Empress by Shan Sa


“Alone, I manipulated the pawns on the vast chess board of an empire orphaned by its master. I was nothing more than a mind, a mind contemplating the world below with chilled compassion.”

Empress traces the rise of Heavenlight, a seventh-century Chinese woman who becomes its first and only female emperor, Empress Wu Zetian. Shan Sa takes us through Heavenlight’s life, from (bizarrely enough) the womb to her death. Her parents are born noble but rule a humble household (well humble in comparison to the monstrosity of the emperor’s palace), her mother cold and distant. Her father dies when she is young and her family is ill-treated by his clan (she is his second wife).

Heavenlight is an unusual girl for her time – a tomboy. For her ninth birthday, she receives armour from her father, and another sends a falcon. And she attracts the attention of a general who sends her to the Emperor Eternal Ancestors’ court, and given the rank of Talented One of the fifth rank, now officially overtaking the rest of her clan.

Being the nonconformist she is, unlike the rest of the women there, interested only in cramming themselves with food (the Court liked fat women) and gossiping, Heavenlight finds refuge in books, visiting the Inner Institute of Letters where learned eunuchs gave lessons:

“Books became wings that bore me far away from the Palace. The annals of former dynasties tore me from the immobility of the present. I lived in those vanished kingdoms and I took part in plots, galloped across battlefields, and shared in the rise and fall of heroes.”

It is her less than ‘feminine’ ways, especially her skill with horses, that makes her stand out and allows her to make friends with Little Phoenix, who is the King of Jin and one of the grandsons of the Emperor (I think – the hierarchy is confusing). Heavenlight and Little Phoenix (who is three years younger) grow up together and eventually become lovers. And though not not a direct heir, through some chance of fate, Little Phoenix becomes the Emperor of China. Heavenlight’s intellect and wiles helps him maneuver his way through all the politicking and seal his power. And she eventually wrangles her way to become Empress. She is ruthless and doesn’t hesitate in delivering punishments (sometimes death) where she thinks it necessary.

Heavenlight’s story is a fascinating one. Despite being surrounded by plenty of supporting characters, she is lonely and struggles to keep her place (and that of the emperor) as all that wrangling for succession plays out.

“There was still the Tang dynasty and its vast provinces. The millions of souls in the Empire had become a huge family in which I was the embodiment of an energetic and authoritarian mother.”

Empress is a colourful historical novel. It shines with its descriptions of palace life, of life in the Tang Dynasty.

“The Side Court was a kingdom within the Empire, a painted box inside a golden trunk; it was a labyrinth of tiny rooms separated by walls of adobe clay, bamboo hedges, and narrow passageways. Official pavilions, little gardens, tunnels of wisteria, and countless bedrooms were linked by long covered galleries. Thousands of women came and went with a rustling of sleeves and a murmuring of fans, without ever exposing themselves to the sun or the rain. Imperial hierarchy was scrupulously respected despite the confines of that overpopulated world. The further down someone was on the social scale, the smaller her room, the simpler the decor, and the more modest the furniture. The slave quarter was packed with ramshackle little houses, gloomy rooms, and cold beds; the women there were like insignificant stitches in a vast embroidery.

But this story does get bogged down by a little too many details of courtly life like formal ceremonies, politicking and its many side characters. A bit of a slow-paced read of the life of an unforgettable historical figure.


Global Women of Color
This is my eighth read for the Global Women of Colour Challenge (challenge page).


Shan Sa is the pseudonym of Yan Ni, who was born in Beijing, China, and began writing and publishing poems from the age of 7 and also began studying Chinese calligraphy and traditional Chinese painting. Her first collection of poems was published at her age of 10. She became the youngest member of the Beijing Writers’ Association at age 14.


In 1990, as a teenager, Shan Sa left Beijing for further studies in Paris, France. She learned French and studied philosophy in a Paris university while attending courses in art history at the École du Louvre.

The Girl Who Played Go was the first of her novels to be published outside of France, and won the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens (a prize voted by secondary school students).

