I've always been fascinated by other cultures and stories that are told from a womens point of view are my favorities...(Have you noticed that central theme yet?)
I found Green Dragon, White Tiger by Annette Motley at a second hand book store (1986). It's a paperback and on the inside title page it reads: Uncorrected advance proof - For recipient internal use only. (How cool is that?)
From Publishers Weekly*(Unfortunately, there is no "Google Books Preview" for this novel.)*
Fearful of uttering such treason, a seventh century astrologer predicts that the second daughter of General Wu will one day ascend the Dragon Throne to rule China. Hot-tempered and intelligent, Black Jade's spirit and luminous beauty attract the eye of Shin-Min, the reigning Son of Heaven, and she joins his court as a concubine. At his death, Pheasant, the weak-willed son who succeeds, takes his father's favorite concubine as his own, until her growing influence persuades him to make her empress, despite the objections of many in the court. Ambitious, sensual and on occasion wantonly cruel, Black Jade expertly plays on Pheasant's uncertainty, gathering the reins of government in her own capable hands. His death and the brief, unlucky reigns of four sons are branching paths that lead to a single destiny. A bejeweled struggle for power, this first novel is modeled on the life of the historical Empress Wu. The lively air that energizes the early chapters is gradually lost, but Motley does draw a sumptuous portrait of passion and pomp in an exotic milieu.
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden is just flat out "absorbing". Told in first person, you can really get swept away Sayuri's life story. The movie (if you saw it) sucked (IMHO)...so don't let that stop you from picking up the book.
From Library Journal
"I wasn't born and raised to be a Kyoto geisha....I'm a fisherman's daughter from a little town called Yoroido on the Sea of Japan." How nine-year-old Chiyo, sold with her sister into slavery by their father after their mother's death, becomes Sayuri, the beautiful geisha accomplished in the art of entertaining men, is the focus of this fascinating first novel. Narrating her life story from her elegant suite in the Waldorf Astoria, Sayuri tells of her traumatic arrival at the Nitta okiya (a geisha house), where she endures harsh treatment from Granny and Mother, the greedy owners, and from Hatsumomo, the sadistically cruel head geisha. But Sayuri's chance meeting with the Chairman, who shows her kindness, makes her determined to become a geisha. Under the tutelage of the renowned Mameha, she becomes a leading geisha of the 1930s and 1940s.To preview the book (click on) Google Books