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Imperial Woman by Pearl S. Buck
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Imperial Woman (1956)

by Pearl S. Buck

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Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
Before I attempt to say anything about this novel, I simply wish to note that I do not in any way award these five stars out of some misguided sentiment that this book accurately portrays China and all its entailing history as its own cultural members would. The most concrete experience I have with the country is having been taught the Chinese phrases for 'left turn', 'right turn', and 'straight ahead' during a road trip many years ago, and I assure you, neither my intercultural credibility nor my accent has improved since then. What I do award these five stars for is the wonderful piece of work that Buck created, a fictional recounting of the life of the last Empress of China.

It wasn't too long ago that I read [book:Memoirs of Hadrian|12172], another novel concerned with the fictional portrayal of a historical personage who ruled for much of their life over a vast and complex culture. Both that novel and this required my reader self to step back a moment from their usual outpost of critiquing from the realms of factual accuracy and moral codes, and instead plunge headfirst into the lives of these individuals, both of whom entire empires held in reverence. Within this respective novel, the girl Orchid, the imperial concubine Yehonala, the Empress Mother Tzu Hsi, and the venerable Old Buddha play out their shared life within the bodily confines of a single woman. A woman who grew from one of millions to be one of the chosen hundreds to finally the one venerated above all others, who stayed that way through thriving peace and cultural upheaval until the end of her days. A woman who never needed full approval from neither her kinsman nor the reader, but simply a willingness to follow her. And follow her I did.

The ease with which I immersed myself in this fictionalized biography of a foreign land is a credit to Buck and her lovingly thorough storytelling. For the difficulty with historical fiction, a difficulty that only increases when the fiction chooses to follow a single personage of notable fame, is the ever present competition between the enraptured gaze of the reader and the desire to fact check. What worsens the latter distraction even more so is when the cultural setting is completely foreign and, as noted previously, tempts the reader to view the book penned by an outsider as a true glimpse of the inside. And with the feeling of reading truth, comes the ease of subsequent judgment and all too frequent condemnation.

Thus, I could have tired of Buck's page after page of detailing the life of this young Manchu girl who grew to become the Empress of China, the traditional values, the cultural artifacts, the countless court proceedings that meandered as slowly as was needed to recount the days with full insight into the visual splendor and historical significance. I could have become frustrated with the Empress herself, achieving such power and all the self righteous confidence that often accompanies it, adhering to standards of living that seem so strange in comparison to my own. I could have turned the final page with a feeling that my time would have been better spent with an accredited biography, or even a book written by an actual denizen of that far off mainland.

But I didn't. I watched this Empress grow from the impetuous courage of youth to the venerable wisdom of old age, and I rooted her on in every page. I delighted in the beauty of both the aesthetic and the erudite contained within the walls of the Forbidden City, as well as the sheer wealth of this culture that despite my long familiarity with I in truth know so little about. I watched as the future took its horrific toll on the heartfelt desire to maintain the value of the past, and mourned the tragedy of one world power colliding with another in an overwhelming miasma of violent misunderstanding. From this fictional seat in the so called East, I watched as the West and its drastically different histories flung itself upon these shores so foreign to its inherent sociocultural natures. From the mind of an Empress, I understood the disparity between the power a ruler has, and what is truly required of them in order to successfully rule.

In short, while the setting was foreign and the facts perhaps not in full adherence, the story was a human one, something I can recognize in any form. I felt for this Empress and the country she cherished in her own brilliant and steadfast ways, and perhaps even learned a few things about an ancient world that exists alongside my own to this day. And when it comes to the realm of historical fiction, that's all that I ask for. ( )
  Korrick | Sep 12, 2013 |
Who wrote about Chinese history and the empresses before Anchee Min? Where did she get her inspiration from? Well before Anchee Min there was Pearl Buck. Now, now simmer down. There is nothing wrong with Anchee Min I have read her books and love them too. She has a new book just released on 5-07-2013, The Crooked Seed. Can’t wait to grab a copy of this one! Oh boy the to read list goes on and on! So on to the review.
This book was originally released in 1956. It has been re-released 5-21-2013 as an e-book with a brand new cover. Integrated Media is re-releasing many of Pearl S. Buck’s works as e-books with new covers. I received a free kindle copy on NetGalley. Another of her books, The Good Earth was the best-selling fiction book in the U.S. in 1931 and 1932. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932. One of her novels was found in a Texas storage locker last fall. The Eternal Wonder, the just found book, will be released on October 22, 2013. While many people have heard of The Good Earth, there are many other Pearl Buck novels out there to be enjoyed.
I think that I may have read this book a long time ago. It was worth reading again. I rarely read anything more than once!!! I have to say this was an enjoyable, easy and quick read. It reads like a movie. The story just smoothly unfolds. This is a great book! I think that it has timeless appeal.