Les Poèmes de Yan Ni (Yan Ni’s Poems) (1983).
Porte de la paix céleste (Gate of Celestial Peace) (1997).
Les quatre vies du saule (The Four Lives of the Willow) (1999).
La Joueuse de Go (The Girl Who Played Go) (2001).
Impératrice (Empress) (2003), based on the life of Empress Wu of Zhou
Les conspirateurs (Conspirators) (2005)
Alexandre et Alestria (Alexander and Alestria) (2006)
La Cithare nue (Naked Zither) (2010)

Sky Burial: An epic love story of Tibet


This is probably one of the most heartbreaking stories I have ever read. It is a remarkable, fascinating read, a love story of Tibet and its people.

Shu Wen was a doctor. So was her husband Kejun. They had been married for just a few months when Kejun is sent to Tibet as a Chinese army doctor. Not long after, Wen is notified of his death. There is no information provided about his death, official or otherwise. She decides to sign up with the army to go to Tibet and find out what happened to him. With the shortage of army doctors in Tibet in the 1950s, the military takes her on.

Traveling with her army unit, Wen saves the life of a Tibetan woman named Zhuoma. The heir of a privileged family, Zhuoma speaks Chinese, having studied in Beijing. She and Wen become friendly (she has lost a loved one too) but become separated from the rest of the company when some Tibetans attack the convoy.

The two women find a nomad family residing in the lowlands who help the injured Wen, and the two women decide to stay with them until summer, to learn how to survive outdoors and for the family to build their supplies to spare them provisions and horses.

The details of the family’s self-sufficient daily life are fascinating. Gela, his brother Ge’er and his son Om were responsible for matters outside the home such as pasturing and butchering their herds, tanning hides, mending their tools and tent. Gela’s wife Saierbao and two daughters did the milking, made butter, cooked, collected water, made rope, and made the dung cakes that were the heat, light and fuel source.

Wen spends 30 years isolated in Tibet. But she never loses sight of her goal and eventually finds out what happened to Kejun and returns to China.

Xinran tells Shu Wen’s story simply. Although she says in the beginning that this is the story of a woman she meets in Suzhou, who tells her this tale over two days and then disappears, it has been classified as a work of fiction, so I’m not quite sure whether to call this fiction or non-fiction. Still whatever genre it fits into, this is a beautiful story, and an unforgettable one that will stay with you long after you finish the book.
Global Women of Color

This is my sixth read for the Global Women of Colour Challenge (challenge page).

xinranXuē Xīnrán (薛欣然, pen name Xinran, born in Beijing in 1958) is a British-Chinese journalist, broadcaster and writer. In the late 1980s, she began working for Chinese Radio and went on to become one of China’s most successful journalists. In 1997 she moved to London.

The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices.
Sky Burial.
What the Chinese Don’t Eat
Miss Chopsticks
China Witness: Voices from a Silent Generation
Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother

Red Scarf Girl

Jiang Ji-li was born on Chinese New Year. Her name Ji-li means lucky and beautiful. She was twelve when the Cultural Revolution started. A promising student and quite a fan of Mao at first joins her classmates in denouncing the Four Olds (“old ideas, old culture, old customs, old habits”), but soon discovers that her family’s class status (her grandfather was a landlord) places her under the scrutiny of her relatives, neighbors and classmates. Their house is subject to searches, they burn old photos, hide or disguise ‘bourgeois’ belongings, her father is taken in for questioning, and Ji-Li watches as her bright future dims.

For me, the most appalling moment was when her father’s work unit comrades question Ji-Li at school, telling the teenager to choose between two paths:

“You can break with your family and follow Chairman Mao, or you can follow your father and become an enemy of the people.”

I can’t imagine having to live a life like this, full of worries – and not just your usual teenaged worries, but worrying about your parents and grandmother and siblings, about all kinds of things:

“I not only needed to manage our limited incomes and take care of Mom’s bad healthy, I had to bear the stares and the gossiping of our neighbours and attend the study sessions at school. But these were not my biggest worries. The worry of tomorrow haunted me constantly. I worried that Grandma would be sent to the countryside, as other landlords had been, and would be punished by the farmers there. I worried that Mom would be detained for attempting to help Dad. I worried that Dad would be beaten to death for his stubbornness. I worried that Ji-yong’s temper would get him in trouble, and that Ji-yun would be so frightened that she would never laugh again. Worst of all, I worried that by not hiding the letter well enough, I had ruined our lives forever.”

