The Qing Dynasty’s Last Leader was a Woman: Part 2 of 2

June 20, 2018

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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The Qing Dynasty’s Last Leader was a Woman: Part 1 of 2

June 19, 2018

Empress Dowager Tzu Hsi ruled the Qing Dynasty as a coregent after her husband, the Xianfeng Emperor died in 1861, and her son, The Tongzhi Emperor (1856 – 1875), was too young at age five to rule China.

Sterling Seagrave, the author of Dragon Lady, writes, “Absurdly little was known about her life. The New York Times printed a long, error filled obituary calling her Tzu An, the title of her coregent, who had died twenty-seven years earlier.”

Many current history texts continue to slander the Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi (1835 – 1908) without much evidence as one of history’s most monstrous women, an alleged ruthless Manchu concubine who seduced and murdered her way to the throne in 1861 to rule China through prevision, corruption and intrigue.

This is how many still think of Tzu Hsi. In addition, she was accused of murdering her son, and then years later her nephew, who died the day before she did.

Instead, her son died of syphilis because he preferred prostitutes to the hundreds of virgin concubines that belonged to him. Rumors claimed that Tzu Hsi had her nephew poisoned, but Yuan Shikai may have had him poisoned so he could become the next emperor. There is no evidence to support either allegation.

How did Tzu Hsi earn such a bad reputation?

It seems that she earned this reputation similar to how today’s China has been smeared in much of the Western media. Thanks to a liar and fraud by the name of Edmund Backhouse, who was a reporter for The London Times and his bestselling book “China under the Empress Dowagers”, Tzu Hsi’s fate to be labeled a monster and murderer  was guaranteed until 1976 when Backhouse’s fraud and lies were revealed.

Continued in Part 2 on June 20, 2018

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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How far are you willing to go to enhance your beauty?

May 2, 2018

In ancient China, the process of foot binding usually started between the ages of four and seven.  Feet were soaked in a blood and herb mixture. Toes were broken. Then the arch was broken. There was extreme pain since no drugs were used. It is estimated that in about a thousand year period about two billion Chinese women went through the process.

But China wasn’t always like this. According to historical accounts, foot binding appeared in China during the Song Dynasty (960 – 1276 AD). That means Chinese women before the Song Dynasty did not have their feet broken to keep them small. In fact, during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD), women gained more freedom that wouldn’t return until after the Civil War that the Chinese Communist Party won in 1949.

The Manchu leaders of the Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1911) attempted to stop foot binding, and Manchu women did not bind their feet, but many Han women continued the practice. More than 90-percent of China’s population is Han.

In 1928, the Nationalist government also attempted to end foot binding but with mixed success. In rural areas, large feet were still considered unattractive and unacceptable and the practice continued. Smithsonian Magazine says, “Despite the pain, millions of Chinese women stood firm in their devotion to the tradition.”

The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco reports, “Even in 19th century San Francisco, there were Chinese girls and women with bound feet.”

For millions of Chinese women, the practice of foot binding continued until 1949 when the Chinese Communist Party came into power and enacted laws that made women equal to men for the first time in China’s history.

And if you think the practice of foot binding in China was horrible, the BBC reports, “There are still plenty of fashion victims in the 21st Century. ‘Although we haven’t got corsets or crinolines anymore, there are now people having their ribs removed to get a smaller waist.’”

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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Subscribe to my newsletter to hear about new releases and get a free copy of my award-winning, historical fiction short story “A Night at the Well of Purity”.

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The Art and Poetry of the Tang Dynasty

March 28, 2018

Stone tells us, “Of the approximately 2,200 Tang poets, many were women, including China’s only female emperor, Empress Wu Zetian, but the works of female poets overall were not popular until the mid-to-late Tang Period (mid-700s A.D. to 907 A.D.), several generations after Empress Wu’s reign. At this time, women enjoyed more freedom than women of the following dynasties, especially those who were educated and of the upper class.”

One of Wu Zetian’s poems was about an imperial visit to a park.

