As of May 2009, this is still the latest substantial biography on the Empress Dowager. Sterling Seagrave in this very thoroughly researched biography of the Empress Dowager has presented compelling evidence that the traditional view that the Dowager was all-powerful and evil was based on false facts mainly concocted by Sir Edmund Backhouse. The evidence he presented was that the Dowager was powerless and surrounded by powerful men who had their own agenda and aims.
The strength of this book is that it is not confined to the life of the Dowager. This is understandable as, so little is known of her life. We do not even know her name. When she became Empress Dowager, she was known by the title Tzu Hsi, meaning Empress of the West, because she lived in pavilions on the west side of the Forbidden City. (see p18-19)
This book also described the events of Manchu China from the two infamous Opium Wars carried out by the English to the Boxer Rebellion/ Uprising (a misnomer as there was no rebellion/ uprising. The Boxers’ aim was to exterminate all Chinese Christians and the foreign missionaries and not to overthrow the Manchu Empire).
This book also described in detail the lives of Sir Robert Hart and Dr. George Ernest Morrison in China. Hart came to China at age 19. He was an Irishman who loved China. He rose to become a trusted confidant of the Manchu court and was the Inspector General of Chinese Customs from 1861 age 26 till 1908 age 73 when he finally decided to leave China forever. He died in England in 1911 while preparing to return to China to finish his life in his beloved China. (See pages 146, 419 and 453). Dr. Morrison was the correspondent for the Times of London.