Jonathan Fenby

‘God’s Masterpiece’?

The Last Empress: Madame Chiang Kai-Shek and the Birth of Modern China

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Weidenfeld & Nicolson 787pp £27.50 order from our bookshop

For a traditionally male-dominated society, China has had its fair share of powerful women who rose to the top, albeit thanks to their husbands. Under the Tang dynasty, Wu Zetian, who lived from 625 to 705, had herself proclaimed emperor after disposing of rivals. From the 1860s to her death in 1908, the Dowager Empress, Cixi, was the dominant figure at the Manchu court of the Qing dynasty. In our own time Madame Mao, Jiang Qing, drove on the Gang of Four during the Cultural Revolution, reportedly seeing herself as a born-again Wu, and crashing to earth only after the death of her husband. She ended up committing suicide in prison.

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