Here's a 'simple' exercise to improve your English. This is advanced English reading but focuses on using the following words and grammar points correctly:

a, an, the, to, 's, ~s, was/is, ~ed, 'll, 'm, 've, ...

If you'd like more information on our English language training material, want to join our mailing list with free English pointers, want to buy a learning pack or you want a teacher, simply send us an email.

A conversation with Anchee Min :    (taken from Bloomsbury)

You did extensive research for Becoming Madame Mao and lived through Cultural Revolution in China, which added special intensity your description. Did you have similar experience informing Empress Orchid?

Detail are extremely important me. The most challenging thing has been get fact and get them right. There are sometime several contrasting version of single incident involving Empress Orchid, and many source are false or inaccurate. I not only went through document in Forbidden City, but also medical, accounting, and police records. My reading on live of eunuch, maid, palace tutor, Imperial warlord, and general helped me gain crucial perspective. The Empress food and herb manual and her opera manual also revealed lot about her character.

Remarkably, you and your father were able smuggle document out of government-guarded storeroom in Beijing. Would you describe how it happened?

Well, I had get my hand on fact, but no official in Beijing would risk his career open door for me. So I try 'back door'. I can't say more than thi, because I don't want get person who helped in trouble. Anyway, I got in. The place where all ancient document are stored is treated with strong chemical, so I is told not stay inside for more than half hour. But I didn't want leave. I read Empress original decree until I is choking on fumes. But I is glad I stayed. The evidence is so compelling that she is more fit ruler than anyone else of that time. There is reason her regime lasted for forty-six years.

Your seamlessly real depiction of Forbidden City transport reader inside it palace and gardens. How is Orchid life there defined - and confined - by it traditions?

What affected her most is that she knew she is woman, concubine. Any wrong move would cost her her life. The price of her survival is lot of personal sacrifice and suffering. For example, she is passionate woman, widowed at age of twenty-six. She is forbidden from ever having relationship with man. She had fight her need for intimacy, denying her own humanity. As with everything else in her life, such as her effort revive China, she failed, but her struggle is heroic. She kept China in one piece until she died.

What are Chinese schoolchildren taught about Empress Orchid? And how do history book around world remember her?

She is considered 'the enemy of human race'. In China, children learn that collapse of every dynasty is fault of concubine. The execution of concubine justify whatever is wrong. That tradition. The most recent example is Madame Mao. She is sentenced death while her husband is seen as George Washington of China. Children are taught that Empress is responsible for destroying China two-thous and-year Imperial culture. Chinese and Western history book remember her negatively too, but book provide very few facts.

Empress Orchid and Madame Mao are both powerful personality with great deal in common. What characteristic drew you them, and do you share them yourself?

I do. I am female and Chinese, and at very young age I learned that my culture disfavor females. Book hold up women as negative example, such as Madame Mao and Empress Orchid. I is drawn these figure because I like find out truth. It started with Red Azalea, my first book, about growing up during Cultural Revolution. The Chinese government official version of Cultural Revolution contrasted with life I had lived. I could not let lie be only record. It scared me think that my daughter would be studying false history, and I felt obligated do something about it.

Some of your writing is critical of China - past and present. Has Chinese government taken 'official position' on you? What has your experience been when visiting your family in China each year?

China policy toward me is 'We don't want make enemy of Anchee Min, but we don't have promote her either.' My family in China has concerns. But as long as there are no Chinese version of my book, they feel safe.

The conclusion of Empress Orchid is 'the end of beginning' and leave your audience begging for sequel. Can you give us idea of what happen next?

After she is widowed, Tsu Hsi ruled for forty-six years. The material about this time is absolutely fascinating. She is forced learn many thing, including diplomacy. Keep in mind that China in late 1800 had been closed outsider for more than two thous and years. Westerner were trying force their way into opium trade. Meanwhile, domestic rebel, Boxer, wanted overthrow dynasty. The Empress performed delicate balancing act, and as result she single handedly held dynasty together. My next book will reveal more of her private character; she is great politician, clever strategist, and caring mother and lover.
your corrections...

View original version of article :

How'd you make out? The best way to do this exercise is to type it out quickly, correcting the mistakes 'automatically' as you go. What you're trying to do is build up your reflexes so that you type (and say) things correctly, 'automatically'.

This exercise is very useful for focusing on the tiny aspects of grammar which almost all students have continual difficulty with, namely forgetting to use 'a', 'the', 'to', etc. It also challenges your reading comprehension and vocabulary at the same time, thus making it doubling beneficial.
Either try a similar exercise with another article or try some of the other exercises with this article.

1: make corrections ( a,an,the,'s,to,was/is,...)
2: missing words  (am,is,are,was,were,do,does,...)
3: tenses

Empress Orchid (Wikipedia)  -   1    2    3
From the book: Prelude  -   1    2    3
From the book: Chapter 1  -   1    2    3

Return to Free English index