Dragon Lady

Dragon Lady

The Life and Legend of the Last Empress of China

Book - 1992
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"The last empress of China--Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi (1835-1908)--is remembered as one of history's monsters, an iron-willed concubine who, after usurping power in 1861, ruled from the Dragon Throne for half a century. Her reign, in the aftermath of the Opium Wars and through the Boxer Rebellion until the collapse of the 2,000-year-old empire, has traditionally been seen as one of murder, poison, and intrigue. But the wicked image is false." "In 1974, to the dismay of scholars, Sir Edmund Backhouse--the biographer most responsible for the widespread vision of Tzu Hsi as monster--was revealed to be a con man. And now the author of the celebrated best-seller The Soong Dynasty has undertaken the first complete reappraisal of the empress--exposing Backhouse's writings about her as a major hoax and forgery, and establishing that the most important Western correspondent in Peking during her reign--Dr. George Morrison of the London Times--kept a secret diary contradicting his own dispatches about Tzu Hsi." "Drawing on many unpublished or long-overlooked contemporary sources, Sterling Seagrave shows us Tzu Hsi as a complex woman whose desperate--though often misguided--efforts to hold her country together take on a different coloration in the context of unrelenting foreign attempts to colonize and tear it apart. Far from being all-powerful, she was actually a hostage of vengeful Manchu princes who were using her in a power struggle against both Chinese reformers and foreign interference." "Here at last is an authentic portrait of this fascinating historical figure, as well as insight into the Western craving to believe in a sinister, dragon-haunted Orient. Dragon Lady is at once a compelling biography and the equally compelling story of how a myth was contrived, how it endured, and how, ultimately, the truth has emerged."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.
ISBN: 9780679402305
Characteristics: xv, 601 pages, [8] pages of plates :,illustrations, portraits, maps ;,25 cm.
Additional Contributors: Seagrave, Peggy


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Feb 19, 2019

I had requested this book, so I feel really bad about saying this... but this book is AWFUL.

First, it's not actually a biography, I don't know why the author would sell it as such. It is very much a history of that time period in China. There are entire Chapters with no mention of the Dowager Empress. So many names and dates. SO MANY.

Second, holy Hannah, the guy who wrote this book is the most biased narrator of a biography I have ever read. It sounds like a high school kid's Slam Book; every author who has ever written anything about the Dowager Empress was wrong and racist and completely ignorant. Except... his version is based largely on his own opinions with equally few facts (in some cases, even fewer facts) that the others. It's not written objectively AT ALL. Which would be one thing if he actual references and actual facts to back it up, but he doesn't so it just got super annoying.

Third, speaking of racism. The phrases "Going Native", "Moon-Faced", and referring to land grabs as "Chinese Takeaway" are used repeatedly in this book. The fact that those phrases made it past an editing stage is mind boggling.

This book managed to be terrible for all the above mentioned reasons, while also being super boring. I had to force myself to finish it. I usually return library books early because it rarely takes me more than 3 weeks to read a book, but this one was a struggle. I'm so sorry; I feel responsible for this book being part of the library's collection. I had no idea, and obviously didn't do enough research into it to find out, how horribly problematic and poorly written it is. I will look for less biased and more objective and substantiated sources on the Dowager Empress going forward. Again, I am so sorry.

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