Monday, December 17, 2007

Princess Der Ling 德龄 (1885-1948) - The Qing Court and Beyond

Empress Dowager of China Cixi, Princess Der Ling (immediate left in photo) and the Eunuch Tsui Yu-Kuei (partially obscured by an umbrella) - 1903

For some reason, I find fascinating characters who are near an epicenter of power but just out of the direct glare of attention. Princess Der Ling is one such person. These people can observe momentous events in the safety of the shadows.

For two years in the earliest years of the C20, the princess was a favorite lady-in-waiting to the Empress Dowager Cixi in the late Qing Court.

She was western-educated, having studied dance in Paris with Isadora Duncan. And multilingual. A diarist. And a story-teller, publishing 'Memories of a Chinese Princess - Two Years in the Forbidden City' (1911), which can be read online at:

Like the Last Emperor Puyi's 'From Emperor to Citizen', her book gives a first-hand insight into late C19 court life in the Forbidden City. As such, it is a valuable social-domestic history of a time and place.

The Last Emperor of China, Puyi 溥儀 (1906-1967)

Later titling herself as 'Princess' created on-going controversy:

The Der Ling married American Thaddeus C White and migrated to the United States in the late 1920's. And, while a rabid apologist for Cixi, she wrote a number of books and articles and lectured in the service of promoting a real understanding of Chinese history and culture. She died in 1948.

Princess Der Ling in Western Attire

Princess Der Ling - 1939

What appears to be the definitive biography will appear in 2008 - 'Imperial Masquerade: The Legend of Princess Der Ling', Grant Hayter-Menzies, Hong Kong University Press.

So we'll have a more objective and scholarly account of Der Ling's time at court, as well as her life in Republican China, and then later in the United States. Her early memoir suggests an intriguing character and it will be interesting to see how this is borne out in the new book.


  1. An interesting woman for sure.
    Never did understand the idea of an "Emperor" - both in China AND Japan.

    Is that what Dubya wants to be when he grows up?

  2. hey greg. like there are/were kings in different european countries? BTW, who is Dubya? i must be having a retarded moment!

  3. lol - that would be the derisive nickname of our clueless leader, George W (Dubya) Bush.

  4. ok - i get 'dubya' now !- thanks greg

  5. Grant Hayter-Menzies has just sent me the URL of his forth-coming book 'Imperial Masquerade' - - it looks a scholarly good read.