Empress Orchid

From a master of the historical novel, Empress Orchid sweeps readers into the heart of the Forbidden City to tell the fascinating story of a young concubine who becomes China’s last empress. Min introduces the beautiful Tzu Hsi, known as Orchid, and weaves an epic of a country girl who seized power through seduction, murder, and endless intrigue. When China is threatened by enemies, she alone seems capable of holding the country together. - Amazon.com
Year of Publication
Number of Pages
Mariner Books
New York, NY
ISSN Number
Average: 2.5 (4 votes)


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Political Intrigue in the Forbidden City

Field of Interest/Specialty: Film / English
Posted On: 05/27/2022
What level educator are you? High, University
Usefulness as a Student or Classroom Resource: Only parts of this are useful
Usefulness as an Educator Resource: Very Useful
Have you actually used this resource? No

This novel offers a glimpse into the interwoven, highly complex guanxi (relations) among the Chinese, more specifically among the Chinese royals of the Late Qing dynasty.  When making decisions or taking actions, the characters must consider the repercussions across entire networks of relations as well as vast lengths of time: for the Western reader, this is perhaps the most foreign aspect of the book--and therefore richest opportunity for learning about Chinese culture.  

Rich in imagery, sweeping in scope, this could be tough to use in regular high school classes, but for AP levels it would work well as a companion to explorations of the Manchus and the Qing Dynasty.  It is not Anchee Min's best book in terms of originality of craft (I think that honor belongs to Becoming Madame Mao); however, it is worth the read at the very least as engaging background information on the late Qing dynasty and Chinese social relations.

Love in the Time of Western Encroachment

Field of Interest/Specialty: China, Japan. Literature, History, Culture.
Posted On: 10/28/2015

Anchee Min's fictionalized account of the early years of the Empress Dowager Cixi, is both engaging and touching. Min's colorful and fluid prose provides a vibrant description of life in the Forbidden City during one of modern China's most troubling times. Cixi's relationship with the Emperor and her feuds with the other wives take center stage amid the backdrop of Western Imperialism. Fears of her husband impotence mirror the inadequacies of his reign. Cixi's touching account of the sack of Beijing and the Forbidden City following the Second Opium War provide the reader with a unique perspective on western aggression. The book is appropriate for mature students, though it does contain some graphic descriptions of the role of a royal concubine. I highly recommend this book for teachers who can easily pull chapters or sections for use in class.

Empress Orchid

Field of Interest/Specialty: Social Sciences
Posted On: 10/20/2015

Empress Orchid by Anchee Min is the fictional story of a country girl who becomes on of the wives of the Emperor of China. Tzu Hsi and her family move to Beijing following the death of her father. There, while living in her uncles house her life takes a major turn when she is selected to be one of the wives of the young Emperor. She begins her life in the Forbidden City where she learns how she must survive and overcome a life of loneliness. She learns very quickly the culture and power structure of the Forbidden City. The palace dynamics and intrigue is very interesting. Min makes the people come alive as she describes the inner working of the palace and the relationships among the different people who live there. This story of the women who became Empress Orchid where a smart you woman, who lived during very turbulent time in China, is able to rise in a very male dominated environment to become a person who greatly influences and even helps run the country of China. It is an impressive story written will that will keep you interested and wanting more. I hope to read other Anchee Min novels especially "Becoming Madame Mao" and "The Last Empress." I think I would recommend this book for high school students especially girls. I potential middle school students could also read it. I enjoyed the book and would recommend it also for adult book clubs.