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Empress Tzu Hsi was born on the tenth day of the tenth moon, in the year of the sheep. While her father thought her “double tens” extremely lucky, an astrologer found them “‘too full’…which meant ‘too easily spilled.’” Per the astrologer’s instructions, she was given a name that “promised [she] would ‘bend,’” and thereafter she was called Orchid. The horoscopist was shrewd, indeed: With a delicate balance of strength and yielding, Orchid became first a low-level concubine, then the emperor’s favorite (and bearer of his heir), then the last empress of China. Empress Orchid, Anchee Min’s scrupulously researched and gorgeously detailed fifth book, retells the life of a leader quite different from the one whom Chinese schoolchildren are taught was “the enemy of the human race.” Bending but never breaking, the entirely self-created, self-taught woman held together a crumbling China—though she would forever be seen as a failure. Min reads at 7 p.m. at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919. (Anne Marson)