Empress Orchid is a fictional account of the early life of Empress Dowager Cixi — also known as Orchid — who ruled China during the late Qing Dynasty.
At the age of seventeen, Orchid competes to become one of the Emperor's wives and is chosen as a concubine. Determined to improve her lot, she learns the art of seduction and bribes her way into the ruler's bed. As she rises in the ranks of his paramours, she faces enemies at all sides.
"My imperial life began with a smell. A rotten smell that came from my father's coffin — he had been dead for two months and we were still carrying him, trying to reach Peking, his birthplace, for burial. [...] In my memory, my father was not a happy man. He had been repeatedly demoted because of his poor performance in the suppression of the Taiping peasant uprisings. Not until later did I learn that my father was not totally to blame. For years China had been dogged by famine and foreign aggression. Anyone who tried on my father's shoes would understand that carrying out the Emperor's order to restore peace in the countryside was impossible -- peasants saw their lives as no better than death."
Anchee Min is the author of two memoirs, The Cooked Seed and The Red Azalea, and several novels including Empress Orchid, The Last Empress, and Pearl of China. She lives in San Francisco and Shanghai.
Length: 368 pages
Set in: China