My knowledge of Chinese history is very limited. I’ve previously read Mao’s Great Famine about the so called great leap forward and am aware of the Boxer Rebellion and the Opium Wars but this book shed an entirely new light on a period of modern Chinese history and a remarkable woman that I was unaware of.
Jung Chang explores this meteoric rise and reign of Cixi in great detail and explains the political and social history of China from the mid to late 19th century to the uninitiated in a straightforward and direct manner. She doesn’t assume prior knowledge and helpfully repeats important details so that the reader can follow the developments in the constantly changing political scene with ease.
The still secret nature of a large amount of the Chinese Imperial Era and the general vilification of Cixi since the advance of Communism means that this book and the level of research involved in all the more remarkable. Cixi saw the transformation of China from an insular and weak Imperial power to an international trading country with a world outlook and western style communications and political system. Her achievements are all the more remarkable given the male dominated society at the time and that she started her association with the throne as a low ranking courtesan.
Cixi’s life and her achievements are deserving of widespread dissemination and her accomplishments in changing society are as worthy of our praise as Florence Nightingale and Marie Curie. Jung Chang has produced a seminal work on the political history of China and I heartily recommend it to all history fans especially those with little knowledge of China.