Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Last Empress

I just read a book by Anchee Min, author of Empress Orchid and The Last Empress. These books are about Tzu Hsi, also known as Orchid and Empress Yehonala. The following quotes have been written about her:

One of the ancient sages of China foretold that "China will be destroyed by a woman." That prophecy is approaching fulfillment.
-Dr. George Ernest Morrison

She was a mastermind of pure evil and intrigue.
-Chinese textbook (in print 1949-1991)

Tzu Hsi entered the Forbidden City palace during the Ch'ing Dynasty at the age of 17, and became the fourth wife of Emperor Hsien Feng. Through her own ambition she was able to bear him his only heir, a son, named Tung chih.

She was not able to raise him as she had many duties; she was constantly in competition with the first wife, Empress Nuharoo. Empress Nuahroo mostly raised Tung Chih and made most of the decisions regarding him. He was later to die of an STD and Empress Orchid blamed her for raising him wrong. When Emperor Hsein Feng died, the two Empresses ruled together with Su Shun, the Emperor's eunuch. He tried wresting power from the two women, and later they had him beheaded so they could take the power. He was corrupt in his ways.

Empress Orchid then adopted a son from her mentally unstable sister Rong, named Guang-hsu (I don't know how to pronounce these names either). She raised him up herself to be Emperor. She tried to replace her dead son with her adopted one, and put lots of pressure on him. She was able to retire here and there, but always had to come back and assist him.

In the book she says, "I wished that I could tell the astrologer that I had been fighting Heaven's will all my life. My standing alone was proof of my struggle. I had survived what was meant to be my death many times, and I was determined to fight for my son. It was hope I lived for. When my husband died, Tung Chih became my hope. When Tung Chih died, hope became Guang-hsu." (The Last Empress, page 243)

Empress Nuharoo passed away, and she no longer had competition. The press went after her even more and called her "murderess" believing she had poisoned her son Tung Chih and even Empress Nuharoo. Her adopted son Guang-hsu even had an assassination attempt on her life. She was able to survive with the help of her love, Yung Lu. Because of her position as Empress, she could not follow her feelings and loved him from a distance. He would always be part of her life from a distance.

Japan was constantly after China and took much of their land and money. Her son Guan-hsu became steadily sicker as he couldn't deal with the pressures. He passed away at the age of 38, and once again Empress Orchid outlived another son.

When Empress Orchid died at the age of 73, China began to fall apart. The country entered a dark time of warlords and lawlessness. In 1937, Japan invaded China.

I didn't always follow the politics of this book, but what I found most interesting was how Empress Orchid came from such humble beginnings, and was able to become Empress in her own right. What was sad though was how both her sons didn't live up to her expectations. She had to work hard all her long life to keep China together. And she was misunderstood. They called her many names and I'm glad author Anchee Min was able to write it from what she understood to be Empress Orchid's real point of view. Thanks for reading my first post!


  1. Love this, but what I'm more interested in is YOUR opinion of the books! Take more time talking about your personal views!

  2. True. It takes soo long to talk about the book, by the end I am done lol.

  3. Su Shun is NOT an eunuch as stated above. He was one of the ministers that tried to get rid of Orchid.