The blurb reads,
“When I was a child, I thought my destiny was to live and die on the banks of the Xiangjiang River as my family had done for generations. I never imagined that my life would lead me to the Forbidden City and the court of China’s last Empress.
Born in the middle of nowhere, Yaqian, a little embroidery girl from Hunan Province, finds her way to the imperial court, a place of intrigue, desire, and treachery. From the bed of an Emperor, the heart of a Prince, and the right side of an Empress, Yaqian weaves her way through the most turbulent decades of China’s history and witnesses the fall of the Qing Dynasty.”
I absolutely loved reading this book. For some reason, I’m very attracted to reading books about China and their culture and this book completely hooked me from the get go.
The one thing that I keep wondering about, was how restricted Chinese women were, and I know, after reading this book, that I’m being remarkably blasé saying Chinese when I probably mean Han, who the protagonist is. The binding of the legs, the matchmaker, their customs. It strikes me as being a completely different world. I can’t imagine the way women were simply treated as child bearers and having no importance in the household. I suppose, there are a lot of countries where women are still treated that way, but reading the extent to which lives were mechanized there in China really amazed me.
I find myself drawn to their history and culture, probably because they have preserved it so well. Their knowledge of their own traditions is intact and accessible. It makes studying or immersing yourself in their culture a rewarding exercise.
Reading about the Qing empire made me research about them on Wikipedia, and it was especially interesting to note how the British landed in the country and went ahead spreading Christianity in the country. I find that an extremely sore point and it angers me to know that countries still routinely send missionaries preaching the superiority of their religion over others. And forcibly converting people. The grim realities in villages in India and Sri Lanka supports me when I say this practice is absolutely disgusting. And to know that it got to China and its people earlier really hurt me. I wish Christianity and Islam as religions stuck to their own roots and did not seek others to add to their religion like a flock of lambs. This behavior is crude and I wish leaders had the guts to call it out globally.
I do digress. Reading about Empress Dowager Cixi showed me a different side to her. Wikipedia spoke about the decisions that she took and the failures that resulted in the collapse of the Qing Dynasty, and yet, I felt Cixi was very smart for most of her life. She showed that if a woman is given the reins and she has enough confidence, she can go the distance.
I spent a few nights completely absorbed reading about the collapse and the end of the Qing Dynasty and reading about how foreign invasions hurt them. And how their loss in wars hurt them. I’ve always felt colonial expansion deprived our world of a lot and this book reinforced that. To say that every country colonized has lost a great deal would be.. diminishing the true extent of the depletion in world culture that resulted.
I absolutely absolutely loved this book. I loved how this book transported me into the Royal Palace in the Forbidden City and how vividly every scene played out! I really wish more such books come my way which transport me in history.
My Rating: 4.5/5