The Empress and Mrs. Conger

The Uncommon Friendship of Two Women and Two Worlds


Grant Hayter-Menzies

ISBN : 978-988-8083-00-8


February 2011

368 pages, 6″ x 9″, 40 b&w illus.

  • HK$295.00

The story of two women from worlds that could not seem farther apart—imperial China and the American Midwest—who found common ground before and after one of the greatest clashes between East and West, the fifty-five-day siege of the Beijing foreign legations known as the Boxer Uprising. Using diaries, letters and untapped sources, The Empress and Mrs. Conger traces the parallel lives of the Empress Dowager Cixi and American diplomat’s wife Sarah Pike Conger, which converged to alter their perspectives of each other and each other’s worlds.

Grant Hayter-Menzies’s first book for Hong Kong University Press was Imperial Masquerade: The Legend of Princess Der Ling. He is also the biographer of stage and screen stars Charlotte Greenwood and Billie Burke. He lives in Sidney, British Columbia, where he is working on a book about Pauline Benton, the American-born Chinese shadow theater master.

“Grant Hayter-Menzies brings his talent for recreating the material, cultural and mental textures of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to bear on the story of Sarah Conger. He presents the reader not only a story, not only characters, but a world.” —Pamela Kyle Crossley, author of The Manchus

“Sarah Conger’s story is worth telling for many reasons. She occupied a point in time that makes her interesting, but the author demonstrates that she is interesting in her own right—a flawed and fascinating individual whose story we want to read not for what we learn about Chinese history, but for what we learn about a woman profoundly typical of her era and class leading a life of determination in the belief that the right combination of positive attitudes and common sense must win out over adversity.” —Timothy Brook, University of British Columbia

“In his meticulously researched and enjoyable dissection of an unlikely relationship between two complex women—an American diplomat’s wife Sarah Pike Conger and Cixi, Empress Dowager of China—Grant Hayter-Menzies exposes many paradoxes that still characterize China’s relations with the West today. In the eccentric Sarah Pike Conger, he shows us a humanitarian clear-eyed and brave enough to insist in an imperialist world that ‘China belongs to her people.’” —Diana Preston, author of The Boxer Rebellion

“Hayter-Menzies takes advantage of his literary talent and cultural sensibility, telling a story about the friendship of two extraordinary women and their experience in a changing world.” —Shuo Wang, California State University Stanislaus