What a sad story this Red Scarf Girl is. What a terrifying experience for such a young girl to go through.
Global Women of Color
This is my fifth read for the Global Women of Colour Challenge (challenge page).

jiangJiang Ji-Li was born in Shanghai, China, in 1954. She graduated from Shanghai Teachers’ College and Shanghai University, and was a science teacher before she came to the United States in 1984 (When she was 30) After her graduation from the University of Hawaii, Ms. Jiang worked as an operations analyst for a hotel chain in Hawaii, then as a budget director for a healthcare company in Chicago. In 1992, she started her own company, East West Exchange, to promote cultural exchange between Western countries and China.

The song of everlasting sorrow


“The longtang are the backdrop of this city. Streets and buildings emerge around them in a series of dots and lines, like the subtle brushstrokes that bring life to the empty expanses of white paper in a traditional Chinese landscape painting. As day turns into night and the city lights up, these dots and lines begin to glimmer. However, underneath the glitter lies an immense blanket of darkness – these are the longtang of Shanghai.”

Wang’s writing style takes a while to get into. The Song of Everlasting Sorrow (长恨歌) opens with details of the longtang or neighbourhoods within enclosed alleys of Shanghai. It’s a beginning that requires some patience from the reader. Because plenty of beauty awaits within.

“Four decades the story spans, and it all began the day she went to the film studio.”

Wang Qiyao is taken to a film studio by her classmate Wu Peizhen. There a director notices her and asks her to a screen test. However he realizes that:

“Wang Qiyao’s was not an artistic beauty, but quite ordinary. It was the kind of beauty to be admired by close friends and relatives in her own living room, like the shifting moods of everyday life; a restrained beauty, it was not the kind that made waves. It was real, not dramatic”.

To make up for it, he asks his friend Mr Cheng, a photographer, to take some pictures of her and one of them is published in a newspaper and Shanghai begins to notice her:

“The girl in the picture was not beautiful, but she was pretty. Beauty is something that inspires awe; it implies rejection and has the power to hurt. Prettiness, on the other hand, is a warm, sincere quality, and even hints at a kind of intimate understanding.”

She is convinced by the photographer Mr Cheng and her classmate Jiang LiLi to join the Miss Shanghai contest, where she becomes known as ‘Miss Third Place’:

“Girls like Miss Third place, however, are a part of everyday scenes. They are familiar to our eyes, and their cheongsams never fail to warm out hearts. Miss Third Place therefore best expresses the will of the people. The beauty queen and the first runner-up are both idols, representing our ideals and beliefs. But Miss Third Place is connected to our everyday lives: she is a figure that reminds us of concepts like marriage, life, and family.”

This is just the beginning of Wang Qiyao’s story. She gains the attention of a high-powered man, who essentially makes her his ‘apartment lady’ or mistress. After his accidental death, she is forced to restart her life in a different longtang, taking on the identity of a widow, making ends meet by giving injections (yes, this puzzles me too, apparently people come to her for various injections such as vitamins and “placenta fluid”). She makes new friends, starts to have a clandestine relationship with one of her mahjong partners (he is from a wealthy family) and finds herself with child.

While Wang takes us through the years of Wang Qiyao’s life, an aura of mystery still wafts around her. She is quite the enigma.

“She is the heart of hearts, always holding fast and never letting anything out.”

She is that woman at the party who sits quietly in the corner sipping tea. Not the life of the party (she is after all, much older than the rest of the partygoers) yet the eye is drawn to her:
“She was an ornament, a painting on the wall to adorn the living room. The painting was done in somber hues, with a dark yellow base; it had true distinction, and even though the colours were faded, its value had appreciated. Everything else was simply transient flashes of light and shadow.”

This is not just Wang Qiyao’s story but the story of Shanghai, as we move from the 1940s to the 1980s.

“Shanghai in late 1945 was a city of wealth, colours, and stunning women… Shanghai was still a city of capable of creating honor and glory; it was not rules by any doctrine, and one could let the imagination run wild. The only fear was that the splendor and sumptuousness of the city were still not enough.”

In 1960 though, times have changed drastically.

“In the still of the night the city’s inhabitants were kept awake not by anxious thoughts but by the rumblings of their stomachs. In the presence of hunger, even the profoundest sadness had to take second place, everything else simply disappeared. The mind, stripped of hypocrisy and pretensions, concentrated on substance. All the rouge and powder has been washed away, exposing the plain features underneath.”

