Tzu Hsi – The Last Empress and the Rape of China, by Pearl Buck

This is the story of Tzu Hsi, a woman who rose from obscurity to rule first as regent to her son, the boy emperor, then ultimately as the last Empress of China from 1861 to 1908. Her death heralded the end of the old China. The empire collapsed only three years after her death, in 1911. First chosen as one of many concubines to the young emperor – no more than a child himself – she manipulates herself into position as his favorite, cultivates his favor until he depends on her completely. Still in love with her childhood sweetheart, a single night of love produces a son, the next emperor.

Intelligent, highly (self) educated Tzu Hsi makes herself essential to her debauched, physically weakened, opium-addicted husband. His early death leaves her regent to her son. She is forced to preside over the destruction of Chinese culture. Her fight against white imperialism is hopeless. As the representative of the last Dynasty, she tries to find her way while the China she has known is assaulted by wave after wave of western imperialist pirates under the guise of missionaries, traders, and ambassadors.

Once the rape of China begins, she is powerless to stop it. Even the rare victory is no more than a holding action. Despite all evidence, she cannot believe China can lose to these invaders and she never loses her unyielding belief in the superiority of Chinese culture … the ultimate irony given the unyielding belief of the Western powers of their superiority. The unstoppable force meets the immoveable object and the result is – as might be expected – tragic.

In a way, she was more right than she knew. The old China collapsed but from its ashes, the new China has gained more power than the old ever had. There are a number of ways to read this book. It’s a brilliant, detailed picture of a vanished civilization … beautiful and to modern minds, bizarre. And, it’s the story of Tzu Hsi, her life, her deeply flawed, complex personality. Her bad decisions based on the logic of a world already gone to which the rules no longer applied.

You can also read Imperial Woman as a much larger story, how the western nations took the oldest culture on earth and destroyed it so we could plunder it for opium. How we destroyed thousands of years of art and cultural treasures so each country from the west — who had no right to any of China — treated the Chinese people as if they were the barbarians because they did not want to become just like us.

Portrait of the Qing dynasty Imperial dowager Empress of China –1900s

The European powers with the help of the United States transformed China into a monster. Then we have the gall to complain we don’t like the way it turned out. China would never have become what it is today or taken the path it did without the brutality and devastation wrought by European imperialism. And of course, look what opium and all that has followed in its wake has done to improve our society? Karma is a nasty bitch.

Written in 1956, the story is probably more relevant today, 30 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and subsequent to the transformation of Communist China into the world’s biggest, baddest economic superpower. On many levels, for a lot of different reasons, it serves us right. We destroyed China. Now, in its own way, China is destroying us. One good turn deserves another.

I read Imperial Woman not long after it first came out. I was in my early teens and it was just a story. I read it as an interesting, even fascinating story. But at the time, it meant no more than that. Reading it now meant a lot more not only because of the changes in my perspective, knowledge, and interest in China’s history, but because the world has changed.

Imperial Woman was written at the peak of the Communist witch hunts in the U.S. and during the hottest part of the Cold War. The world in which we live today different yet weirdly similar. If you have a reasonable knowledge of history, a sense of destiny and fundamental belief in Karma, you will find Imperial Woman contains many layers of meaning. It’s elegantly written, not even slightly dated.

Imperial Woman is available on Kindle. It’s also available on and as a paperback. It’s probably available at your local library. It’s a classic and absolutely worth reading as much now as ever.


Autumn came weeks early because of the long summer drought that is not over yet. We had a normal spring, but then the rain stopped falling. We’ve had a bit of rain and too much wind and autumn flew away. Very early. At least we almost had autumn this year, which beats out last year when we pretty much nearly missed it completely.

Our house is not normally an area that gets a lot of color, but we did this year. But we did get outside a bit. I was hoping to get one more trip down to the river … maybe down to the river in Rhode Island.

I have reached the outer edges of my political process. It’s not that I’ve changed my mind. I think Trump is the worst president America has ever had and god forbid we should give him another four years at the helm. I do not believe we would have a country anyone would want to live in.



The Golden Age of Rock Turns 50, 1970, by Rich Paschall

The sweat on your brow tells us that you have been dancing to the oldies all week as you eagerly awaited our Top Ten picks from 1970 Rock and Roll. If you were here for “Golden Oldies, Part One,” then you read about the top events in rock music history. There were top political events as well.

Protests erupted in cities and on college campuses over a variety of social issues, but most particularly the war in Viet Nam. As actions expanded in Cambodia, college students took to the streets to show their anger over this escalation. At Kent State the Ohio National Guard fired 67 rounds in 13 seconds on a crowd of unarmed students, killing four and wounding nine others. Protests grew across the country and the military was called up to protect the president, as 100,000 took to the streets of Washington DC five days after Kent State. Five guardsmen were indicted for the Kent State massacre, but a federal judge later dismissed the charges.

