The Green Phoenix is historical fiction set in China during the 1600s. The book tells the story of Mongolian Princess Bumbutai, who became a concubine to the Chinese emperor Hong Taiji, and how, over her life-time, she became influential in many decisions taken by those who ruled the Qing dynasty. An empire which ruled from 1644 to 1912, the Qing dynasty was preceded by the Ming empire.
Bumbutai was married to Hong Taiji when she was just twelve years old, a political marriage; it was the emperor’s brother Dorgan who always held her heart. But Bumbutai understood the importance of her role and with it the need to produce male heirs. A natural linguist and eager scholar, Bumbutai was allowed to continue to study religion and Chinese history.
Life in the Chinese courts was perilous with mass corruption, constant rebellion and the complex, ever-changing hierarchy within the concubine households. Through this Bumbutai rose and fell, but when Hong Taiji died she was forced to use political ties to ensure her own son became the next Emperor against a strong opposition. She played an advisory role to her son, and then her grandson, in her remaining years.
This was a challenging book to read. I knew nothing of this period of history and struggled with the unfamiliar names, especially when many of the main characters had several names and titles bestowed upon them. The author’s research shines through, but I felt, on several occasions, that Bumbutai’s story became lost under the weight of the battles and corruption. I understand that the historical evidence was important to the building of the empire, but, at times, the book fell heavily towards a non-fiction account of the period rather than historical fiction.
Overall, a good window into an important historical period, but, for me, it needed more to make Bumbutai’s story outshine the facts.
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With the fate of East Asia hanging in the balance, one Mongolian woman manipulated her lovers, sons and grandsons through war and upheaval to create an empire that lasted for 250 years. The Green Phoenix tells the story of the Empress Dowager Xiaozhuang, born a Mongolian princess who became a consort in the Manchu court and then the Qing Dynasty’s first matriarch. She lived through harrowing threats, endless political crises, personal heartaches and painful losses to lead a shaky Empire out of a dead end. The story is set against a turbulent canvas as the Chinese Ming Dynasty is replaced by the Qing. Xiaozhuang guides her husband, her lover, her son and her grandson – all emperors and supreme leaders of the Qing Empire – to success against the odds.
Alice is an avid reader of world historical fiction. Born and educated in Hong Kong, she grew up devouring Jin Yong’s martial arts and chivalry novels, all set in China’s distant past. That sparked her life-long interest in Chinese history. Writing historical novels set in Old China has been her long cherished dream.
Her new historical novel The Green Phoenix set in 17th century China was released in September 2017 by Earnshaw Books.
She is the author of the bestselling Chinese Edition of Land and the Ruling Class in Hong Kong, which won the 2011 Hong Kong Book Prize . Canadian Book Review Annual selected the original English Edition as Editor’s Choice (Scholarly) in 2007.
She currently lives in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada, and is working on her next Old China novel.