Empress Dowager Cixi (1835–1908), who ruled China from 1861 until her death in 1908, is a subject of fascination and controversy, at turns vilified for her political maneuvering and admired for modernizing China. In addition to being an astute politician, she was an earnest art patron, and this beautifully illustrated book explores a wide range of objects, revealing how the empress dowager used art and architecture to solidify her rule.
Cixi’s art commissions were innovative in the way that they unified two distant conceptions of gender in China at the time, demonstrating her strength and wisdom as a monarch while highlighting her identity as a woman and mother. Artful Subversion examines commissioned works, including portrait paintings and photographs, ceramics, fashion, architecture, and garden design, as well as work Cixi created, such as painting and calligraphy. The book is a compelling study of how a powerful matriarch at once subverted and upheld the Qing imperial patriarchy.
“Artful Subversion offers a strikingly new picture of one of the most intriguing women rulers in Chinese history. Ying-chen Peng’s genius is to turn the conventional image of Cixi on its head by examining her art and building projects not as frivolous distractions but as the very means to effective rulership.”—Dorothy Y. Ko, author of The Social Life of Inkstones: Artisans and Scholars in Early Qing China
“Artful Subversion presents a panoramic view of imperial women’s history and art making and allows us to understand late Qing history from a woman’s perspective.”—Yuhang Li, author of Becoming Guanyin: Artistic Devotion of Buddhist Women in Late Imperial China