Postal workers in New York City went on strike over the deplorable conditions and low wages there. The strike spread to other cities and the president called up military units to NYC post offices. This lasted two weeks.

Ten days after Kent State, law enforcement officers fired for approximately 28 seconds on a group of student protestors at historically black Jackson State College, killing two black students and wounding twelve others. No charges were brought.

The Laguna Fire in California burns from September 22 to October 4 and destroys 175,425 acres and 382 buildings. There were 16 casualties.

In April an oxygen tank exploded on Apollo 13 and the entire world sat on the edge for four days as NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) tried to bring the craft safely back to earth. You may have seen documentaries or the award-winning movie.


American Motors launched the Gremlin automobile. Chevrolet brought out the Vega and Ford introduced the Pinto. It was not a good year for American made cars.

The North Tower of the World Trade Center is completed making it the tallest building in the world at that time (1368 feet tall).

For a positive memory, Garry will be pleased to recall that the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup after a long drought. Elvis Presley went on tour for the first time in twelve years. PBS made its debut following the end of National Education Television.

Some of the best rock and roll ever produced blasted out of transistor radios, jukeboxes, and from all those 45s and albums we purchased. After careful review of my memory banks, here are my top ten.

record player

10. Make It With You, by Bread. Written, produced, and sung by David Gates. Except for drums, he played all the instruments on the recording and sang the harmony. It was the first number-one song for Bread. “And if you’re wondering what this song is leading to,” you are probably right.
09. Mama Told Me Not To Come, by Three Dog Night. Randy Newman wrote the song for Eric Burdon in 1966. The single by Eric Burdon & The Animals was not released, but it did turn up later on their album. Newman recorded it himself for his own album in 1970. It was Three Dog Night who scored big and their version was the number 1 song in the country when American Top 40 premiered on the radio.
08. Your Song, by Elton John. This Elton John/Bernie Taupin song first appeared on the third Three Dog Night album in March. Later in the year, John released it as the B-side of “Take Me To The Pilot.” Disc Jockeys preferred “Your Song,” however, and it became a hit. In 1998 the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
07. Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head, by B.J. Thomas. The song was written by Hal David and Burt Bacharach for the 1969 movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It was the first number one hit of the 1970s and stayed there throughout January.
06. Rainy Night In Georgia, by Brook Benton. The song was written by Tony Joe White. Yes, the same guy who had a hit with “Polk Salad Annie” in 1969. This one just made it on to the List of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time at 498.

Rock with horns

05. 25 or 6 to 4, by Chicago. This Robert Lamm song was being written at 25 or 26 to 4 AM. It was the first Chicago song to break into the top 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. “Wanting just to stay awake / Wondering how much I can take / Should have tried to do some more / 25 or 6 to 4.” Enjoy this vintage video with the original Chicago lineup.

04. He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother, by The Hollies. There are several versions of the origin of the phrase in the title. It is famously a slogan at Boys Town children’s home. In 1918 a boy was said to have been carrying another boy who had polio and wore leg braces up the stairs. He said to Father Flanagan, “He ain’t heavy, Father. He’s my brother.” Elton John plays the piano on the hit recording.

03. Evil Ways, by Santana. It’s the organ solo and the guitar work of Carlos Santana that makes this single a hit, just like so many of his hits. Carlos also lends backing vocals while Greg Rolie sings lead. It was recorded in 1969 for the debut album and released as a single in January 1970. This was Santana’s first Top 10 hit. There is a 1970 video, but the quality of the Woodstock video is much better.

02. Bridge Over Troubled Water, Simon & Garfunkel. The story goes that Garfunkel originally declined Simon’s request to sing lead thinking Simon should do it, but Art eventually agreed. The arranger transposed Simon’s work from G-major to E-flat major to suit Garfunkel’s voice. The rest, as they say, is music history. It is Art that you hear throughout the excellent recording. If you see the famous Concert in Central Park film, it is just Garfunkel there too. I thought I would give you a more recent treatment when the “old friends” decided to do it together. Still, Garfunkel delivers a powerful ending.

01. Make Me Smile, by Chicago.  By now you must have been wondering which Chicago hit I was going to place here. This song is actually a piece of the much larger work “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon” posted here with the original Chicago lineup. The entire work was written by trombone player James Pankow and includes another hit, Color My World. They consistently play the entire suite in concert. It is one of my fondest musical memories.

What is your number 1? To listen to any song on the list, just click on the title. To list to all 21 on the countdown, click HERE.


FOTD – October 4 – My Mums

It occurred to me that I too have mums. Not recently mums, but mums nonetheless. In the memory of mums that were and the foreshortened autumn that burgeoned brightly and ended almost before it began …