Imperial Woman

by Pearl S. Buck

Paper Book, 1991




Mount Kisco, N.Y. : Moyer Bell Ltd., 1991.


The story of Tzu Hsi is the story of the last Empress in China. In this audio book, Pearl S. Buck recreates the life of one of the most intriguing rules 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 Empresss rise to power (even during her husbands life) parallels the story of Chinas transition from the ancient to the modern way. Pearl S. Bucks knowledge of and fascination with the Empresss life are contagious. She reveals the essence of this self-involved and infamous last Empress, at the same time she takes the listener through Chinas struggle for freedom and democracy.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member fiverivers
It isn't often I give up on a novel. Generally it's my policy to finish a book whether I'm enjoying the journey or not, because often I'm surprised in the last moments, finding the author has brought all the elements of the story together in a brilliant finish.

Such is not the case with Imperial
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Woman, by Pearl S. Buck.

Buck presents what should be a fascinating story about the last, and most famous, empress of China, Tzu Hsi. Instead Buck has taken the easy route and presented what is very nearly a Harlequin romance, instead of a tightly written novel rife with the subtleties and intrigues of the Imperial Court. There were moments I asked myself how many times we were going to be told about the beauty and grace of the Empress.

When Buck does present historical facts, it ends up being a dry, drawn-out narrative heavy on the expository and devoid of deep character point of view or input.

The result is a novel which feels interminable, plodding between longings of the heart and retention of power.

I am sure many readers would take issue with my assessment. That is the joy of debate and variety. But for me, this is a novel which falls into an epic fail category.
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LibraryThing member MerryMary
I first read this many years ago as an impressionable teen. I was blown away by the descriptions of jewels, gowns, palaces, etc., etc. I found the idea of giving up love for power to be romantic and waxed quite sentimental over it.

Reading it again in my adult years, I found my interests focused
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more on the uses Tzu-Hsi (or Ci-xi) found for her power. The strong will and the single-mindedness that grew with her years led her to some hideous excesses, but in her mind - as with most absolute rulers - the ends justified the means. This look inside such a mind was really engrossing.
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LibraryThing member laytonwoman3rd
I was somewhat surprised at how quickly and completely I became immersed in this fictionalized rendering of the life of a real Chinese Empress, variously known as Noble Consort Yi, Dowager Empress Cixi, and Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi. Tzu Hsi began her life at Court as one of many concubines of the
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Xianfeng Emperor, a young dissolute ruler whose vices were already diminishing his health and power. Determined from the start to rise through the ranks and become important in her own right, Tzu Hsi soon found favor with the Emperor, and ultimately cemented her position by giving birth to his only son. She spent her down time reading and studying, and observing closely the intrigues of life among concubines, eunuchs, Princes and politicians. She became the power behind the throne for the Xianfeng Emperor, later for her son, and finally for the nephew she elevated to the Dragon Throne upon the death of her son. Not one of these three had the wits or will to oppose her. For over 45 years, the Dowager Empress reigned from "behind the curtain", guiding her country through famines, wars and rebel uprisings, striving to maintain the glory of the Empire, and to keep Western influence at bay. Eventually, however, she was instrumental in easing China forward into the 20th century by encouraging education, eliminating some of the more brutal practices of the past (death by "slicing", footbinding, and other atrocities) and allowing some modernization.

Buck has us believe that the child Tzu Hsi bore was actually fathered by her kinsman, an Imperial Guard she had been betrothed to before being chosen for the Emperor's harem, a man who served as an advisor to her throughout her long reign. I have not seen the existence of such a person suggested in historical accounts, which do mention contemporary suspicions that the Dowager Empress poisoned either her son, her nephew, or both. Buck does not include those allegations in her version.

I really enjoyed getting lost in this story; it took me back to the days when every book I picked up was a treat, I couldn't tell the good ones from the bad ones and didn't care, and the world between the covers was a magical unfamiliar place I could happily explore for hours. I'm going to give Pearl Buck a chance to do that for me again.

June 2019
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LibraryThing member ex_ottoyuhr
Buck wrote this to _rehabilitate_ Ci-xi. If a quarter of this book is accurate, Ci-xi was pretty horrible. If even someone like Buck, rooting for her, can't make her look better than _this_, I don't want to think about what her enemies must have said about her...

