Reading pleasures

Updated: 2011-01-07 13:00

By Chitralekha Basu (China Daily European Weekly)

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Reading pleasures

Empress Dowager Cixi, as portrayed in this picture,
will be a centerpiece of Dcadence Mandchoue by Sir
Edmund Backhouse. Provided to China Daily

Shanghai-based Earnshaw Books will release a slew of titles on historical China, including Ghosts of the China Coast by Geoffrey Vincent Summers and Dcadence Mandchoue by Sir Edmund Backhouse. While the first promises to be a history of colonial-era China, buttressed on "the juiciest stories, gossip, intrigues and amusing facts not found in other histories", the second is a first-person account of the lives of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) royals by Sinologist Sir Edmund Backhouse.

Backhouse's chronicle turns contemporary historians' understanding of the Manchu era, and its main players, including Empress Dowager Cixi, on its head.


Historian Robert Bickers' The Scramble for China: Foreign Devils in the Qing Empire, 1832-1914, (Penguin), is the story of China's classic encounters with Western colonialists, from the first Opium War to the Boxer Rebellion. Bickers' dramatized retelling of the clash of titans combines "squalor, romance, brutality and exoticism" on a panoramic scale.

Hong Kong University Press will be launching a range of books on slightly esoteric subjects, but not any the less engaging or intriguing than mainstream or popular history.

Ethics in Early China: an Anthology, by Chris Fraser, Dan Robins and Timothy O Leary, shifts the attention from Confucianism to Mo-ism, a near-defunct school of philosophy based on the idea of universal love and "embodied virtue", tying ethics to physical cultivation.


In The Empress and Mrs Conger, Grant Hayter-Menzies has reconstructed the unlikely association of Empress Dowager Cixi and American diplomat's wife Sarah Conger when their worlds overlapped as Beijing's foreign legation quarters came under siege during the Boxer Rebellion of 1901.