Jung Chang - Empress Dowager Cixi


The Concubine Who Launched Modern China

Jung Chang, in conversation about her latest book, Empress Dowager Cixi, with Orville Schell, Arthur Ross Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at Asia Society.

From author and historian Jung Chang, coauthor of the best-selling Mao: The Unknown Story, comes a compelling new look at Cixi, the last Dowager Empress of China. This was a woman who entered the court as a concubine and then ruled China for 50 years, overcoming centuries of traditions and formalities — and found ways to modernize China, exposing its culture to Western political ideas and technology. In this groundbreaking 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, 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. 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. 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 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Based on newly available, mostly Chinese, historical documents, this biography will revolutionize historical thinking about a crucial period in China's — and the world's — history.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.

Followed by a book sale and signing.

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 — the first person from Communist China to receive a doctorate from a British university. She is the author of the bestselling books Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China (which the Asian Wall Street Journal called the most read book about China), and Mao: The Unknown Story (with Jon Halliday). Her 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). Jung Chang has received honorary doctorates from the Universities of Buckingham, York and Warwick, the Open University, UK, and Bowdoin College, USA.

Orville Schell is the Arthur Ross Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at Asia Society in New York. He is a former professor and Dean at the University of California, Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism.

Jung Chang discusses Empress Dowager Cixi in a New York Times podcast
Rahul Jacob review in India's Business Standard

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Event Details

Tue 12 Nov 2013
6:30 - 8 p.m.
725 Park Avenue (at East 70th Street), New York, NY
$10 members; $12 seniors/students with ID; $15 nonmembers
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