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Empress Dowager Cixi

The Concubine Who Launched Modern China
Narrated by: Pik-sen Lim
Length: 19 hrs and 3 mins
4.6 out of 5 stars (180 ratings)

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Summary

At the age of 16, in a nationwide selection for royal consorts, Cixi was chosen as one of the emperor’s numerous concubines. When he died, in 1861, their five-year-old son succeeded to the throne. Cixi at once launched a palace coup against the regents appointed by her husband and made herself the real ruler of China - behind the throne, literally, with a silk screen separating her from her officials who were all male.

In this groundbreaking biography, Jung Chang vividly describes how Cixi fought against monumental obstacles to change China. Under her the ancient country attained virtually all the attributes of a modern state: industries, railways, electricity, the telegraph, and an army and navy with up-to-date weaponry. It was she who abolished gruesome punishments like “death by a thousand cuts” and put an end to foot-binding. She inaugurated women’s liberation and embarked on the path to introduce parliamentary elections to China. Chang comprehensively overturns the conventional view of Cixi as a diehard conservative and cruel despot.

Based on newly available, mostly Chinese, historical documents such as court records, official and private correspondence, diaries, and eyewitness accounts, this biography will revolutionize historical thinking about a crucial period in China’s - and the world’s - history. Packed with drama, fast paced, and gripping, it is both a panoramic depiction of the birth of modern China and an intimate portrait of a woman: as the concubine to a monarch, as the absolute ruler of a third of the world’s population, and as a unique stateswoman.

©2014 Jung Chang (P)2014 Bolinda Publishing Pty Ltd

Critic reviews

"A fascinating and instructive biography for anyone interested in how today’s China began." ( Library Journal)
"Cixi’s extraordinary story has all the elements of a good fairy tale: bizarre, sinister, triumphant, and terrible." ( The Economist)
"When an author as thorough, gifted, and immersed in Chinese culture as Chang writes, both scholars and general readers take notice." ( Booklist)

What listeners say about Empress Dowager Cixi

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Engaging insight into 19th Century China

Impressed and moved by the author’s book Wild Swans I looked forward to listening to her account of the life and times of the Empress Dowager Cixi and her influence on the course of Chinese history. Knowing little about the latter pre the 20th Century I found this a most interesting insight into the customs and events of 19th century China as well as the learning more about the restricted life of women in the Chinese court. The empress was certainly a formidable character who was influential in modernising her country: all the more amazing for a woman who entered the court as a concubine of the lowest rank, with limited education and hide-bound by the social norms that kept her literally hidden for view.

I have read elsewhere the views of those with knowledge of the era who aver that the author has presented a rose-tinted account of the Empress. Nevertheless the book is an engaging listen from which I learnt a lot about the country.

The narrator is excellent.

10 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

completely absorbing

I enjoyed this history so much. I am usually more of a fiction fan but this was so beautifully crafted and the subject herself so extraordinary that I found myself completely lost in it. The story is utterly mesmerising and the narration superb. I have not got a bad word to say about it.

2 people found this helpful

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Intriguing

An interesting view of China told by a great story teller. A different way of looking at the history of the region.

2 people found this helpful

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This book is essential for anyone who loves China

This has much new research.. painting a picture of this extraordinary woman.. who kept China alive.. the story is essential reading.. historically so important. The West does not come out of this well.. but it is a balanced account. What a story.. so well read.. I found it important on a personal level as my grandparents were there during her rein.. and I remember stories older members of my family told me as a child.. I salute the Empress Dowager Cixi

1 person found this helpful

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Electrifying narration of a formidable book

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Absolutely! Pik-sen Lim dramatically brought to life Chang's epic biography. It was an absolutely pleasure to listen to this remarkable story that left me on the edge of my seat for the most part.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Empress Dowager Cixi?

The flight of Cixi from the Royal Palace during the Invasion of the 8 nations and the events that followed when she was in exile and removed from all luxuries.

Which scene did you most enjoy?

The narration of when Cixi staged the initial coup. I could imagine the key players and the machinations behind the doors. The descriptions Chang used displayed the scene well.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes but sadly I didn't have the time

Any additional comments?

