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WHAT WAS IT LIKE, MR. EMPEROR? by Chiu Kwong-chiu


Life In China's Forbidden City

by Chiu Kwong-chiu & Eileen Ng ; illustrated by Design and Cultural Studies Workshop ; translated by Ben Wang

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-9893776-6-9
Publisher: China Institute in America

An irreverent introduction to China’s long line of emperors, with sidelong glances at life in the outsized but cloistered imperial palace.

The simply phrased answer to a modern child’s titular question offers a jumble of general observations about forms of address, ceremonial duties, imperial officials and consorts, how members of the imperial family were educated, what they ate, and what emperors were expected to do and be. Readers will likely come away more confused than enlightened. The Forbidden City itself, built about 600 years ago, is neither mapped nor described here in any detail; such terms as “eunuch” and “consort” are defined long after they are first used (if at all); and Chinese expressions are discussed (and in one case translated two different ways) without being actually shown. Thick-lined cartoon figures in traditional dress, many with almost identical features, add a comical flavor. They pose on nearly every page with captions and comments in speech balloons that have, to say the least, an anachronistic ring: an emperor’s whiny “I’m stressed out,” is echoed a few pages later by a trio of “pregnant imperial consorts” racing to produce the first-born child; and the deposed last emperor, Puyi, closes with a casual “See ya!”

As better pictures are available and the humor is too heavy-handed to add style points, that dismissal can serve for this whole sloppy effort.

(website) (Nonfiction. 9-11)