Jung Chang in Conversation with Anne Chao
Internationally known for the bestselling Wild Swans and Mao: The Unknown Story, Jung Chang has returned with her first book in eight years. Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China (Random House) is the biography of the extraordinary woman who single-handedly dragged China into the modern age.
Empress Dowager Cixi is the most important woman in Chinese history. She ruled China for forty-seven years and brought a medieval empire into the modern age. At the age of sixteen, in a nationwide selection for royal consorts, Cixi was chosen as one of Emperor Xianfeng’s numerous concubines. When Xianfeng died in 1861, their five-year-old son, Tongzhi, became the next emperor. Cixi at once launched a palace coup, ousted the regents appointed by her husband, and made herself the real ruler of China—behind the throne, literally, with a silk screen separating her from her male officials.
In this groundbreaking biography, Dr. Chang vividly describes how Cixi fought against monumental obstacles to change China. Under her the ancient country attained virtually all the attributes of a modern state: industries, railways, electricity, the telegraph, an army and navy with up-to-date weaponry. She developed foreign trade and diplomacy and established an entirely new education system. Newspapers were published for the first time. It was she who abolished gruesome punishments like “death by a thousand cuts” and put an end to foot-binding. Dr. Chang comprehensively overturns the conventional common view of Cixi as a diehard conservative and cruel despot.
Cixi reigned over extraordinary times and had to deal with a host of major national crises: the Taiping and Boxer rebellions, wars with France and Japan—and an invasion by eight allied powers including Britain, Germany, Russia, and the United States. Dr. Chang not only records the Empress Dowager’s conduct of domestic and foreign affairs, but also takes the reader into the depths of her splendid Summer Palace and Beijing’s Forbidden City, where she lived surrounded by eunuchs. The world Dr. Chang describes here, in fascinating detail, seems almost unbelievable in its extraordinary mixture of the very old and the very new.
Based on newly available, mostly Chinese, historical documents, this biography will revolutionize historical thinking about a crucial period in China’s—and the world’s—history. Packed with drama, fast paced and gripping, it is both a panoramic depiction of the birth of modern China and an intimate portrait of a woman: as the concubine to a monarch, as the absolute ruler of a third of the world’s population, and as a unique stateswoman.
Light Reception: 1:30 pm
Program: 2:00 pm
About Jung Chang
Jung Chang (張戎 /张戎) was born in Sichuan Province, China, in 1952. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) she worked as a peasant, a ‘barefoot’ doctor, a steelworker, and an electrician before becoming an English-language student at Sichuan University. She left China for Britain in 1978 and obtained a PhD in Linguistics in 1982 at the University of York, becoming the first person from the People's Republic of China to receive a doctorate from a British university.
She is the author of the best-selling books Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China (which the Asian Wall Street Journal has called the most read book about China), and Mao: The Unknown Story (with Jon Halliday). Dr. Chang's books have been translated into more than 40 languages and sold more than 15 million copies, in addition to millions in pirated editions and computer downloads in mainland China where both books are banned. Among the many awards she has won are the UK Writers’ Guild Best Non-Fiction (1992) and Book of the Year UK (1993).
Dr. Chang has received honorary doctorates from the Universities of Buckingham, York, and Warwick as well as The Open University (UK) and Bowdoin College (USA).
About Anne Chao
Anne Chao received her Ph.D. in Modern Chinese History from Rice University in 2009. Her dissertation focused on the social networks of Chen Duxiu, the founder of the Chinese Communist Party. Chao is interested in the use of digitalization in social network analysis. Dr. Chao has published articles ranging from the world peace movement and Chinese intellectuals at the turn of the 20th century, to the literary perspective of Chinese American immigration. She is a co-investigator of the Houston Asian American Archive (HAAA), which is a pioneering effort to collect and preserve the experiences of the early Asian Americans to Houston. In addition to the oral history archive, Dr. Chao’s current projects include editing papers from a workshop she organized on the May Fourth movement for publication in the journal Twentieth Century China and turning her dissertation into a book.