Three interesting reviews of Jung Chang’s Empress Dowager Cixi have just been published. Writes Orville Schell in Her Dynasty:
For decades, she was condescendingly referred to in the West as “the Old Buddha,” the “She Dragon,” the usurper of a throne “over whose disintegration she presided.”
Jung Chang, author of the acclaimed memoir “Wild Swans” and a co-author of the contentious biography “Mao: The Unknown Story,” has set out to reverse such negative verdicts. In her absorbing new book, she laments that Cixi has for so long been “deemed either tyrannical and vicious, or hopelessly incompetent — or both.” Far from depicting her subject as a sinister conservative who obstructed reforms, Chang portrays Cixi as smart, patriotic and open-minded. In her view, the empress was a proto-feminist who, despite the narrow-minded, misogynistic male elite that made up the imperial bureaucracy, “brought medieval China into the modern age.” Chang concludes that Cixi was an “amazing stateswoman,” a “towering” figure to whom “the last hundred years have been most unfair.”
See also Concubine Who Launched Modern China, Jonathan Chatwin’s take on the book, and The Great Modernizer, which “presents Cixi as a powerful, strong-willed woman responsible for most of the modernizing programs undertaken during her rule, only to be thwarted on many occasions by men who were sometimes in the pay of foreign powers.”
All three reviews highlight Chang’s extensive use of previously neglected historical sources in Beijing in researching the Empress Dowager. But those are apparently sources in Chinese. It would be interesting to know if there are “neglected” sources out there in Manchu, and if there are, what they say. I’ll be watching The Manchu Studies Group for its commentary on this.