Orchid’s character is based on Tzu Hsi, China’s lon
gest-reigning female ruler and its lastempress. In what ways does Min develop a convincing voice in Orchid? How does Min makethe Forbidden City come to life?
Early in the novel, Orchid hears a beggar singing: “To give it up is to accept your fate. /
Togive it up is to create peace. / To give it up is to gain the upper hand, and / To give it up is to
have it all” (16). How does this song set the tone for the rest of the book?
Success in the Forbidden City rests heavily on loyalty. How does Orchid ensure that thosearound her are loyal? Can anyone truly be trusted within the walls of the city? How does thisaffect the society as a whole?
Eunuchs play a vital role in the Forbidden City, and An-te-hai quickly becomes a guide for Orchid. Why do you think An-te-hai is so eager to devote himself to her?
Orchid is willing to go to any lengths to gain the Emperor’s attention. What drives her
determination to succeed? Do boundaries exist for how far the characters will go to secureattention, power, and affection? Why does Orchid risk her life to visit Big Sister Faun? Does shehave anything to lose?
Orchid comments that Emperor Hsien Feng “was his own captive” (119). Does Orc
hid escapea similar fate?
What enables Orchid to be such a powerful ruler in a society dominated by men? How doesshe gain respect and remain strong amid the opposition she faces?
Orchid comments: “The Emperor once told me that the Forbidden City
was nothing more than
a burning straw hut in a vast wilderness” (151). What does the Emperor mean by this? How is
this statement illustrated throughout the novel?
Min paints a picture of foreigners imposing their views on another culture. What light doesshe shed on Western interference with the Chinese imperial family structure? How does thisrelate to more recent times?
The Forbidden City is a highly ordered place, tradition-bound and ruled by strict etiquette.How would you handle such restrictions? In what ways do you relate to Orchid? What confinesexist in your own life and society in general?
Nuharoo tells Orchid: “To truly have something is to not have it at all” (312). Do you agree
with this statement? How does it apply to Orchid? To the other characters in the book?
Min’s purpose is to show Empress Orchid’s heroic effort to revive China. Although Orchidfailed, she’s courageous in Min’s eyes. In what ways is Orchid a heroine?