In 1851, a sixteen-year-old girl named Yehonala entered the Imperial Palace of China as a concubine third grade, leaving behind her family, the love of her life, and nearly all contact with the outside world. She emerged as Tsu Hsi, Dowager Empress of China and one of the most powerful autocrats in history. A fascinating tale of love, betrayal, murder, intrigue, and survival, The Last Empress offers remarkable insight into life behind the closed doors of the forbidden city.
Author's note. Acknowledgements. Cast of major characters. Maps. Introduction. Timeline. No joy shall be equal... The coming of the Manchu. Concubine, third class. The Great Within. Rebels and foreign devils. The Emperor flees. Acts of barbarism. Silent conspiracy. An auspicious beginning. Death of a favourite. The Emperor's 'good fortune'. Slicing the melon. When a bird is dying. 'Retirement'. Rebel Emperor. Coup and countercoup. Self-strengthening. The Righteous Harmonious Fists. Siege at Beijing. Flight ... and return. Reluctant departure. Epilogue. Postscript. References and notes. Bibliography. Index.
"a fascinating story" (Publishing News, 19 July 2002) "…he tells a tale of love betrayal, murder and intrigue…" (Sunday Telegraph, 12 October 2003)
Keith Laidler is an anthropologist, author and filmmaker. He is the author of seven books and producer of a large number of films, for some of which he did his own camera work. Originally concentrating on nature films, Dr Laidler worked with Sir David Attenborough on The Living Planet. His production company, Wolfshead Productions has made a number of highly acclaimed documentaries for a variety of broadcasters. He holds a PhD in Anthropology from Durham University. Dr Laidler has a strong interest in China, which he visits regularly as founder of The Panda Trust, an organisation formed to protect the panda. He has, over recent years, turned his investigative techniques towards history and religion.
In 1856 Emperor Hsien Feng turned over an ornately carved jade name-plaque next to his bedchamber, an action with which he brought a much-desired new concubine to his bed and unwittingly sealed the fate of the Manchu dynasty. A centuries-old prophecy had foretold that Manchu rule in China would be brought to ruin by a woman from the Yeho-Nala tribe; in the darkness of the bedchamber those words became reality. The Emperor was entranced with the young woman he had chosen, and from that time her power over him was ensured. Her name was Yehonala. Forced to enter the Forbidden City at the age of sixteen Yehonala lost her family, her betrothed and the life she had sought. She was entering a world of opulence, scholarship, intrigue and power struggles; a world that had remained for centuries untouched by the outside world or the passing of time, ruled by etiquette and tradition but with danger in every word or gesture. The beautiful young girl proved herself equal to all the court. She rose to be one of the greatest female autocrats in history, the most powerful person in China, maintaining her power with a mixture of seduction, intrigue, manipulation and even murder.