Really good novel, though, and a
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nice introduction to the Chinese school of historical fiction -- writing stories with the major players of history at the focus, rather than as cameo appearances...
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LibraryThing member autumnesf
I like Pearl Buck so I thought I'd try her book on Cixi after reading two more current books on her. Much of it ran along the same lines as the more current books, but actually this one made her look worse. It is implied that the emperors son was not fathered by him and makes a big love affair (of
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the if not of the body) with Cixi and Jung Lu. I wonder how much of that is true? This book was a good read, but I must say I like the Empress Orchid series better for a work of fiction.
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LibraryThing member angela.vaughn
This was a good book, and gave the point of view of royalty. I have read other books about the last empress of China, and they all say she was a little unpredictable and hard headed. The thing I find interesting is that each book talks about her love life a little differently. In the Imperial
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Woman-she never gave in to her needs as a woman, in others she was very free with her love to men and women alike. It did get a little dry when it came to always listing her numbers of servants and wealth.
I did find this book a little more detailed about her rule over the country, and her decisions to her peoples needs.
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LibraryThing member amandacb
Buck's novel about China's Empress Ci-Xi details an indulgent life of power, wealth, frivolities, and love. Ci-Xi is certainly not someone I could see myself befriending, and Buck's narrative did run pedantic at times while filling in background information, but overall a splendid historical
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fiction novel.
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LibraryThing member wktarin
Solid, if a bit overlong in places.
LibraryThing member Smiler69
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member karen.collins
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.
LibraryThing member etxgardener
Pearl Buck's novel of the life of the Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) is over long and written in over wrought prose. making the omnipresent narrator appear to be writing in some kind of strangled English for Chinese speakers. This made the book extremely difficult for me to read an it took me
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forever to make it through its almost 400 pages.

I know enough about Chinese history to know that Dowager Empress Cixi was an intelligent and ruthless palace schemer who, but the luck of having given birth to the only surviving male child of the Emperor, quickly maneuvered herself from position of lowly concubine to that of Second Consort, and then seized power in her own right and, through her arrogance and hubris largely caused the fall of the Qing dynasty.

Buck, however, while showcasing Cixi's intelligence, also portrays her as a lovesick female over her kinsman and former lover, Jung Lu. Maybe this is because Buck in her own life developed a cult of the personality around herself.and earned was regarded by many as being a spiteful and thoroughly disagreeable woman. Perhaps she identified with the Dowager Empress, but for whatever reason, this is a poorly written book that paints the Dowager Empress in a dishonest light.
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LibraryThing member yhgail
I listened to the audible version. The reader was overly emotive making the book sound like a soggy romance novel. Maybe if read it would be a solid "3" with the reader it is a 3-
LibraryThing member ladyars
The story and the setting were really interesting, but the long and winding descriptions made this book a chore to read.
LibraryThing member john257hopper
This is a biographical novel based on the life of Empress Tzu Hsi (Sacred Mother), the most powerful figure in late 19th century China and the real power behind the throne during the reigns of two of the last three weak Emperors in China. She was originally chosen as one of many concubines to the
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young Emperor Hsien Feng. Her position confirmed when she gave birth to a healthy male heir, she then became Regent to her son when Hsien Feng died aged 30 ("For ten years of her young womanhood she must rule in her son’s place. And what was her realm? A country vaster than she could guess, a nation older than history, a people whose number had never been counted, to whom she was herself an alien"). She ruled over her equally weak nephew when her son died at an even younger age. In many ways an arch-conservative, she was unable to stem the tide of other countries' attempts to exploit China economically, and failed to realise the need for her country to compete through developing industry and railways and trading more overseas. As depicted in this novel, she is a compelling figure, clearly dominating the court with a strong sense of what she at least sure as China's imperial and national interest ("a man’s mind in a woman’s body"), dealing with the competing forces of aggressive foreign nations, the Tai Ping rebellion and later the extreme nationalist Boxers. An autocrat of course, but seeing herself as a benevolent one, "she set herself to clean away rebels and reformers from among the Chinese whom she ruled, and to bring the whole people under the power of her own hand and heart again". This novel ends a few years before her death in 1908. The author records in a foreword that "decades after she was dead I came upon villages in the inlands of China where the people thought she still lived and were frightened when they heard she was dead. "Who will care for us now?" they cried".
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LibraryThing member booklovers2
This has been on my "must read" list since I first visited the Peal Buck House Museum in Bucks County. This was also a part of my husband's Grandmother's Library Collection we acquired at her death. Very interesting story. The journey of a young woman who becomes a concubine rising to Empress. The
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decisions and manipulation she administered in her rise to power. Engrossing read. I don't know how much of this story is based on actual fact or if it is a total fictionalization of the Empress's life. A definite good read.
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