Tomorrow morning I will make an outing to Shanglin Park,
With urgent haste I inform the spring:
Flowers must open their petals overnight,
Don’t wait for the morning wind to blow!

Song Zhi-wen, another Tang Dynasty poet, was found guilty of accepting bribes. In one of his poems he revealed that he had good reason to fear returning home from exile because when he did, he was executed.

Crossing the Han River
Song Zhi-wen (656 – 712 A.D.)

No news, no letters – all winter, all spring —
Beyond the mountains.
With every homeward step more timid still
I dare not even inquire of passerby.

Another example of Tang Dynasty poetry is The View in Spring by Du Fu (712 – 770 A.D.).

A kingdom smashed, its hills and rivers still here,
Spring in the city, plants and trees grow deep.
Moved by the moment, flowers splash with tears,
Alarmed at parting, birds startle the heart.
War’s beacon fires have gone on three months,
Letters from home are worth thousands in gold.
Fingers run through white hair until it thins,
Cap-pins will almost no longer hold.

(Owen, Stephen, trans. An Anthology of Chinese Literature: Beginnings to 1911. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1996, p. 420. )

The next poem is one of many that Yuan Zhen (779 – 831 A.D.) wrote for his dead wife, who he married when he was poor. She did not live long enough to share his fame and fortune.

In former years, we chatted carelessly of death and what it means
to die.
Since then, it’s passed before my very eyes.
I’ve given almost all your clothes away
But cannot bear to move your sewing things.
Remembering your past attachments, I’ve been kind to maids you
I’ve met your soul in dreams and ordered sutras sung.
Certainly, I know this sorrow comes to all
But to poor and lowly couples, everything life brings is sad.

The art of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) explored new possibilities in materials and styles. For instance, Tang Tri-colored Pottery thrived in the Tang Dynasty over 1300 years ago. Its glaze mainly features the three colors of yellow, green and white, but “tri-color” does not only refer to these three colors but many others.

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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China’s Feminist Emperor Wu Zetian

March 27, 2018

Emperor Wu Zetian (624 – 705 AD) of the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD) ranks alongside Cleopatra—the last Pharaoh of Egypt, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen Isabella of Spain, Queen Elizabeth I of England, Catherine the Great, and the British Empire’s Queen Victoria.

We Zetian was the only woman in China’s history to become an emperor, and her rise to power and reign as an emperor has been unjustly and harshly criticized by Confucian historians. She is one of the most remarkable women in Chinese and world history.

The second and third emperors of the Tang Dynasty were her husbands and seventeen of the emperors that ruled after her second husband died were her children and their children.

Historical records claim Zetian was a stunning beauty and that because of this Emperor Gaozong was attracted to her, but some modern scholars think it was her intelligence that won him over.

The evidence speaks for itself. While she ruled the Tang Dynasty, the economy, culture, social and political affairs prospered. She was also a talented military leader who reformed the army. After the reforms, without leaving her palace, she managed military conflicts with rival states and defeated them, and under her leadership, the empire expanded and grew stronger. She promoted officials that earned the right through merit. There is no evidence of favoritism. In fact, officials convicted of failing in their duties to the people were punished and often beheaded.

Zetian clearly respected decisive men such as her Prime Minister De Renji, and she often talked about Li Shimin, her first husband, with respect.

She also did not rule as a tyrant. Before making decisions, she listened to all opinions on an issue. Modern historians have studied her ruling style, and the evidence reveals that her political decisions were wise ones.

During the fifty years that Zetian ruled the Tang Dynasty as Dowager Empress and then as an Emperor, China’s borders expanded north, south, and west, and she did not lose any of the territory gained.

She also wrote many books and collected art. In addition, she edited the Book of Agriculture that  influenced agricultural development during the Tang Dynasty.

The historical evidence also reveals that as an ancient feminist, she should have earned praise since she did a better job as Emperor than most of the men that ruled China during the Tang Dynasty.

