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Dragon Lady: The Life and Legend of the Last Empress of China
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Dragon Lady: The Life and Legend of the Last Empress of China

3.83  ·  Rating Details ·  526 Ratings  ·  39 Reviews
The author of The Soong Dynasty gives us our most vivid and reliable biography yet of the Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi, remembered through the exaggeration and falsehood of legend as the ruthless Manchu concubine who seduced and murdered her way to the Chinese throne in 1861.
Paperback, 624 pages
Published August 31st 1993 by Vintage (first published March 6th 1992)
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Jan 05, 2013 Issendai rated it did not like it
Shelves: china
Weird, poorly cited revisionist history in which the author draws strange conclusions from selectively interpreted evidence. For example, he argues that Tzu Hsi couldn't possibly have been behind certain political actions because she was at her summer palace when the actions took place. Er... yes, she was at her summer palace for the summer, just like the long line of male rulers before her. Does the author think they ceased to rule while they were away from the Forbidden City, too? Or did only ...more
After reading Empress Orchid, a historical novelization of the life of Tzu Hsi, the last empress of China, I wanted to know more, so I picked this up.

I was already aware that Anchee Min's version was revisionist history and I'm not qualified to evaluate whatever the "true" version is, but I was coming in with an open mind (and the knowledge that most of the prior history I would have been exposed to was a colonial narrative.)

Still, I only made it halfway through this book. It's hard to take his
May 11, 2015 LATOYA SAUNDERS rated it liked it
The prologue is wordy and circuitous. A lot of talk to say that Empress Tzu Hsi was maliciously slandered for the personal gain of individuals and the justification of nations. Just skip it the rest of the book makes this all too clear.
Dense with historical information as well as noninformation and where it came from. Honestly the fictional tales about the empress are much more entertaining, which is probably why it's so widely believed.
A very well written account about somewhat boring subject
Kevin Ashby
Mar 15, 2010 Kevin Ashby rated it did not like it
About as good as most revisionist histories. He is so eager to prove that his subject is misunderstood he refuses to allow that any negatives are true. He paints her as China's Mother Theresa. Simply silly. Avoid at all costs.
May 18, 2008 Caleb rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those who have an interest in 19th century Asian politics.
I think that Seagrave's biography exemplifies the often forgotten fact that history isn't always as black & white as many people make it out to be. Lady Yehonala, better known as the Dowager Empress Ci-Xi, was by any measure an enigma even to her ladies-in-waiting & eunuchs who served her. However, historians & the "biographers" J.O.P. Bland & Edmund Backhouse, as well as the self-styled "reformer" Kang Youwei turned Ci-Xi, instead of a woman who sat calmly behind her silk screen ...more
Andrew Guthrie
Feb 22, 2010 Andrew Guthrie rated it really liked it
Given the thousands of years history of dynastic China, this is a good place to start - at the end. Seagrave is a historical revisionist as he proves that the "Dragon Lady" in question, Tz'u-Hsi, previously was burdened by a spurious, yet historically accepted, biography, one fabricated by Westerners, making her out to be a nymphomaniacal, blood-thirsty, power-monger, when in fact she was a mild mannered political figurehead. While Seagrave casts the European powers in a most unfavorable light, ...more
Michael Flick
Jan 16, 2012 Michael Flick rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: worst
Don't waste your time reading this silly, sorry screed, polemic failing to masquerade as history. Written in a constant rage with a huge chip on the shoulder and many, many axes to grind. The author loses all credibility as he goes along: eunuchs are not "man-made hermaphrodites," iron-cap (not "ironhat") princes were not named after their headgear nor their politics, an ethnic majority doesn't live in a ghetto, there's no "e" in tiffin (and no call for the word), lying did not bring down the Ma ...more
Nov 22, 2009 Olivia rated it it was ok
Shelves: china
I dunno, I don't think I'll finish it. I'm all for revisionist history when it's true and well written, but this one didn't grab me. It is voyueristic while condemning voyuerism (did we REALLY need samples of the victorian porn written by this biographer's chosen "bad guy?"), and seems so anxious to prove that the charges against Cixi (and what's with the funny Wade-Giles/Pinyin hybrid spelling?) were fabricated that it goes too far and tries to turn her into a relateable character.

It may be (p
Dec 10, 2010 Whitaker rated it really liked it
A really great book shows us how everything is great and worth to die for
Dec 21, 2010 Tifnie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
I had placed off reading this book for some time simply because I thought the text would be dry and I didn't think I would be whole-heartedly interested. Well, my mistake. I did enjoy this book and while at times the content was monotonus,it was a riveting read filled with an extreme amount of sadness.

I did enjoy Sterling Seagrave's style of writting. He address all the forklore regarding Dowager Empress Tzi Hsu and then filled you in on what really transpired.