Then in the 1980s, Shanghai is booming. Construction sites abound in this new districts’ “forest of buildings”:

“This was indeed a brand-new district that greeted everything with an open heart, quite unlike the downtown area, whose convoluted feelings are more difficult to grasp. Arriving in the new district, one has the feeling that one has left the city behind. The style of the streets and buildings – built at right angles in a logical manner – is so unlike downtown, which seems to have been laid out by squeezing the emotions out from the heart.”

The Song of Everlasting Sorrow was such a different read for me. It moves at a very gentle pace and is probably best described as a portrait of Wang Qiyao’s life. Yet I was drawn to her melancholic story, to Wang Anyi’s intricate depiction of Shanghai through these volatile years. It’s an enduring, elegant novel, and one of my favourite reads so far this year.

The Song of Everlasting Sorrow was made into a movie titled Everlasting Regret starring Sammi Cheng and Tony Leung Ka-Fai, as well as a 35-episode TV series.


wanganyiUnfortunately it looks like not many of Wang Anyi’s works have been translated into English

  • 雨,沙沙沙 (1981)
  • 黑黑白白 (1983)
  • 王安憶中短篇小說集 (1983)
  • 流逝 (1983)
  • 尾聲 (1983)
  • 黄河故道人 (1986)
  • 六九屆初中生 (1986)
  • 母女漫遊美利堅 (1986)
  • Lapse of Time 蒲公英(1988)
  • Love in a Small Town 小城之戀(1988)
  • Love on a Barren Mountain 荒山之戀(1988)
  • Baotown 小鮑莊(1989)
  • 海上繁華夢 (1989)
  • 旅德的故事 (1990)
  • 流水三十章 (1990)
  • 神聖祭壇(1991)
  • 米尼 (1992)
  • The Song of Everlasting Sorrow 长恨歌 (1995)
  • 我读我看 (2002)
  • 剃度 (2002)
  • 启蒙时代 (2007)
  • 天香 (2011)

Global Women of Color
This is the third book I’ve read for the Global Women of Colour Challenge  (challenge page).

Born in 1954, Wang Anyi (王安忆) is the daughter of a famous writer and member of the Communist Party, Ru Zhijuan (茹志鹃), and a father who was denounced as a Rightist. At age 16, she was sent to work as a farm laborer in a remote commune. She later joined a cultural troupe and began to publish short stories in 1976, and was allowed to return to Shanghai in 1978. In 2011, Wang Anyi was nominated for the Man Booker International Prize.

Death of a red heroine

The rain has soaked the hair
Falling to your shoulders
Light green in your policewoman’s
Uniform, like the spring
White blossom bursting
From your arms reaching
Into the gaping windows –
‘Here you are!’

About the last thing I expected from this detective novel was a poetry-spouting Chief Inspector.

Chen not only recites classical Chinese poetry but is himself a published poet – as well as a translator of western poems and even mysteries. And he is a bit of a gourmet as well.

I love when writers detail meals. All too often I read of how characters ‘sat down to dinner’ and I’m just dying to know, yes but what exactly did they eat??

So when we first meet Chief Inspector Chen as he is prepping for a housewarming dinner at his new apartment, I am delighted:

“For the main dishes, there were chunks of pork stomach on a bed of green napa, thin slices of smoked carp spread on fragile leaves of jicai, and steamed peeled shrimp with tomato sauce. There was also a platter of eels with scallions and ginger, which he had ordered from a restaurant. He had opened a can of Meiling steamed pork, and added some green vegetables to it to make another dish. On the side, he placed a small dish of sliced tomatoes, and another of cucumbers. When the guests arrived, a soup would be made from the juice of the canned pork and canned pickle.”

It sounds like an interesting mix of gourmet and simple homecooked dishes, which reflects on the character of Inspector Chen. An educated man and a published poet who attended the Beijing Foreign Language College, he then heads the Shanghai Police Bureau’s Special Case Squad, a job that seems to be a bit at odds with his more intellectual, thoughtful personality.

But of course his insightfulness is key to this case.

“She had been lying there, abandoned, naked, her long dark hair in a coil across her throat, like a snake, in full view of two strangers, only to be carried away on a stretcher by a couple of white uniformed men, and in time, opened up by an elderly medical man who examined her insides, mechanically, and sewed the body together again before it was finally sent to the mortuary. And all that time Chief Inspector Chen had been celebrating in his new apartment, having a housewarming party, drinking, dancing with a young woman reporter, talking about Tang dynasty poetry, and stepping on her bare toes.”

