Scanning HCPL’s catalog for books of “A Wicked History” Series, the only female I found was Catherine the Great. Looking beyond the scope of HCPL, I found two more females in this series – Mary Tudor and Cixi. (When selecting biographies, I seek out the females first due to my youth spent in Girl Scouts.) I knew next to nothing about Cixi, even the pronunciation of her name (it’s tsu shee, by the way). Thus, I requested her biography through interlibrary loan (ILL).
Cixi was born on 29 November 1835, more than likely in the Anhui province. Since she was a girl, she probably didn’t even have a first name. Later on, she was called Yehenara. Scholars believe she was born in the Anhui province of China. Her family was very poor but she was fortunate to be born into the Manchu clan, the ruling clan of China.
Being a Manchu enabled Yehenara’s family to register her as a concubine for the emperor. Additionally, Yehenara was pretty, crafty, and power hungry. Yehenara became a concubine of Xianfeng (shee-ahn-fung), Emperor of China, part of the Qing (ching) Dynasty. Yehenara secured her position in the dyanstic family by bearing Xianfeng a son. At Xianfeng’s early demise, Yehenara became Cixi, Empress Dowager of the West Palace.
From there, Cixi developed into a despotic puppetmaster, residing behind a silk curtain and directing her son, then her nephew in all matters. Many believed she poisoned those who opposed her conservative, then reactionary ideology. During her time as the woman behind the man, Cixi dealt with the hard blows of rebellion, invasion, natural disaster, and famine. She hindered more than helped, accused of driving her very own people to “chaos and starvation.”
I appreciated much that Price provided pronunciations of Chinese words and Price explained events well. Of all the biographies from the series I’ve read, I thought this one the most appropriate for juvenile audiences. As I previously stated, I knew very little about Cixi and can’t argue much with what Price has told me.
Was Cixi simply a product of her environment or was she evil?
Four Out of Five Pearls
I have often thought that I am the most clever woman who ever lived, and others cannot compare with me.
– Cixi, Empress Dowager of China
Word Bank: (from the glossary of this book)
- ancestor – a relative who lived a long time ago
- barbarian – someone who is savage or uncivilized
- barricade – a barrier to stop people from getting past a certain point
- blaspheme – to say offensive things about a religion
- billet – a chunky piece of wood
- Buddhism – a religion based on the teachings of Buddha and practiced mainly in eastern and central Asia
- calligraphy – the art of beautiful handwriting
- civilization – an advanced stage of human organization, technology, and culture
- concubine – a woman who has been chosen to be one of a Chinese emperor’s official mates, but whose social status is below that of a wife
- Confucianism – a religion based on the teachings of Confucius, a Chinese philosopher who lived in ancient times
- conservative – someone who opposes change and likes things to stay as they are or used to be
- convert – a person who has changed his or her religion
- corrupt – to make someone bad or dishonest
- democracy – a country in which the people choose their leaders in elections
- diplomat – a person who represents his or her country’s government in a foreign country
- elite – a group of people who have special advantages and privileges
- embassy – the official place in a foreign country where an ambassador lives and works
- emperor – the male ruler of an empire
- empress dowager – the title given to the mother of a Chinese emperor
- eunuchs – men who could not have children and were servants to the Chinese imperial family
- famine – a life-threatening lack of food
- missionary – someone who is sent by a religious group to another place to teach that group’s faith
- opium – an addictive drug that comes from the sap of the opium poppy
- queue – a brad of hair, usually worn at the back of the head
- reform – a removal or correction of an abuse or wrong
- regent – a person selected to act as head of state because the ruler is too young to rule or is absent or ill
- seal – a design pressed into wax and made into a stamp; it may be used to make a document official
- sedan chair – a portable chair that is carried by two men
- shrine – a holy building that often contains sacred objects
- stupefied – astonished
- succession – the order in which one person after another takes over a title or throne
- Taoism – a Chinese religious tradition that emphasizes compassion, moderation, humility, and simplicity
- treachery – the act of turning against someone who trusted you
For more on Cixi, please see the following:
- The Palace Museum
- Secret World of the Forbidden City: Splendors from China’s Imperial Palace — Exhibitions — Oakland Museum of California
- Cixi: The Woman Behind the Throne | History & Archaeology | Smithsonian Magazine
- Summer Palace (Yiheyuan)
- Arsenic killed Chinese emperor, reports say – CNN.com