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From 1861 to 1908 a woman, the Empress Dowager Tz'u-hsi, born the daughter of a minor mandarin, held the supreme power in China. Opportunistic, ruthless, malicious, she ruled over four hundred million people. Marina Warner's biography lays bare her complex personality: her extreme conventionalism; her hatred of "foreigners"; her passion for power and intrigue; her vanity and her delight in ritual; her extravagance and corruption and her love of gardens, painting and the theatre. THE DRAGON EMPRESS also portrays a China in rapid decline as poverty, civil war and foreign exploitation and invasion brought about the fall of the Ch'ing dynasty.
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