Empress Dowager Cixi – The Concubine Who Launched Modern China


Evening conversation with Jung Chang, author and Stephen Vines, Journalist & Writer

Drinks reception at 6:30 pm
Discussion at 7:00 pm
Close at 8:00 pm

The most important woman in Chinese history, Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) ruled China for decades, bringing a medieval empire into the modern age. During a nationwide selection for royal consorts, 16-year-old Cixi was chosen as one of the emperor’s numerous concubines. After his death in 1861, their five-year-old son succeeded to the throne, with Cixi at once launching a palace coup against the regents appointed by her husband making herself the real ruler of China – behind the throne, literally, with a silk screen separating her from her male officials. During her reign, Cixi had to deal with a host of major national crises - the Taiping and Boxer Rebellions, wars with France and Japan, and the invasion by eight allied powers including Britain, Germany and the United States.

In this ground-breaking biography, Jung 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, telegraph, and an army and navy with up-to-date weaponry. It was she who abolished gruesome punishments like ‘death by a thousand cuts’ and put an end to foot-binding. She inaugurated women’s liberation, and embarked on the path to introduce parliamentary elections to China. Jung Chang overturns the conventional view of Cixi as a die-hard conservative and cruel despot, and takes readers into the depths of her splendid Summer Palace and the harem of Beijing’s Forbidden City, where she lived surrounded by eunuchs – with one of whom she fell in love, with tragic consequences. 

Jung Chang is the best-selling author of Wild Swans (1991) which the Asian Wall Street Journal called the most-read book about China, and Mao: The Unknown Story (2005, with Jon Halliday). Her books have been translated into more than 40 languages and sold more than 15 million copies outside mainland China, where they are both banned. She was born in China in 1952 and went to Britain in 1978. She lives in London.

(Photo credit: Jon Holliday)



Stephen Vines is a journalist, writer and businessman. He was founding Chief Editor of Eastern Express, a daily newspaper published in Hong Kong, and a founder and publisher of Spike magazine. More recently he has combined writing with founding and running a number of companies, mainly in the food sector. His latest book is Food Gurus, published last year. Mr. Vines has worked for The Observer, The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph and the BBC.

Event Details

Thu 31 Oct 2013
6:30 - 8 p.m.
9 Justice Drive, Admiralty, Hong Kong
Buy Tickets
HK$180 Asia Society members; HK$230 Non-members
Add to Calendar 20131031T103000 20131031T120000 UTC Asia Society: Empress Dowager Cixi – The Concubine Who Launched Modern China 9 Justice Drive, Admiralty, Hong Kong