Essentially, there is a dead woman whose body has been unceremoniously dumped in a garbage bag and tossed into a canal. It turns out that she is a celebrity in the political sense, as she is National Model Worker Guan Hongying, chosen as a role model by the Party. There soon emerges to be even greater political implications in this case, and Chen – as well as his subordinate Detective Yu – is forced to choose between doing what’s right for the case and the victim, or what’s right as determined by the Party.

Politics is at the heart of this story.

“‘Everything can be seen in terms of politics,’ Chen got up, pausing in the doorway, ‘but politics is not everything.’
Such talk was possible now, though hardly regarded as in good taste politically. There had been opposition to Chen’s attaining promotion – something expressed by his political enemies when they praised him as ‘open’, and by his political friends when they wondered if he was too open.”

There are High Cadres who are at the top of the ladder, and their privileged children, the High Cadre Children (HCC), who have fancy cars and live in large mansions and all those other aspects of an extravagant lifestyle. While Chen is himself a rising star (although his artistic side leads to some doubts) and has a new apartment to himself, he ranks far below these HCs and HCCs. And all of this contrasts with the life of the victim Guan, who despite her ‘celebrity’ status lived in a dormitory:

“A closer examination revealed many signs of neglect characteristic of such dorm buildings: gaping windows, scaling cement, peeling paint, and the smell from the public bathroom permeating the corridor. Apparently each floor shared only one bathroom. And a quarter of the bathroom had been redesigned with makeshift plastic partitions into a concrete shower area.”

Death of a Red Heroine was steeped in such vivid details of everyday life in 1990s Shanghai, both the lives of regular folk and of the privileged, sometimes surprisingly seedy.

I have to add a note of warning to those expecting a fast-paced, exciting crime/mystery novel. This isn’t quite that. The case moves a little slowly, not just because of all that politicking going on, but because the detectives take buses, they do research at the public library, and towards the end, are forced to surreptitiously pass information to each other. It’s complicated, but the book still flows well despite its length (464 pages).

I had a great time with this book, reading some bits of classic Chinese poetry, learning about life in 1990s China, and best of all, learning about the diverse cuisine of China. Although I am ethnically Chinese, Chinese food in Singapore is probably different from that of China (I can’t say for sure, as I’ve never been). Like the ‘across-the-bridge noodles’ (过桥米线 or guòqiáo mĭxiàn) that Detective Yu’s wife Peiqin cooks for Inspector Chen, essentially a platter of rice noodles served along with side dishes like slivers of pork, fish and vegetables, and of course some steaming hot soup.

(image from www.yfao.gov.cn)

The story behind the noodles, according to the book, was that during the Qing Dynasty, a scholar studied on an island, his wife had to carry his meals across a long bridge and when it reached him, the noodles were cold and soggy. So the next time, she kept the noodles separate and only mixed them when with her husband. A recipe can be found here.

I’m looking forward to the next Inspector Chen book, and can only hope that there will be plenty of foodie details to chow on.

Qiu Xiaolong’s works:
Detective Chen Series
Death of a Red Heroine (2000)
A Loyal Character Dancer (2002)
When Red Is Black (2004)
A Case of Two Cities (2006)
Red Mandarin Dress (2007)
The Mao Case (2009)
Don’t Cry, Tai Lake (2012)

Other Books
Lines Around China (poetry collection) (2003)
Years of Red Dust (2010)

Poetry translations
Treasury of Chinese Love Poems (2003)
Evoking T’ang (2007)

While not your typical mystery, I am still going to count this toward RIP ViI!

Invisible China

This book had such potential! Just look at the synopsis:

Colin Legerton and Jacob Rawson, two Americans fluent in Mandarin Chinese, Korean, and Uyghur, throw away the guidebook and bring a hitherto unexplored side of China to light. They journey over 14,000 miles by bus and train to the farthest reaches of the country to meet the minority peoples who dwell there, talking to farmers in their fields, monks in their monasteries, fishermen on their skiffs, and herders on the steppe.

Doesn’t that make you imagine the possibilities? The wonderful conversations they must have had? The sights they must have seen?

