Monday, November 9, 2009

Book Review : The Good Women of China by Xinran

The Good Women of China is a memoir relating the stories the author heard while hosting her radio show called ‘Words on the Night Breeze’ for Radio Nanjing in China. The program started in 1990 and it run for seven years. Xinran hosted the daily program in which she discussed women’s lives and invited women to call in and talk about themselves. The program became popular all over China for its honest revelation of Chinese women’s thoughts and experiences that took place both during and after the Cultural Revolution when Chairman Mao and Communism ruled the land.

Xinran received over two hundred letters a day from women who wanted to tell her their stories. Later, she embarked on a journey to discover and collect the stories of Chinese women. Xinran interviewed them on what it meant to be female in modern China. The women opened up to Xinran and they speak honestly about their lives, their roles as wives, mothers, daughters, secretaries and escorts. Most of the stories presented in this book tell about suffering which includes sexual abuse, ill-treatment of women, separation of parents and children and suppression of human emotion. The book gently tells us the pain and heartbreak women in China have to accept and endure in their everyday lives.

Among others, it tells about a girl who was sexually abused by her father. She escaped him by making herself ill until she slowly dies of blood poisoning in a hospital. Xinran also heard a confession by a student who admits that many university students from poor background act as escorts to businessmen for money and attention. However, they are left frustrated as they cannot find the love they are searching for.

One of the many letters Xinran received was from a peasant boy describing the plight of a 12-year-old girl, kidnapped and sold into marriage. To prevent her from fleeing, her elderly husband keeps her in chains. The boy asks Xinran’s help, but when she calls the police they shrug and tell her it is a common occurrence. The police however, seeing Xinran’s determination, decided to help her. In the end, the girl was set free and returned to her worried parents on the other side of the country. However, Xinran was not praised for her efforts. Instead, she was criticized for troubling the police and stirring up the people.

Another story came from a woman who was forced into marriage. At a young age, she joined the Communist Party, determined to shape the future of China. Without her knowledge, the party married her off to one of the senior officers. Since then, she was trapped in an emotionless political marriage, like many others. Her two children were separated from her soon after they were born and sent to the army nursery.

This shocking collection of stories offers a significant insight into the lives of Chinese women. Xinran has given a voice to many women who were unable to use their own voices to tell their plight.

The Good Women of China was published in 2002 and has been translated into over thirty languages.

This sad but inspiring read is available at Tan Sri Loy Hean Heong Library, Main Campus. Call No: 305.420951 XIN.

About the author:
Xinran was born in Bejing in 1958. She began working for Chinese Radio in late 1980s and went on to become one of China’s most successful journalists. She moved to London in 1997 where she started writing The Good Women of China. Xinran also authored Sky Burial, What the Chinese don’t eat, Miss Chopsticks and China witness: voices from a silent generation. Xinran now lives in London.

Reviewed by Irma Indayu Omar, Tan Sri Loy Hean Heong Library, Subang Jaya.

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