Pik-sen Lim's narration was immensely enjoyable!

1 person found this helpful

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AN INCREDIBLE LIFE

A brilliant account of the life and times of the Dowager Empress Cixi, who began life at the Chinese court as a minor concubine. Author Jung Chang describes in masterful prose, how Cixi, in a ruthlessly male environment, leapfrogged over the heads of the emperor, princes and grandees to rule over the Chinese empire, demonstrating outstanding qualities as a gifted political tactician and major reformer of a feudal society. This remarkable woman shrewdly dealt with foreign powers, greedy for a piece of China, fended off the constant Japanese threat of invasion, and developed her plan to modernise her country in the face of fierce criticism from the Chinese aristocracy,

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Excellent revision of the life of Empress Dowager

This is a superb and well researched biography, written by the wonderful Chinese writer Jung Chang (she also wrote the semi biographical, semi-autobiographical novel, "The wild Swans") and beautifully read by Pik-sen Lim. I've read several books on the history of China in the 19th century and all of them seemed to construct Cixi as a vicious, conniving, (poisonous both literally and metaphorically) influence on the various Emperors who lived during her time. what Jung Chang provides is a revision of those histories, based on solid research and arguing that Cixi was the victim of what can only be described as misogynist historians who were determined to present her in a very negative light. If you want to read or hear a very different way of understanding the life of Empress dowager Cixi, this is an excellent introduction.

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Terrible Chinese Narrator

It is painful to listen to the way the narrator pronounces Chinese words. As a Chinese, she should at least know how to pronounce the Chinese words properly. Especially Empress Cixi’s name. It took awhile to realise she was trying to say Cixi. The other times when she tries to mention other Chinese names or words, it’s cringe worthy and totally incomprehensible. The story was interesting but the listening made it impossible to finish.

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A fascinating time but an unsatisfying account

I'm an avid reader of history and historical biography, both academic and popular, so was expecting to love this. It's not a period or a country I know much about, and I found the sections where the author was setting the scene fascinating. Managing to encompass such a wide stretch of time into a sensible-length book is a great achievement. Looking at reviews of the non-audio version, it seems there are notes to provide sources throughout. If you're just listening, it can feel like the author is asserting things without authority, not indicating where the evidence lies. While I'm sure that works for some people, I found it annoying, especially when the author describes what Cixi was thinking or feeling. Without saying how we know this, it made her feel more like a character in a novel than a real historical figure. There was also a frustrating lack of detail around vital events, such as one palace coup which seemed to pass in a paragraph, while the detailed description of a typical day in Cixi's life interrupted the pace of the book for me. Overall, I think this might be a matter of taste. I prefer my histories more detailed and footnoted, but I can see the appeal of something like this, that has a more narrative, novelistic feel. The smoothness of the execution, both in writing style and reading, didn't quite make up that lack for me.

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Amazing

I knew nothing of Chinese history, so I was amazed to learn of this remarkable woman, whose rule coincided, for the most part, with that of Queen Victoria, as well as the background Chinese culture and beliefs. It is sympathetically written, and is clear and engaging. The narrator does an excellent job in presenting this work, and I had no problems with her whatsoever. Highly recommended.

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  • hughesthat
  • 14-02-17

rather hard work

I was looking forward to this, but took a long time to get through it. Finally managed it.
The text inevitably consists of a lot of dates and lists of names etc.
Some interesting and enlightening perspectives on events such as the Boxer Rebellion. Part of Chang's aim was to rehabilitate the image of CiXi, which this succeeds in some respects.
I thought it was strange to choose a narrator who is obviously not a native mandarin speaker and who has problems with pronouncing names, places and events using the pinyin. This became confusing at times.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Maria
  • 15-12-19

Unputdownable; liked narrator

A more sympathetic angle towards the Dragon Empress. I feel the author is being fair with her.

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  • Leslie
  • 22-03-17

Interesting story about a controversial woman

I chose to listen to this audiobook in preparation for a trip to China, and finished it while there. Quite a different take on the Empress Dowager than the tale told by the tour guides and what I assume is official party line, but it was really interesting to visit the Forbidden Palace and other sites with this point of view in mind. Really enjoyed it.