Empress Orchid

Anchee Min

Houghton MIfflin Harcourt, 2005

Agent: Sandra Dijkstra

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.

In this “absorbing companion piece to her novel Becoming Madame Mao” (New York Times), readers and reading groups will once again be transported by Min’s lavish evocation of the Forbidden City in its last days of imperial glory and by her brilliant portrait of a flawed yet utterly compelling woman who survived, and ultimately dominated, a male world.


Named a best book of 2004 by the San Francisco Chronicle 

 “…cheer for Orchid. … we learn from Orchid’s life that a strong woman has the ability to make an impact on her nation despite the limits of role, culture, and gender. Princess Orchid just had to wait for Min to set her record straight.”
Boston Globe
Empress Orchid is a sexually charged, eye-opening portrayal of the Chinese empire, and it conveys an abundance of cultural and historical truths even while it constantly keeps you riveted with heart-wrenching scenes of desperate failure and a sensuality that rises off its heated pages.”
Elle Magazine
“Min…meticulously recounts sumptuous details of life as it was in the Qing court. The supporting cast of characters is colorful, well-researched and substantive. Min’s version of Tzu His, like Pearl Buck’s rendering in Imperial Woman, is compelling and complex.”
Associated Press
Empress Orchid is a fascinating novel, similar to Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha in that it is not about sex but about a young woman shaping her own life by making critical decisions…Min’s characters are well-drawn, which helps carry the story with an element of suspense…Min offers her readers…a revisionist portrait of a beautiful and strong-willed woman who would rule China for 46 years…Min’s Red Azalea and Becoming Madame Mao deserve to be at the top of everyone’s reading list…Empress Orchid could make her a household name.”
Houston Chronicle
“Throughout, the novel celebrates the lavishness of courtly life while showing the real-life disadvantages of such luxury…Intrigue pulses through the story…Rich in detail and historical background, the novel drenches readers in the colors, textures and affluence of the Forbidden City…the lavishness of the historical setting and the author’s strong use of research to flesh out the tale make for a stirring, exotic novel that is a treat for the senses and intellect alike.”
Los Angeles Times

“‘A tragedy foreshadows good luck,’ says one character to Orchid, the heroine of this lush novel set in 1852 China…Min superbly chronicles Orchid’s savvy attempts to win the emperor’s heart so she can bear him an heir. History has blamed Orchid for the fall of the Ch’ing dynasty. Min, however, evokes Orchid as a smart politician and demanding mother. While the book’s historical research impresses, Min’s prose brings immediacy to the period. One woman possesses a ‘scorpion mouth but a tofu heart.’ The words also aptly describe this book’s unforgettable heroine.”
People Magazine
 “Min, clearly aware of Chinese cultural misogyny, takes us inside the mind of the empress. She was not necessarily ‘the enemy of the human race,’ as the communists would later label her, but a woman who had an amazing mind and possessed a terrific life force.”
Washington Post

 “An absorbing companion piece to her novel, Becoming Madame Mao (2000), Anchee Min’s Empress Orchid is also based on the life of a powerful but frequently denigrated female leader.”
New York Times

“Min’s descriptions are so lavish that the story’s pace is quite leisurely…Min entwines many story lines in the novel: the rivalry with the emperor’s first wife, Nuharoo, who takes over as mother to Tung Chih, Orchid’s son; the emperor’s failing health and increasing reliance on Orchid; power struggles among Chinese officials; and attacks by European forces, which drive the emperor into exile until his death in 1861…Empress Orchid sets up Min’s next book, in which she will write about the 46 years the empress remained in power. For now, the ambitious, revisionist story she has given us…makes for fascinating reading.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Anchee Min has a remarkable knack for rehabilitating women who have been vilified in China’s long march into modernity…in her new novel Empress Orchid, Min magnificently grabs from history the story of the last empress and sweeps us into the Forbidden City, with its plots and cruelties, intrigue and ritual, all seen through the eyes of the empathetic Orchid, who wills her country and the dynasty she comes to dominate to survive. The empress…becomes in Min’s hands a resourceful, intelligent, passionate woman…This is an exotic tale filled with historical insight, richly transporting in its details, and compelling to the end.”
O, The Oprah Magazine

“The new book has in common with its predecessors a heroine who overcomes disadvantages to become powerful and successful – a story that, in effect, cannot become outdated…the strong sense of dramatic narrative that paces Empress OrchidEmpress Orchid is a gripping read.”
Washington Post