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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Reading The Last Eunuch of China



As a child I have been greatly interested in Imperial China, all thanks to Hong Kong’s TVB television soap-opera. The colors and grandeur of the Forbidden City (now know as Palace Museum) and the lavish lifestyle of the royal family within the high walls has created a form of curiosity within me to want to know more. Alas, I’m only good in speaking Chinese but my literacy in Chinese text are no far off different from the illiterate eunuchs that once served in the Palace. So my source of information was very much restricted to English translations (which are directly translated and often confusing). It would be much better if I just got someone to read the entire Chinese text!



Reading the life of Sun Yaoting gave me an insight on what hardship one had to endure during the turbulent times in China. Many “rumors” which I have heard about the Imperial Palace turned out to be open secrets in the book. One of the stories included that Empress Dowager Cixi was responsible for the death of the Precious Consort Zhen (top Concubine rank, just one rank below the Empress) to Emperor Guangxu by ordering her to be drowned in one of the well in the Palace during the invasion of the Eight Nation Alliance. Also the last Empress of China Wanrong who committed adultery and got pregnant by her lover – at a time when it was well known that Emperor Pu Yi was unable to “rise to the occasion” or something like that.

As much as I loved this book, it cannot be fully enjoyed without knowing the actual sequence of events which took place in China from late 1880s right up to the formation of People's Republic of China. To make things a little extra “complicated” I had an earful of names in Hanyu Pinyin which nearly got me drowned as I struggle to get their actual Chinese name (that way it would have been easier for me to know who was who and related to whom). Remembering names and relationships is one thing, how about the ranks and hierarchy within the Imperial palace? Apart from the Emperor, Empress and Empress Dowager, other positions in the palace have its own grades and rankings like the concubines and eunuch what more when each individual is given a promotion, their official names changes according to their ranks! And if that’s not bad enough, most of the proverbs mentioned are loosely translated and its’ meaning are not always explained. Thus I have to rely on my husband to translate it back into Chinese (though we always get lost in translation) and explain it’s meaning to me. Complicated huh?

For those who are interested in reading this book, I would only recommend if you have some knowledge in Chinese history - other wise, skip it.

1 comment:

  1. It sounds like an interesting book. Have a good time reading it!

    ReplyDelete

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