HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Cixi: “The Dragon Empress”
Author: Natasha Yim
Illustrator: Peter Malone
Publisher: Goosebottom Books, 2011
Related website: www.goosebottombooks.com (publisher)
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Ages 9-13 (I would say better for 12-16)
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Yim, Natasha. Cixi: “The Dragon Empress” (published in Goosebottom Books LLC, 710 Portofino Lane, Foster City, CA 94404). Did you know that the Chinese also had empresses as well as emperors? The last Chinese empress was Cixi, who was born on November 29, 1835, in Shanxi province, northern China, the daughter of a minor government official, and most likely spent her childhood in Anhui province. Not much is known about her early life. She was very secretive about her upbringing, saying only that she did not have a happy childhood. At age sixteen she was chosen by the Emperor Xianfeng as an imperial concubine and waited on the Empress Dowager Ci’An. In 1856, she gave birth to the Emperor’s only son, Zaichun and upon Xianfeng’s death had her five-year-old son installed as Emperor Tongzhi. Cixi then ousted a group of regents appointed by the late emperor and assumed regency over her young son with Ci’An, consolidating control and establishing near-absolute rule over the Qing dynasty.
When Cixi’s son died of smallpox in 1875, she adopted her three-year-old nephew Zaitien and installed him as the Emperor Guangxu, maintaining her regency. She was a conservative ruler who refused to adopt Western models of government, rejecting reformist views and even placing Guangxu under house arrest in later years for supporting reformers. After the Boxer Rebellion, the Eight-Nation Alliance invaded China in 1900, and Cixi fled with her court to Xian. When she returned, much of Beijing was in ruins. The Emperor Guangxu died on November 14, 1908, and Cixi died a day later on November 15, 1908. The Qing Dynasty collapsed a few years after her death, and it is often said that her isolationist ways brought the imperial system of China to its end. Historians from both Nationalist and Communist backgrounds have generally portrayed her as a despot and villain, but in recent years other historians have suggested that she was a scapegoat for problems beyond her control. So, was she really “The Dragon Empress” as she was nicknamed, or just an out-of-touch ruler who was misunderstood?
This book is one of “The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Dastardly Dames” series that includes volumes about Cleopatra, Agrippina, Mary Tudor, Catherine de Medici, and Marie Antoinette. Most world history books today include non-Western civilization, but when I was in school we didn’t learn much about Chinese history, so I was not familiar with Cixi. It is sometimes suggested that she introduced the smallpox to her son when he started to rule on his own, poisoned his wife Alute and her own rival Ci’An, and finally imprisoned Guangxu and later poisoned him. Others claim that there is no actual evidence for any of this and that Guangxu was not imprisoned in the palace but was recuperating from a serious illness. Both sides are presented, and the reader gets to choose which he thinks. Even if she didn’t do all the things that she’s been charged with, just based on what she did do, I would conclude that she was one “bad dudette.” Cixi: “The Dragon Empress” is a fascinating story. The only reservation that I have is that it is designed for children 9-13, and while the reading level may fit those ages, I don’t know that nine and ten year olds need to be reading a lot about concubines, so I would suggest ages 12-16.