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Synopsis

Until within the past ten years a study of Chinese court life would have been an impossibility. The Emperor, the Empress Dowager, and the court ladies were shut up within the Forbidden City, away from a world they were anxious to see, and which was equally anxious to see them. Then the Emperor instituted reform, the Empress Dowager came out from behind the screen, and the court entered into social relations with Europeans. For twenty years and more Mrs. Headland has been physician to the family of the Empress Dowager's mOther, the Empress' sister, and many of the princesses and high official ladies in Peking. She has visited them in a social as well as a professional way, has taken with her her friends, to whom the princesses have shown many favours, and they have themselves been constant callers at our home. It is to my wife, therefore, that I am indebted for much of the information contained in this book. There are many who have thought that the Empress Dowager has been misrepresented. The world has based its judgment of her character upon her greatest mistake, her participation in the Boxer movement, which seems unjust, and has closed its eyes to the tremendous reforms which only her mind could conceive and her hand carry out. The great Chinese officials to a man recognized in her a mistress of every situation; the foreigners who have come into most intimate contact with her, voice her praise; while her hostile critics are confined for the most part to those who have never known her. It was for this reason that a more thorough study of her life was undertaken. It has also been thought that the Emperor has been misunderstood, being overestimated by some, and underestimated by Others, and this because of his peculiar type of mind and character. That he was unusual, no one will deny; that he was the originator of many of China's greatest reform measures, is equally true; but that he lacked the power to execute what he conceived, and the ability to select great statesmen to assist him, seems to have been his chief shortcoming

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