They were the most powerful rulers on earth. The mighty Qin Shi
Huangdu (r. 221-210 BC), who began the construction of the Great
Wall. The long-lived Han emperor Wudi (r. 141-87 BC), who developed
China as a centralized Confucian state. The soldier-scholar Yongle
(r. 1402-24 AD), who raised the Ming dynasty to its military peak.
The dowager empress Cixi (r. 1861-1908 AD), who rose from humble
Manchu origins to rule over all China. In The Dragon Throne,
Jonathan Fenby tells the extraordinary story of imperial China
through its 157 emperors, from Qin Shi Huangdu, who crushed his
rivals to take supreme power as the first emperor in 221BC, until
the final collapse of the faltering Manchu dynasty amidst the
revolutionary chaos of the early twentieth century. The final
emperor, the infant Puyi (r. 1908-12) ended his days as an
assistant gardener in the very palace where he had been enthroned.
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