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The Princes of Ireland

The Rebels of Ireland


New York


The Forest

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

Copyright © 2021 by Edward Rutherfurd

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Doubleday, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York, and in Canada by Penguin Random House Canada Limited, Toronto.

DOUBLEDAY and the portrayal of an anchor with a dolphin are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

Cover images: Engraving by Wilson after View of the Tchin-Shan, or Golden Island by William Alexander © Fine Art Photographic Library/Corbis via Getty Images; ornamental frame © ArpornSeemaroj/Shutterstock

Cover design by Michael J. Windsor

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Rutherfurd, Edward, author.

Title: China : the novel / Edward Rutherfurd.

Description: First edition. | New York : Doubleday, 2021.

Identifiers: LCCN 2020034783 (print) | LCCN 2020034784 (ebook) | ISBN 9780385538930 (hardcover) | ISBN 9780385538947 (ebook) | ISBN 9780385543927 (open market)

Subjects: LCSH: China—History—19th century—Fiction. | GSAFD: Historical fiction.

Classification: LCC PR6068.U88 C48 2021 (print) | LCC PR6068.U88 (ebook) | DDC 823/.914—dc23

LC record available at​2020034783

LC ebook record available at​2020034784

Ebook ISBN 9780385538947


In respectful memory of


Poet and Scholar,

whose translations of the Chinese classics have been an inspiration to me for fifty years


Map of the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace

Map of China

Author’s Note





















China is first and foremost a novel, but it takes place against a background of real events.

When historical figures appear in the narrative, the depictions are my own, and I hope they are fair. All the principal characters, however—Trader, Charlie Farley, the Odstock brothers, Nio, Shi-Rong, Mei-Ling, Lacquer Nail, Mr. Liu, Mr. Ma, Guanji, their families and friends—are fictional.

I wish to acknowledge my special debt to the following authors and scholars on whose huge research, often in primary sources, this novel has relied.

General Introductions: John Keay for the most readable introduction to China’s history; Caroline Blunden and Mark Elvin for their Cultural Atlas of China, a wonderful resource book; and Marina Warner for her vivid illustrated life of the “Dragon Empress.”

Specialist Works: Julia Lovell for the Opium War of 1839; Peter Ward Fay, for further details of the war and the opium trade; and for the use of opium in China, Zhang Yangwen. Details of a eunuch’s life were provided by Jia Yinghua’s life of Sun Yaoting, of concubinage and servitude by Hsieh Bao Hua, of a servant’s life by Ida Pruitt’s account of Ning Lao T’ai-t’ai. For my descriptions of foot-binding I have relied upon the works of Dorothy Ko. For introducing me to the complex subject of the Manchu, I am grateful to Mark C. Elliott, and above all to Pamela Kyle Crossley, whose detailed investigation of three generations of a single Manchu family made it possible for me to create the fictional family of Guanji. For details of the Summer Palace, I owe thanks to Guo Daiheng, Young-tsu Wong, and especially to Lillian M. Li’s work on the Yuanmingyuan. In describing the imperial justice system and the law of torture, I relied upon an excellent monograph by Nancy Park. For the feng shui and characteristics of villages in southern China, I am indebted to an article by Xiaoxin He and Jun Luo. When writing on the Taiping, I drew upon the studies by Stephen R. Platt and by Jonathan Spence. I am especially grateful to Diana Preston for her day-by-day account of the siege of the legations during the Boxer Rebellion that gave me such rich material to work with.

I must add my personal thanks to Julia Lovell for her wise and helpful counsel in setting me on my path; to Dr. James Greenbaum, Tess Johnston, and Mai Tsao for helpful conversations; to Sing Tsung-Ling and Hang Liu for their careful cultural readings of my initial drafts; and to Lynn Zhao for her thorough historical vetting of the entire manuscript. Any faults that remain are mine alone.

My many thanks are due to Rodney Paull for preparing maps with such exemplary care and patience.

Once again I thank my editors, William Thomas at Doubleday and Oliver Johnson at Hodder, not only for making such a wonderful team, but for all their great kindness and patience during the long and technically difficult writing of the draft. I also wish to thank Michael Windsor in America and Alasdair Oliver in Britain for their two very different but equally splendid cover jacket designs. My many thanks also to the team of Khari Dawkins, Maria Carella, Rita Madrigal, Michael Goldsmith, Lauren Weber, and Kathy Hourigan at Doubleday,

My many thanks, as always, to Cara Jones and the whole team at RCW.

And finally, of course, I thank my agent, Gill Coleridge, to whom for the last thirty-six years I owe an incalculable debt of gratitude.

Names: The Chinese place names in this book are mostly given in their modern form, except in a few cases where Western characters use the names Canton and Peking in conversation, as they would have done in the nineteenth century.

January 1839

At first he did not hear the voice behind him. The red sun was glaring in his face as he rode across the center of the world.

Forty miles since dawn. Hundreds to go. And not much time, perhaps no time at all. He did not know.

Soon the huge magenta sun would sink, a melancholy purple dusk would fall, and he would have to rest. Then on again at dawn. And all the time wondering: Could he reach his father, whom he loved, and say he was sorry before it was too late? For his aunt’s letter had been very clear: His

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