The Last Empress by Anchee Min

The Last Empress

“I had to be strong for my son.  Although Tung Chih, who was seven, had been Emperor for two years, since ascending the throne in 1861, his regime had been chaotic.”

The follow-up to her acclaimed Empress Orchid, Anchee Min continues to tell the story of real-life Empress Tzu Hsi, who governs China on behalf of her son in the midst of huge changes in the world order.  China, which had always been resistant to change, was powerless as Japan took over parts of her provinces, while France and Russia turned a blind eye.  Eventually, foreign influence, aggression and a poor economy led to a native Chinese revolt in the Boxer Rebellion, but the powers against China were just too great.  Empress Tzu, Hsi, also known as Orchid, is viewed by the Chinese as a tyrannical ruler – they believe she was responsible for the downfall of China.  The foreign press portrayed her in a negative light as well, and it is refreshing to read Anchee Min’s perspective of a mother trying to secure the nation by safeguarding the throne for her son.  With an eight country coalition against China, it is hardly surprising that she lost her battle.

I enjoyed this novel, and I learned much about the Chinese History that led up to the new Chinese Republic under Chiang Kai-shek.  There was a lot of information packed into a small book, and at times is was difficult to get all the people of influence straight.  That’s really my only complaint.

3 1/2 stars (out of 5)
308 pages
Published in 2007

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About Suzanne

I'm a stay-at-home mom with three kids who loves to read.
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