Dear Pearl S. Buck,
Long after I turned the last page of your masterpiece, Imperial
Woman, one image lingered. A slim woman stood in her royal
chambers, surrounded by ladies in waiting. She was clothed in
brilliant silk robes, her haunting grace and beauty accented by
gems that sparkled at her every motion. Set in the midst of her
raven-black hair was the crown of the Manchu Dynasty. When her
jeweled fingers beckoned, servants appeared to attend her every
wish. She was surrounded by luxury and beauty, the center of China's
world. Despite all that she had, however, she was not content.
As I began your novel, questions filled my mind. How was it possible
for Tzu Hsi, Empress of China, to be surrounded by such splendor
and not be satisfied? How could she have so many possessions,
and not possess what she desired? And how could someone surrounded
by so many feel alone? As your book unfolded, I realized how possible
it was to be surrounded by everything and everyone, and not have
I was at a loss to understand why Tzu Hsi's life wasn't perfect.
I would have given anything to lead a life like hers. Never content
with who I was, the way I was, I constantly thought. ..if I were
like this, if I owned that, if I did this, everything would be
perfect. I was confident that all I needed to be content was the
jewelry, clothes, beauty, intelligence and charm that Tzu Hsi
possessed. Yet with it all, she was not satisfied. Why?
The more I read, however, the more I slowly understood. What
she was missing in her life were emotions. She could never marry
the man she loved; instead she was wed to the Emperor, for whom
she had no feelings. Her only son bonded more closely with his
aunt than his own mother. Her most trusted advisers often turned
against her. And although Tzu Hsi had dozens of servants, she
had no friends, because none were considered her equals.
All of this deprived her of love, trust and friendship. In a
way she lived two lives: one filled with gems, servants, fine
clothes and vast palaces. In the other she was trapped in a loveless
marriage, betrayed by those she turned to for advice, resented
by her own son and without one close friend. The more I read the
clearer it became. It was simple: her beauty, jewels, clothes,
and servants, could not take the place of emotions and they would
never give her a perfect life.
I would be lying if I said that after reading Imperial
Woman I never wanted to be different than I am. I still
feel sometimes that if I were amazingly beautiful and clever,
with all the best clothes and jewelry, I would have the perfect
life, although I know I wouldn't. I've discovered that I already
have the love, friendship and trust that make a perfect life;
I just never knew it.
Kaylyn J. Koberna