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Empress Orchid

(Empress Orchid #1)

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  21,317 ratings  ·  1,295 reviews
To rescue her family from poverty and avoid marrying her slope-shouldered cousin, seventeen-year-old Orchid competes to be one of the Emperor's wives. When she is chosen as a lower-ranking concubine she enters the erotically charged and ritualised Forbidden City. But beneath its immaculate façade lie whispers of murders and ghosts, and the thousands of concubines will ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published April 11th 2005 by Mariner Books (first published 2003)
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Asteropê It's historical fiction, so of course it wouldn't be written by the Empress herself. The author, like all writers of historical and biographical…moreIt's historical fiction, so of course it wouldn't be written by the Empress herself. The author, like all writers of historical and biographical fiction combines facts and mixes it with fiction. It appears she did her research, even reading primary sources and documents.

From the publisher's website:

Q) You did extensive research for Becoming Madame Mao and lived through the Cultural Revolution in China, which added a special intensity to your descriptions. Did similar experiences inform Empress Orchid?

A) Details are extremely important to me. The most challenging thing has been to get the facts and get them right. There are sometimes several contrasting versions of a single incident involving Empress Orchid, and many sources are false or inaccurate. I went through documents not only in the Forbidden City, but also medical, accounting, and police records. My reading on the lives of eunuchs, maids, palace tutors, imperial warlords, and generals helped me gain crucial perspective. The Empress's food and herb manuals and her opera manuals also revealed a lot about her character.

Q) Remarkably, you and your father were able to gain access to documents in government-guarded storerooms in Beijing. Would you describe how it happened?

A) Well, I had to get my hands on the facts, but no official in Beijing would risk his career to open the door for me. So I tried the "back door." I can't say more than this, because I don't want to get the person who helped me in trouble. Anyway, I got in. The place where all the ancient documents are stored is treated with strong chemicals, so I was told not to stay inside for more than half an hour. But I didn't want to leave. I read the Empress's original decrees (or copies of decrees, I can't be sure). I was choking on the fumes, but I was glad I stayed. The evidence was compelling that she was a fitter ruler than anyone else of that time. There was a reason her regime lasted for forty-six years.

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“A man who does not like power will suffer from its cruelty.”

----Shan Sa

Anchee Min, a Chinese author, has penned an enlightening tale about the last empress of China in her book called, Empress Orchid that revolves around a young concubine of the last emperor of the forbidden city where the young lady is caught in the race against an heir to the king in order to rise above her mistress status, but once she becomes the empress, she gets tangled up in the war of jealously, rage, ugly politics,
I can't say exactly whether this book is a work of fiction or a biography. It tells the story of Ci Xi, China's Last Empress (the one who arranged the ascend of China's Last Emperor, Pu Yi) in her own voice. Ci Xi has always been portrayed as a ruthless, evil woman with insatiable thirst for power and, in this book, she's described as a simple and sensuous woman who wants the best for her husband, a mother who wants her son to have what's rightfully his, and a I-don't-know-what who wants the ...more
After my negative review of The Twentieth Wife A Novel, Mintzi recommended The Last Empress as a superior alternative and I thought I might as well read the prequel first.

"Empress Orchid" started off pretty strong -- Orchid, like Mehrunissa from "The Twentieth Wife," is a poor girl who miraculously rises to be the emperor's wife but unlike Mehrunissa, is not a goody-goody Mary Sue heroine. Chosen from among thousands of young women as the emperor's fourth concubine, Orchid discovers that palace
Crystal Starr Light
Oct 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Crystal Starr Light by: Iset
Bullet Review:

This was a lot of fun to read. I'm always interested in new cultures and new time periods, so this was perfect for me. I loved Orchid; she's the independent, strong-willed female protagonist we're always promised and never get. There were some dry sections, along with a lot of narration and not so much action, but I still enjoyed this heartily.

Full review:

Orchid is a young woman who moved from Wuhu with her family and father's body to Peking. Living in destitution, her best chance

I read this book several years ago, and I thought it was about time for a re-read, especially since I remembered it as being a good read. What I found interesting was the differences from how I remembered it. It was shorter than I recalled, and more brutal and heart-wrenching.

What I enjoy the most about Empress Orchid, and Anchee Min’s writing in general, is her skill at description. She knows how to turn a phrase in an interesting and quirky way that grabs the attention and at the same time
Maja  - BibliophiliaDK ✨

Popsugar Reading Challenge 2019
A book written by an author from Asia, Africa, or South America

This was by no means a bad book. It just wasn't a book I am going to remember either. Which is really a shame, because I really enjoyed some of Anchee Min's other books, such as Red Azalea. This, however, missed the mark for me, personally.