How does Tzu-hsi go from just another young Chinese girl to being the last Empress of China? How does she gain favor as a concubine and surpass her competitors? Will she ever be able to have a relationship with her true love who is head of the Imperial Guard? This is a fictional account of Tzu-hsi’s rise to power and her ability to hold on to control of the Empire. This book is a fascinating look at the Forbidden City and the end of an era in Chinese history. I give it 4/5 stars. I am not telling you everything here. I don’t want spoil it for you! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
http://pattyspaperbacks.wordpress.com/2013/05/29/wednesday-weekly/?preview=true&... ( )
  Pattymclpn | May 29, 2013 |
This is my favorite of all time! I think I really enjoy the historical aspect of the book tied in with enough detail about the characters to make it come to life. I love the boldness of the Last Empress. She was a strong woman in a day and culture that did not allow it. ( )
  karen.collins | Jun 27, 2012 |
Pearl S. Buck's fictionalized account of the last Empress of China (1861-1908), who, first known as Orchid, went from being chosen at the age of seventeen to be one of hundreds of Imperial concubines living in the Forbidden City, to becoming the all-powerful Empress Cixi (or Tzu Hsi) is nothing less than gripping. While the this Nobel Prize-winning author first portrays Tzu Hsi as a beautiful young woman with huge ambition and an iron will who is convinced of having a great destiny, she also paints the picture of a woman at grips with doubt and real feelings. At the time of publication in 1956, this would have been at odds with the image historians portrayed of Empress Tzu Hsi as a tyrant responsible for the fall of the Qing Dynasty. Instead, Pearl S. Buck shows a woman intent on preserving the Chinese culture of her forefathers, and at grips with the bullying demands of foreign powers who will stop at nothing to invade China and impose Western ideas. As say in wikipedia, "in recent years other historians have suggested that she was a scapegoat for problems beyond her control, a leader no more ruthless than others, and even an effective if reluctant reformer in the last years of her life." That Peal S. Bucks portrayal of Empress Tzu Hsi from a Chinese perspective might have something to do with this reversal of public opinion is very probable. There is no doubt that Buck took great liberties here, even ascribing to the Empress a life-long love affair with one of her cousins who was head of the Imperial Guard, and whom the empress contrives to keep close to her into old age, this only adds spice and an all too human perspective on the life of an exceptional woman, who no doubt led a life filled with intrigue. ( )
  Smiler69 | Nov 4, 2011 |
'Imperial Woman" is a historical novel about the last Empress of China under the Manchu Dynasty. She was known by many different names: Tzu Hsi, Cixi, The Empress Dowager, and “Old Buddha”. This is a story of her rise to power...from concubine to empress. She was only twenty-five years old when the emperor died and left her to run the entire country of China, which she did with shrewd deliberation and fierce pride. This was no easy task because trouble was brewing everywhere. Muslims in the south threatened to cut off a separate territory to call their own, rebellion raged, and the country was divided. Westerners, through force, demanded rights to trade, preach, and travel freely within Chinese borders. And she was under the constant threat of being dethroned by male members of the royal family.

As rule by dynasty was coming to an end in China, the empress watched with horror, powerless to stop the unwanted western influence, incapable of understanding why so many foreign nations were intent on destroying China’s centuries old lifestyle. She preferred isolation for China, steeped in tradition and Chinese cultural values which strongly clashed with the western ideas of Christianity, individualism, and materialism.

During her fifty years of rule Tzu Hsi experienced drastic change in China: floods, famines, the Opium wars and the Boxer Rebellion. Her life included love, drama, intrigue, and murder. She ruled with an iron fist and appeared to be a cold-hearted tyrant. She would go to any lengths to maintain her exalted title of Empress……but she loved her country faithfully and “her people loved her….the peasants and small-town people revered her.” Pearl Buck seems to have made an effort to present Tzu Hsi in the most favorable light, failing to pass judgement on her obsession with material things and her stubborn insistence on maintaining the outdated status quo of the government and cultural conditions. Tzu Hsi made some really bad decisions that cost China dearly in foreign affairs and loss of territories. Only an author personally familiar with life in China in the early twentieth century could possibly have written this story with such ethnic flair and heartfelt emotion, understanding the perspective of all characters: the concubines, eunuchs, the Empress’s friends and enemies, and the general population of China. Pearl Buck did a beautiful job of bringing to life the fairy-tale “rags to riches” story of Tzu Hsi, showing her human side: loneliness, jealousy, fear, anger, love, desire, and her weakness of extravagant adoration of beautiful things. The years covered during the Empress’s reign in "Imperial Woman" are just a small link in the chain of events of Chinese history, but an important period of time as these tumultuous years represent the calm before the storm of the coming revolution. ( )
  LadyLo | Oct 7, 2011 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Pearl S. Buckprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
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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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0381980375, Hardcover)

Imperial Woman is the fictionalized biography of the last Empress in China, Ci-xi, who began as a concubine of the Xianfeng Emperor and on his death became the de facto head of the Qing Dynasty until her death in 1908.Buck recreates the life of one of the most intriguing rulers 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 Empress's rise to power (even during her husband's life) parallels the story of China's transition from the ancient to the modern way.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:33:53 -0400)

The story of the last empress of China.--from Cover.

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