I just finished Edward Rutherford’s “China, the novel” and enjoyed it. Capsule review:
This author writes sweeping sagas about particular places (London, New York) and clearly researches a lot before he writes. This one covers China from the first opium war to the end of the Qing dynasty. As usual, he has created characters (a British opium trader, a missionary, a Chinese mandarin, a Chinese rebel, a eunuch in the Manchu court, etc) that cover all important events (opium wars, Taiping rebellion, court intrigues, empress Cixi, etc). The book is a fun read and the history is well researched. While you can read many books about the history of the era, this one fills in the social mores, family dynamics etc in ways that a history text cannot. Well worth a read.
And happened to finish the overly long serial “Ruyi, Royal Love in the Palace” on Amazon Prime at the same time. This is a (very fictional) account of Ruyi, the Ula Nara empress in the reign of the Qianlong emperor. The details are ALL fictional, but the serial is lavishly produced and seems to capture the atmosphere of the harem (or what i imagine to be the atmosphere of the harem) very well. The novelist seems to have had some moral purpose in view, so the evil nature of the whole arrangement is perhaps a bit overdone (but it is also possible that in actual practice it was even more evil than this), and the serial is TOO long, going on for 87 episodes where 20 would have been more than enough. And some of the plot devices are also unrealistic (everyone is plotting, plots get discovered all the time, but the emperor never seems to take precautions against them; on the other hand, he too may be constrained the nature of the institution). But slowly but surely it does capture the terrible nature of this institution. Worth skimming through if you don’t have the time for a long soap opera.