Writing: The prose of this book was so beautiful, flowery and lyrical, it just flowed off the page
May 30, 2008 rated it really liked it
The story of the Dowager Empress of China. It is mostly on her first few years as a concubine, with very little about the final years of the empire (but that's covered in The Last Empress). Nevertheless, very good at capturing the atmosphere and political intrigue. The story continues in The Last Empress (
I really wanted to love this book. I loved the author's autobiography (RED AZELEA) and her novel (KATHERINE)about a foreign English teacher in China, so I expected EMPRESS ORCHID to bring together her amazing talent for prose narrative in English, enhanced with her first-hand research of Chinese sources, to bring to life the mis-judged history of Empress Dowager Tz'u Hsi. [return][return]I anticipated some embellishments, but the total re-creation of Tzu Hsi as "Orchid", into a kind of modern ...more
Apr 22, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: asian-books
I enjoyed this story. It's the first time I've read author, Anchee Min, and I think she crafted an interesting look at China in the mid 1800's. The Forbidden City where the Emperor and his wives, concubines and eunuchs lived has always been of interest to me. I like stories about palace intrigues and this was a good one. I will read the sequel and other books I can find by the author. I picked it up on a whim as I was looking for a different book on the shelves of my library and my intuition was ...more
Oct 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
The first grown-up movie (a movie with subtitles, adult themes, and not based on a comic book or video game) I ever saw was The Last Emperor. I saw it pre-high school. I can't remember why I wanted to see it. I can remember really wanting to see it and loving it. I still love it. So it should be no surprise that the first Anchee Min book I pick up is this one.

At this point, I should let you know that I know very little about Chinese history so I cannot judge this book on its historical accuracy
Feb 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book follows the story of Tzu Hsi (known as Orchid) who enters the Forbidden City as one of the Emperors concubines at the age of seventeen. Over time she seduces the Emperor and bears his son, which means an immediate rise in rank to 2nd Empress (1st Empress is Nuharoo). We see her struggle to keep the Emperor's interest whilst battling with Nuharoo to be allowed to raise her child herself (normal custom is for the first Empress to take over). When the Emperor dies, and names Orchid's son ...more
Empress Orchid was one of those books which left me in the state of oblivion. To put it simply, the book wasn't impactful at all and simply forgettable.

This book tells the beginnings of Ci Xi, known here affectionately as Orchid. Because Orchid is the protagonist, Empress Orchid does boarder on being too one sided and opinionated.

For example, Orchid's 'rival', Nuharoo, is often depicted as childlike and less intelligent. She is, by Orchid's account a woman of leisure who is petty and resorts to
Note to self: You have read this book. Twice. Do not forget again.

Mainly because of all the books I own, I'm kinda pissed I read this one twice. I never reread. Mainly as I have so many books to read. There are some I will reread, probably in a few years time as like a 20th anniversary since first read hurrah or something. But this one wouldn't make the list.

Look. It was fine. It was a story of a poor girl fallen from high background who managed to wiggle her way into the Forbidden City as a
Jul 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book intrigued me because of the summary I read on the inside flap, how this person seduced the emperor. It was even more appealing that this was basically a documentary of a person’s life. It provided a nice reprieve from the modern Chinese novels that I had been reading recently.

I liked learning about the imperial court life by learning about the culture and the politics. It made me appreciate it more, and realize what a great loss the country suffered when Communism eventually made its
Oct 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The story is extremely well written; the characters were compelling, the historical references are well introduced into the story and never weigh the plot down, and the storyline was exciting - I couldn’t put it down. You will appreciate Orchid’s agonies, triumphs, tragedies, and heartaches. These characters will touch your heart, and you will think of them long after the book has ended.
Sep 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: historical fiction junkies
I didn't enjoy this book as much as "Becoming Madame Mao" and "Red Azalea," and would be more apt to award it 3 and a half stars if that rating were available.

Regardless, the book depicts a fascinating time in Chinese history. Imperial China, deeply rooted in ritual and tradition, comes alive in Min's novel about the last Empress of China, Tzu Hsi. I enjoy rags to riches stories, but this one comes at a cost. Imperial life is lavish, yet stifling. The Forbidden City is a place of danger and
Well, this was kind of fun, except that I don't really believe in this version of Cixi. Why is that the authors of historical fiction are afraid to show their heroes as scheming, cunning, ruthless people they were, and end up excusing and sanitizing them? I doubt Cixi was this goody-goody girl in her youth; I don't want to say she must have been evil or anything of the sort, but she must have been cleverer and more entertaining than that.

I liked the details of the court life, and the
Jun 07, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Gave up on 44% . This book needed a lot of patience as it moves very slowly and is extremely dense and detailed. Though intriguing, it progressed too slowly to stay interested. Has been sitting on my shelf, half read, for too long and I just didn't feel like getting back into it.
Jan 09, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bpbg, 2014-books
So my friend set up a book group at the end of last year and I'm now part of a real-world, actual in-person book group - rather than various online ones that I've tried and found unsatisfying. This was our first pick (selection process is made by everyone putting a choice into a hat and then one being picked out).

