Marina Warner

The Dragon Empress: The Life and Times of Tz’u-Hsi, Empress Dowager of China, 1835-1980

Non-Fiction Monograph

London, 1972
History Book Club; First American Edition edition (1972)
Atheneum; 1st edition (1986)

From 1861 to 1908 a woman, 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, civil war and foreign exploitation and invasion brought about the fall of the Ch’ing dynasty.


‘The picture of court life is endlessly fascinating… I still find myself gasping at her wit, her industry and her command of beautiful, plain English.’

Auberon Waugh

‘A spirited narrative, every line bristling with brilliant detail.’

The Observer

Other editions

First published by Littlehampton Book Services, 1972