city of Peking, the fifth month of the solar year of 1852, the third month of the moon year, the two hundred and eighth year of the Manchu, the great Ch'ing dynasty.
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The story of Tzu Hsi is the story of the last Empress in China. In this audio book, Pearl S. Buck recreates the life of one of the most intriguing rules during a time of intense turbulence. Tzu Hsi was born into one of the lowly ranks of the Imperial dynasty. According to custom, she moved to the Forbidden City at the age of seventeen to become one of hundreds of concubines. But her singular beauty and powers of manipulation quickly moved her into the position of Second Consort. Tzu Hsi was feared and hated by many in the court, but adored by the people. The Empresss rise to power (even during her husbands life) parallels the story of Chinas transition from the ancient to the modern way. Pearl S. Bucks knowledge of and fascination with the Empresss life are contagious. She reveals the essence of this self-involved and infamous last Empress, at the same time she takes the listener through Chinas struggle for freedom and democracy.

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