Empress Orchid

Empress Orchid

Book - 2004
Average Rating:
Rate this:
The setting is China's Forbidden City in the last days of its imperial glory, a vast complex of palaces and gardens run by thousands of eunuchs and encircled by a wall in the center of Peking. In this highly ordered place -- tradition-bound, ruled by strict etiquette, rife with political and erotic tension -- the Emperor, "the Son of Heaven," performs two duties: he must rule the court and conceive an heir. To achieve the latter, tradition provides a stupendous hierarchy of hundreds of wives and concubines. It is as a minor concubine that the beautiful Tzu Hsi, known as Orchid as a girl, enters the Forbidden City at the age of seventeen.

It is not a good time to enter the city. The Ch'ing Dynasty in 1852 has lost its vitality, and the court has become an insular, xenophobic place. A few short decades earlier, China lost the Opium Wars, and it has done little since to strengthen its defenses or improve diplomatic ties. Instead, the inner circle has turned further inward, naively confident that its troubles are past and the glory of China will keep the "barbarians" -- the outsiders -- at bay.

Within the walls of the Forbidden City the consequences of a misstep are deadly. As one of hundreds of women vying for the attention of the Emperor, Orchid soon discovers that she must take matters into her own hands. After training herself in the art of pleasing a man, she bribes her way into the royal bedchamber and seduces the monarch. A grand love affair ensues; the Emperor is a troubled man, but their love is passionate and genuine. Orchid has the great good fortune to bear him a son. Elevated to the rank of Empress, she still must struggle to maintain her position and the right to raise her own child. With the death of the Emperor comes a palace coup that ultimately thrusts Orchid into power, although only as regent until her son's maturity. Now she must rule China as its walls tumble around her, and she alone seems capable of holding the country together.

This is an epic story firmly in the mold of Anchee Min's Becoming Madame Mao. Like that best-selling historical novel, the heroine of Empress Orchid comes down to us with a diabolical reputation -- a woman who seized power through sexual seduction, murder, and endless intrigue. But reality tells a different story. Based on copious research, this is a vivid portrait of a flawed yet utterly compelling woman who survived in a male world, a woman whose main struggle was not to hold on topower but to her own humanity. Richly detailed and completely gripping, Empress Orchid is a novel of high drama and lyricism and the first volume of a trilogy about the life of one of the most important women in history.
Publisher: Boston : Hougton Mifflin, 2004.
ISBN: 9780618068876
Characteristics: xiii, 336 pages ;,24 cm.


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Apr 25, 2017

Fabulous read, could not put it down. So glad I began this trilogy!

Jan 11, 2017

This cover the last 50 years period of the Ching dynasty, where China is at its lowest point in its 5000 years long history. Backward in almost all science and technology, it was still practicing arrogant attitude against foreigners/foreign country. This Manchu dynasty after ruling China for 2-3 centuries was corrupt and backward, and the Chinese at that time want to kick out the Manchu from the throne, since Manchus were considered foreigners who invade China. It is fascinating to get an insight from the palace...

Nov 23, 2016

I found this book tended to be sometimes like a textbook, then like a novel, and back and forth. That being said, I don't mind lots of historical facts so I enjoyed it. It's really interesting to see this time period in China and also read about the life of Empress Dowager Cixi (known as Orchid in this book). I recommend this if you like historical fiction, and for teens and adults alike.

Aug 11, 2015

An insightful book about how China was ruled and a fascinating window into the world behind the walls of the Forbidden City. This is the story of a young girl who learns the politics of the palace to move from simple concubine to the woman behind the throne, and true ruler of China.

May 23, 2013

A fascinating look into the imperial court and its customs. You can imagine yourself there! Strong central character based on a real character made it even more intriguing. To think women lived their lives in this manner!

Feb 12, 2013

This was a voyage to China, into the lives and customs of the Imperial Court. Certainly worth reading for anyone who is interested in the Far East.

Jun 11, 2011

I was instantly HOOKED to this book when I started it, and finished in three days. This is one of my favorite novels, I recommend it greatly. It has a great plot that throws you off and make you wanting more.

Nov 03, 2010

terrific historial fiction
on the last empress of china. I would read again

Apr 11, 2009

Loved it!

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability
Jun 11, 2011

akleung thinks this title is suitable for 14 years and over


Add Notices
Jun 13, 2008

Sexual Content: This title contains Sexual Content.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at my library

To Top