The son of a bankrupt farmer becomes an object of sexual delight and the treasured possession of China's ruling Empress Dowager--in a voluptuous and wise story from the author of Golden Fire (1986) and The Beast (1981). The farmer's son is Huai-I, but he is known to all as ""the boxer"" since carving out a life for himself as the T'ang Dynasty equivalent of a provincial heavyweight wrestler. Blessed with a superb body, astonishing sexual hardware, and not too awfully many brains, the boxer is lifted from the obscurity of the vegetable market fight circuit when his special skills and abilities become known to the elderly princess Ch'ien-chin, who in turn passes him on to her niece, the princess T'ai P'ing. T'ai P'ing has been looking for something to bring her widowed mother, the empress, out of the dumps (where she has been wallowing for years), and the boxer is just the ticket. Cleaned, dressed, and sexually polished by the clever princess, the boxer is presented to the empress, who fails head over heels for him, showers him with splendid presents, raises him to royalty, and even installs him as the abbot of a first-rate restored Buddhist monastery. The hitch is, of course, that he is her exclusive property. There's also the problem of his being on the wrong side of the religious fence as far as the insanely jealous Taoist establishment goes--and so the poor, dumb, amiable boxer becomes fatally enmeshed in religious politics, even as the peasants, chafing under the empress' deficit spending, threaten their own revolt. Suave, witty, and a great deal of fun. Sharp, clever characters at play in an almost Italian landscape.