The National Library of Australia reports, “Hugh Trevor-Roper, Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford, was asked to examine the Backhouse manuscript by its Swiss custodians. In Hermit of Peking: The Hidden Life of Sir Edmund Backhouse, Trevor-Roper dismissed the autobiography as historically worthless fiction by a man he called a forger, confidence trickster and fantasist. He concluded, ‘Backhouse’s ‘memoirs’ are not an edifying work. They are a pornographic novelette’, and unpublishable.”
But Backhouse’s journalistic fraud served as the foundation for most history texts still used today that continue to slander Tzu Hsi.
To do Tzu Hsi justice and to discover the truth, one should read Seagrave’s Dragon Lady, The Life and Legend of the Last Empress of China.
To learn who the real woman was that ruled China pay attention to what Robert Hart wrote about Hzu Hsi in his letters and journals. Robert Hart arrived in China from Ireland in 1854 to learn the language as an interpreter for the British consulate in Ningpo. In 1859, almost five years later, Hart quit his job with the British and went to work for the Emperor of China as an employee. He returned to England in 1908.
When I was researching Robert Hart’s life while working on my historical fiction novel My Splendid Concubine, I learned that Hart became Inspector General of Chinese Maritime Customs and worked closely with the Imperial ministers and Manchu princes. Before returning to England after living in China for fifty-four years, Hart met with the Dowager Empress in a private audience inside the Forbidden City.
Hart referred to Tzu Hsi as “the Buddha” and later “the old Buddha” since she was a devout Buddhist and it is obvious that he thought of her with affection and admiration.
In fact, Hart, who is considered the Godfather of China’s modernization, at no time indicated in anything he wrote that Tzu Hsi was conspiratorial, sinister or manipulative. However, he did indicate that she was strong-willed and hot-tempered, clever and had ability.
Tzu Hsi died in 1908 a few weeks after Robert Hart left China and returned to England to live out his final few years. The Qing Dynasty collapsed in 1911, the same year Robert Hart died.
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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.
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