In this book Pearl Buck undertakes to tell the life story of Tsu Hsi from the age of seventeen, when she is chosen to be one of hundreds of concubines, to an old age as the last empress of China. All along the way, her beauty, intelligence and manipulative power enable her to survive crisis after crisis, reveling in the support and love of the Chinese people.
It is a remarkable story of a remarkable woman, rising and ruling entirely in her own right. She must straddle the desires of her own heart and the impinging power of the pressure of Western societies who desire trade. She is also besieged by missionaries who wish to introduce a foreign religion, Christianity.
The final words of the book give the key to her success: “‘Well, well,’ she said, and laughed to indulge them. “Perhaps,” she said, “perhaps—'”
It was by taking after the reeds, always bending before the winds of change, but never breaking, that she was able to rule for so many years.