Historical fiction is a new area for me really, and I'm not sure this was the best book to start with. There are many things good and interesting about the book, but it didn't click
Sep 16, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2010-read
I had high expectations for this book after hearing so much about it on GoodReads. It sort of fell short of those expectations though. I give it 3 stars, which is not bad but I thought it was going to be a 4 to 5 star book.

The story itself was very good and it certainly started very well. Orchid is a very likeable character and because of her humble beginnings and barriers she has to battle you can’t help but like her. As woman living during the Ch’ing Dynasty in 1852 Orchid has many hurdles
Empress Orchid is the first book in a duology which follows Orchid Yehonala, or better known as Empress Dowager Cixi. In this first book we see her life as a young and poor Manchu girl, and how she decides to compete to become one of the Emperor's wives.

I really enjoyed this historical novel. I don't think I've ever read one set in China, and I know absolutely nothing about Chinese history and culture, so everything about this story was new and unexpected to me. The dangers Orchid has to face,
Lisa (Harmonybites)
May 26, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Those Interested in Chinese History
Recommended to Lisa (Harmonybites) by: The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Ultimate Reading List
The author, Amchee Min, was born in Shanghai and came of age in China during the Cultural Revolution, and still visits there regularly. Being able to read Chinese, Min was able to extensively research her period using primary sources. I therefore trusted her depiction of late Ching dynasty China is fairly accurate. This novel is told as the first person account of China's infamous "Dowager Empress," Tzu Hsi aka Red Orchid, who came to the Forbidden City as one of the Emperor's brides when she ...more
Toni Osborne
Feb 04, 2009 rated it liked it
This is a fictionalized account of Empress Tsu His (known as Orchid) who was the power behind the throne of the Ch'ing Dynasty in the 19th century. According to the author the characters are base on real people and the events kept closed to the events in history. The decrees and poems were translated from the original documents:

In the 1850's European incursions and peasant rebellions were already undermining the Dynasty. At the same time Orchid born in to poverty came to the Forbidden City to be
Oct 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book is filled with drama, intrique, loyalty, corruption, forbidden love and mystery. The Forbidden City is a totally different world for the book's heroine, Orchid, who becomes one of the Emperor's wives at the age of 17. Ms. Min has written a spellbinding novel, with colorful and interesting characters, rich detail and a vivid, interesting history of China, complete with details on customs, rituals and distictions between the Manchu's and the Chinese. Orchid and her eunech, An-te-hai will ...more
Orchid has lived much of her life in poverty, but at seventeen, she is chosen to be one of the Emperor’s seven wives/3000 concubines, and is swept into a life or luxury, power and intrigue she never could have imagined. Being a concubine is not quite what she would have thought. And Orchid (a.k.a. Tzu Hsi) is not your usual 19th century Chinese woman.

This was really good. I don’t know very much Chinese history, so all this was new to me. She seems to be such an interesting, strong woman. This
J.S. Dunn
Oct 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Devoured, and followed with the companion The Last Empress . Engaging, detailed, literate, and intelligent: what one wishes for in the best of historical fiction these days. A soap opera plot is unnecessary when the narrative is so full.

Min's personal history in China no doubt contributed immensely to the gravitas of the Empress 'voice' and the attention to physical detail, from weather to plants blooming in the appropriate months ( a shame how often an author throws in the name of a
Alison Forde
The story of Empress Orchid should have been riveting. A life of intrique in dramatic times, novelised by an author who lived through turbulent political times herself. However I found it a very dull read. It's as if Min has pulled together a whole load of historical facts, with a little novelisation. The book does a good job of letting us into the world of obscene luxury and waste, the dullness of waiting, the fear of rejection, and undoubtedly Orchid was a remarkable woman who used the ...more
Alina Maria Ciobanu
Jan 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is the fictionalized story of the last empress of China, a very interesting insight into the life of the imperial court towards the end of the Qing dynasty. A world apart within the walls of the Forbidden City, dominated by the fight for power and influence.
Just arrived from Greece.

This book is based on the true story of the last empress of China who is chosen to be become a concubine of the emperor and spent her life in the Forbidden City. The plot is very well written keeping reader's full attention.
Sep 20, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
start was good,but petered out in the middle and the end was oh so boring and abrupt.
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Nothing But Readi...: Min, Anchee - Empress Orchid - Informal Buddy Read; Start: February 12, 2015 5 142 Nov 16, 2014 10:06AM  
SPOLER ALERT** The ending?!?! 2 55 Mar 23, 2014 10:58AM  
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Anchee Min was born in Shanghai in 1957. At seventeen she was sent to a labor collective, where a talent scout for Madame Mao's Shanghai Film Studio recruited her to work as a movie actress. She moved to the United States in 1984. Her first memoir, Red Azalea, was an international bestseller, published in twenty countries. She has since published six novels, including Pearl of China and the ...more

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