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Last Empress Fiction and Asian Neo-Victorianism

Ho, Elizabeth


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    <subfield code="a">&lt;p&gt;This article claims that &amp;lsquo;Last Empress&amp;rsquo; fiction about the Empress Dowager Cixi reveals the postcolonial ethics of Anglophone neo-Victorianism. &amp;lsquo;Last Empress&amp;rsquo; texts naturally tend to be bookended by the narrative of a na&amp;iuml;ve yet ambitious teenage concubine entering the imperial palace and the image of the Empress Dowager, as depicted in Bernardo Bertolucci&amp;rsquo;s 1987 film, &lt;em&gt;The Last Emperor&lt;/em&gt;, rotting on her deathbed. This emphasis on Cixi&amp;rsquo;s ageing body as a metaphor for China&amp;rsquo;s perceived humiliations in the past manages and contains, for Western readers, a similar commodification of &amp;lsquo;China&amp;rsquo; as a new economic and political powerhouse and brand. This article reads a range of &amp;lsquo;Last Empress&amp;rsquo; texts from Anchee Min&amp;rsquo;s popular historical fiction, &lt;em&gt;Empress Orchid&lt;/em&gt; (2004) and &lt;em&gt;The Last Empress&lt;/em&gt; (2007), to metafictional critiques such as Da Chen&amp;rsquo;s &lt;em&gt;My Last Empress&lt;/em&gt; (2012) and Linda Jaivin&amp;rsquo;s &lt;em&gt;The Empress Lover&lt;/em&gt; (2014), to the Singaporean blockbuster musical, &lt;em&gt;Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress&lt;/em&gt; (2002), and situates them amongst arguments about race, ageing and neo-Orientalism. Cixi&amp;rsquo;s continued visibility in biographies, fiction, and film recasts conventional understandings of neo-Victorianism as neo-Victorian gerontology: the problematics of rejuvenating (women in) the past, (post-)feminist &amp;lsquo;time crisis&amp;rsquo;, and new kinds of invisibility for women past and present. At the same time, &amp;lsquo;Last Empress&amp;rsquo; fiction offers opportunities to reflect on the geographical pressures Asia can put on the &amp;lsquo;neo-&amp;rsquo; in the term &amp;lsquo;neo-Victorian&amp;rsquo; and the difficulties of performing truly global neo-Victorian readings.&lt;/p&gt;</subfield>
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