Imperial Woman Author:Pearl S. Buck "When Pearl S. Buck finished writing her autobiographical work, _My Several World_, she found that the most vivid character memory of her childhood life was Tzu Hsi, the last Empress of China. this is the woman usually know to Westerns as the Empress Dowager, or 'Old Buddha.' But how little the West really knows of her! She has figured in an occ... more »asional book, but never before in English, nor indeed in any language so far as we know, has the whole story of this fabulous woman been told.
She ranks in history with Victoria of England and Catherine of Russia. Indeed, Tzu Hsi liked to think of Victoria as her sister-ruler and often remarked that they divided the world between them, Victoria the empress of the West and she the Empress of the East.
Of the two, however, Tzu Hsi had the more romantic and extraordinary reign. She was born into violent and troubled times, in the last century of China's empire. Already the West was compelling that ancient and impregnable country to face the modern age. Slow to change, entrenched in pride and tradition, the ruling dynasty of the Manchus was reluctant to realize the portent of the times. It was Tzu Hsi, this powerful and beautiful woman, who held the empire and the dynasty from the 1860's until her death in 1908 at the age of 74.
The story of her life is pure romance. She was born in the house of a Manchu of lowly rank; but her father died when she was young, and she was taken, with her widowed mother and younger sister and brothers, into the house of her uncle, Muyanga, in Pewter Lane, Peking. There she lived as a poor relative, busy with household cares, until at seventeen she was summoned, according to custom, to join the other Manchu maidens of her age of inspection at the Imperial Palace in the Forbidden City. Those who passed inspection were eligible to be chosen by the Emperor as concubines.
Here romance beings. Lovely and astute, mischievous and gay, Tzu Hsi, though placed only in the third rank by the cautious Empress Mother, was immediately chosen by the Emperor. From then on, by wile and wisdom and the fatal combination of beauty and intelligence, she rose to be China's greatest woman ruler.
Other fabulous women in Chinese history attained the Dragon Throne, and caused catastrophe or prevented it; but of them all Tzu Hsi was the most scintillating, the most successful, the most various in her moods and talents. Hated by those who feared her, adored by those who loved her, she has been called he most wicked and the most virtuous of monarchs, the most cruel and the most benevolent. Certainly she was the most maddening and the most bewitching of women.
_Imperial Women_ is Pearl Buck's longest novel, her only novel about a figure in history, and her first wholly Chinese novel since _Peony_ seven years ago.« less