It also helped that the Tang Dynasty was a time of relative freedom for women. Women did not bind their feet or lead submissive lives. Binding feet did not start until the Sung Dynasty (960 – 1279 AD).

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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Subscribe to my newsletter to hear about new releases and get a free copy of my award-winning, historical fiction short story “A Night at the Well of Purity”.

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There is a Sexual Revolution Taking Place in China.

November 28, 2017

A review of “Behind the Red Door” by Richard Burger
Review by Tom Carter

Among the many misimpressions westerners tend to have of China, sex as some kind of taboo topic here seems to be the most common, if not clichéd.  Forgetting for a moment that, owing to a population of 1.3 billion, somebody must be doing it, what most of us don’t seem to know is that, at several points throughout the millennia, China has been a society of extreme sexual openness.

And now, according to author Richard Burger’s new book Behind the Red Door, the Chinese are once again on the verge of a sexual revolution.

Best known for his knives-out commentary on The Peking Duck, one of China’s longest-running expat blogs, Burger takes a similar approach to surveying the subject of sex among the Sinae, leaving no explicit ivory carving unexamined, no raunchy ancient poetry unrecited, and, ahem, no miniskirt unturned.

Opening (metaphorically and literally) with an introduction about hymen restoration surgery, Burger delves dàndàn-deep into the olden days of Daoism, those prurient practitioners of free love who encouraged multiple sex partners as the ultimate co-joining of Yin and Yang.  Promiscuity, along with prostitution, flourished during the Tang Dynasty – recognized as China’s cultural zenith – which Burger’s research surmises is no mere coincidence.

In this video, “The sexual revolution in China is underway, but not without its contradictions. The ‘sexless China’ over three decades ago is long gone, but gays still enter sham marriages, some women have hymen restorations before their weddings, and some men have a second ‘wife’ or a mistress. In an interview with Xinhua, Richard Burger, author of ‘Behind the Red Door: Sex in China,’ explains the ongoing Chinese sexual revolution.”

Enter the Yuan Dynasty, and its conservative customs of Confucianism, whereby sex became regarded only “for the purpose of producing heirs.”  As much as we love to hate him, Mao Zedong is credited as single-handedly wiping out all those nasty neo-Confucius doctrines, including eliminating foot binding, forbidding spousal abuse, allowing divorce, banning prostitution (except, of course, for Party parties), and encouraging women to work.  But in typical fashion, laws were taken too far; within 20 years, China under Mao became a wholly androgynous state.

We then transition from China’s red past into the pink-lit present, whence prostitution is just a karaoke bar away, yet possession of pornography is punishable by imprisonment – despite the fact that millions of single Chinese men (called bare branches) will never have wives or even girlfriends due to gross gender imbalance.

Burger laudably also tackles the sex trade from a female’s perspective, including an interview with a housewife-turned-hair-salon hostess who, ironically, finds greater success with foreigners than with her own sex-starved albeit ageist countrymen.

Western dating practices among hip, urban Chinese are duly contrasted with traditional courtship conventions, though, when it comes down to settling down, Burger points out that the Chinese are still generally resistant to the idea that marriage can be based on love.  This topic naturally segues into the all-but-acceptable custom of kept women (little third), as well as homowives, those tens of millions of straight women trapped in passionless unions with closeted gay men out of filial piety.

Behind the Red Door concludes by stressing that while the Chinese remain a sexually open society at heart, contradictive policies (enforced by dubious statistics) designed to discard human desire are written into law yet seldom enforced, simply because “sexual contentment is seen as an important pacifier to keep society stable and harmonious.”


Travel Photographer Tom Carter traveled for 2-years across the 33-provinces of China to show the diversity of Chinese people in  China: Portrait of a People, the most comprehensive photography book on modern China published by a single author.

This guest post by Tom Carter first appeared in China in City Weekend Magazine. Reblogged with permission of Tom Carter. Behind the Red Door was published by Earnshaw Books.

Tom Carter is married to a Chinese citizen, and he lives and works in China.