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Empress Orchid

by Anchee Min

This book presents a portrait of a concubine to the Chinese emperor in the nineteenth century. It describes society and its rituals inside The Forbidden City in great detail so that it comes to life as a place of great beauty and oppressive formality. Based on true life, Empress Orchid develops from a young naive girl into a woman with power who tries to hold a faltering country together. You will be hooked by this book if you are fascinated by other cultures and historical periods.

Extract

The seven of us performed the kowtow ceremony and stayed on our knees. It seemed as if I had just stepped on to a stage. Although I kept my head down I could see the beautiful vases, the magnificently carved legs of water basins, the floor lanterns with tail lace touching the ground and large good-luck locks draped with silk around the corners of the walls.

I ventured a glance at the Son of Heaven. Emperor Hsien Feng lookeed younger than I had imagined.

Parallels

The Last Emperor by Bertolucci
 

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