Dragon Lady is basically about the
Edward LeMay
Love the book. Seagrave ehabilitates the Last empress of China --- Tzu Hsi (also XiCi) The Empress of the West (as she lived in a Pavilion on the West Side of The Summer Palace or The Forbidden City. An amazing woman who as regent for at least 3 Emperors, she held the last years of the Manchu in China... The West, especially Morrison of the London Times did a real number on Tzu Hsi -- more fantasy (and sexual fantasy to boot) and fiction... with himself as hero! Along the way Seagrave paints a g ...more
Nov 29, 2012 Gianna rated it really liked it
Shelves: asian, non-fiction
This is a well-researched book, in which Seagrave painstakingly refutes what the West has believed about Empress Tzu Hsi for a century. The outrageous myths about her life were invented and disseminated by both western and Chinese propaganda and had been accepted at face value even though the people responsible for their invention did not have access to the intricate traditions of the court and especially the empress. Seagrave also claims that Lady Yehenara has been a victim of mistaken identity ...more
M Strawberry Reviews
This book is a good read for anyone wanting to know the truth about the infamous Empress Tzu Hsi/Cixi. Seagrave clearly has researched his facts, and I also enjoyed the fact that he shared facts about China itself as well, and about the Manchu court among other things, to add to the facts that he found out about Tzu Hsi herself. My only real beef is with the title, as Cixi was not really the last empress (Empress Dowager Longyu and Empress Wan Rong, who was only titular Empress) came after her, ...more
Anne Thessen
Aug 11, 2008 Anne Thessen rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in history, China or women in politics
Recommended to Anne by: Ricky
I don't normally read biographies, but this 500+ page tome covered more than just the life of the last Empress of China. This book describes Chinese history from about 1860 to 1910 and demonstrates how easy it is for a handful of individuals to hijack history. The author claims to be writing the correct version of events and giving an accurate representation of the Empress Tsu Hsi, unlike every other author who has perpetuated a reptilian image of the Empress. I'm not sure why he can get it
Rom Gayoso
Feb 03, 2015 Rom Gayoso rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author did a great job with this book! I tend to like historical novels, and even more so those that work to bring the reader into a position to peak into the world vie of that time. As I sought to learn more about Asian Studies in college, I came across he intriguing personality of empress CiXi. Initially it was difficult to understand her behavior in a time of great crisis for China, so I decided to read more about her and Seagrave's book helped me better understand her perspectives as I u ...more
Chase Parsley
Jun 08, 2013 Chase Parsley rated it really liked it
An awesome book! Everything you know about Cixi and the late Qing dynasty is wrong, and it reaffirms the crucial lesson about being careful where a person gets their information. That being said, Seagrave certainly tells it the way he thinks, and I would be interested in reading a critique of his many claims. The only part of the book that did not keep me on the edge of my seat was the extremely long-winded account of the Boxer Rebellion. It made me think that Seagrave wrote a book on the Boxer ...more
Andrew Nolan
Oct 13, 2012 Andrew Nolan rated it liked it
Recommended to Andrew by: Sven
Shelves: non-fiction
An amazing look into a period of China's history that I knew nothing about. This is probably one of my first forays into a non-fiction/biography and found it incredibly insightful how the author was able to piece together information to give a well rounded view of the Last Empress of China.

Sterling Seagrave has managed to put together a book full of information and facts and yet it reads like a fiction novel, keeping the reader hooked from one chapter to another.
Jan 03, 2014 Lisa rated it it was ok
Normally, I don't rate biographies harshly. Frankly, this was not a true biography. There was so much conjecture thrown in by the author that I never trusted that was I was reading was a heavily researched bit, or something that the author pulled out of a hat. There was a lack of focus given to the subject that even after completing the book, I don't have even a nearly complete portrait of either the life or legend of "The Last Empress of China."
Jan 06, 2012 Tiemu rated it it was amazing
According to Sterling Seagrave, established biographies and information about Cu Xi are based on dubious, if not blatantly forged, sources. Nobody bothered correcting or pointing out these anomalies because Cu Xi has been a convenient scapegoat for everyone: her own Court, European colonisers, nationalists, communists, and lazy commentators.

Sterling Seagrave's revisionist biography claims to be based on reliable sources, setting the record straight.
Lynn Lewis
Mar 09, 2014 Lynn Lewis rated it liked it
I could not get too far in this book. It's not that I am averse to reading deep, non-fictional, technical stuff. It's just that the subject matter, although very interesting, is so dark with nasty intrigues, evil intentions, and ridiculously incompetent governance. I find myself siding with the Chinese Communists and indeed Mao Tse-Tung. That is actually a compliment to the author's rendering of the subject matter but it's too dark for me to stay stepped in the subject matter.
Feb 15, 2013 Michael rated it it was amazing
having spent considerable time in Hong Kong and China I absolutely recommend this. The Empress gets a bad rep - and I'm sure for good reason in many instances - but this is a great look into her life.. and afterward you can make your own decisions about what happened in the first decade of China's 20th century.. fascinating!
Oct 07, 2014 Chris rated it liked it
I don't know enough to comment on the history, but the book is a well-written and fascinating account of the Empress Dowager, embedded in the context and politics at the confluence of the height of European imperialism and the late Manchu dynasty. The exploration of the motivations of Europeans in creating the narrative around China is as fascinating as the story itself.
Oct 03, 2009 Peter rated it really liked it
The author is a well-known chronicle of east Asia culture and history. He did his best interpretation with what he had. But I would like a different take from another author. Very vivid and impressive read. It was a totally absorbing read.
Ange Power
A fascinating book! Whether the historical facts are right??.....The vivid description of the Manchu Imperial Court was well researched and written. The desecration of the Forbidden City was appalling!
I guess this is a book where you need to have a specific interest in the subject rather than just a general one.

Did learn that the Chinese invented cock rings, so it wasn't a complete waste of time.
Livia Frossard
Nov 30, 2015 Livia Frossard rated it did not like it
The author spends most of the time justifying Empress Cixi's life and choices and, specially, criticizing other biographers. Therefore, the prose is very poor. Not good entertainment and not even good as a history revision. I didn't even finish the book.
Apr 27, 2007 R.J. rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: recommend
History so loves to turn an almost powerless woman into a monster of history...
Sep 11, 2014 Emiliana rated it it was ok
Did not stay with me after I put it down . I cannot recall most of it
Aug 07, 2012 Julia rated it really liked it
I read this after Jung Chang's recent work on 'CIXI'. Hard to decide where the truth lies more research necessary. But a fascinating read nonetheless.
Jan 27, 2010 Tara rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Real story, using primary resources, of the Dowager Empress CiXi.
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