The last decades of the nineteenth century were a violent period in China’s history, marked by humiliating foreign incursions and domestic rebellions and ending in the demise of the Ch’ing Dynasty. The only constant during this tumultuous time was the power wielded by one woman, the resilient, ever-resourceful Tsu Hsi — or Empress Orchid, as readers came to know her in Anchee Min’s critically acclaimed, best-selling novel covering her rise to power.
The Last Empress is the story of Orchid’s dramatic transition from a strong-willed, instinctive young woman to a wise and politically savvy leader who ruled China for more than four decades. In this concluding volume Min gives us a compelling, very human leader who assumed power reluctantly and sacrificed all to protect those she loved and an empire that was doomed to die.
If you are a mother, sister, wife or daughter, you can’t resist loving the ruthless Tzu-hsi, because of Anchee Min’s take on her life as one of history’s toughest woman ever.
Although this book was written based on China’s historical account, I want to think the dialogue and drama really took place during the Qing dynasty. It simply carried me away. Empress Orchid, now Tzu-hsi, had more to bear compared to her agony of just longing to be the apple of the Emperor’s eye. In this final installment The Last Empress, she suffered, loss after loss while maintaining her composure… no matter how painful each decision may seem. She was misunderstood and ridiculed during her reign, when she should’ve gained empathy from the people who live outside the Forbidden City. After all, she is just a woman, with a family to bind together in one piece. This being her weakness, she tends to make the worst decisions. And these decisions lead to recurring history as she witness her husband, son and adopted son’s failure as worthy sons of heaven.
It’s like you’re holding a history book, while reading. The Last Empress tackled more of China’s issues and how it became part of the rich Asian history. A lot of names might ring a bell, if you remember your Asian History well enough.
Fact or fiction, I think a woman’s got to do what a woman’s got to do.