Well we do get a sense of that. But the authors tend to spread themselves a little too thin here, covering way too much ground and not going as much in-depth as I’d like. I wasn’t expecting a scholarly thesis on ethnicity, but there was something that was a little too general, a little… perhaps less insightful might be the right phrase for it. It did pique my interest in the many ethnicities of China though, and the bibliography they provide at the end might be a good way to start.

Perhaps I should’ve started this post with some of the good bits. I don’t want to put you off this book, as it does provide a very readable overview of this different – and less recognisable – part of China. I did learn quite a few things. For instance, did you know that there are 2 million Koreans living in China? Most of them live in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture where they speak Korean, retain their own culture, and attend their own schools. The North Korean government even owns and operates expensive North Korean restaurants there, to promote their culture and create an influx of foreign cash.

And the Mosuo people, who live on the shores of Lugu Lake, belong to a matrilineal society. The women choose a male partner to visit her quarters, solely at night, for as long as she likes. The resulting children are raised by his mother and uncles. The men however, continue to be in charge of business outside of the home. Fascinating!

You know how that synopsis talked about the authors, Colin Legerton and Jacob Rawson? Well I finished the book with absolutely no inkling about these two men. They could’ve been cardboard characters for all I knew. They seemed to be relatively fluent in languages, enough to converse with all kinds of people, but the reader end up having a better idea of the characters they meet than the two of them. It was kind of intriguing. Was this intentional or were they really that colourless? I thought back to one of my favourite travel books, Sara Wheeler’s Terra Incognita, which was full of fascinating facts on Antarctica, but Wheeler’s personality shone through – her great sense of humour, her gungho-ness, her passion for Antarctica. I didn’t get any sense of Legerton-Rawson (the two are quite indistinguishable) at all, and had to turn to the backflap where those short passages about the two authors told me more than they revealed about themselves throughout the whole book. Pity, that.

The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices

Xinran nearly lost the manuscript of this book when a mugger grabbed her bag in London.

“In fighting for that bag, I was defending my feelings, and the feelings of Chinese women. The book was the result of so many things which, once lost, could never be found again. When you walk into your memories, you are opening a door to the past; the road within has many branches, and the route is different every time.”

A radio call-in show host, Xinran’s interest in the intimate lives of women in China began when she received a letter from a boy in Nanjing about a kidnapped girl in his village who had been chained around the waist by the old man who bought her. After some wrangling, Xinran managed to get the girl some help and return her to her family. But instead of praise for her help, Xinran only received criticism for “stirring up the people”, and she began to wonder: “Just what was a woman’s life worth in China?” She’s given permission (by the central office no less) to add a women’s feature to her show, to read and discuss the letters she receives.

These stories are so moving, so poignant. Some were rather difficult to read and left me in tears. The story of Jingyi in ‘The Woman Who Waited Forty-Five Years’ is tragic. Xinran’s father tells her of the reunion of two of his former classmates, Jingyi and Gu Da, who had been sweethearts at university and lost touch during the Cultural Revolution, with Jingyi searching for her beloved for 45 years only to find him at the reunion with his wife (it’s not a spoiler, the story is more or less revealed in the second paragraph of this chapter.)

Xinran told The Guardian: “When I interviewed a woman the first thing was to give her space – a warm and friendly feeling – because she needed someone to listen. I discovered that women had no idea how to talk about themselves. In family tradition, in education, in society, even if you asked them, women had never talked about what happened in their own lives. Some kept their old beliefs – that a naked woman is not to be seen – and likewise not her innermost feelings. If they didn’t choose to tell me I never forced them and the number who refused me was always much greater than the number who talked. Some had so much pain in their hearts and in their past that you felt heavy, as though if you touched them you could break them.”

It’s quite appalling to read of the lives of these women, who grew up being tormented for coming from families who have overseas or capitalist associations, for example. Xinran’s own background, as a “daughter of a capitalist household” resulted in her being spit on by other children, of being forbidden to take part in singing and dancing activities at school in order to not ‘pollute’ the revolution (her parents were in prison). Many of these women’s stories deal with abuse and as such, it’s not the easiest of books to read. I was constantly angry about what happened with these women and my heart ached for them. It made me glad for my own happy, carefree childhood in Singapore. And incredibly thankful that my ancestors left the various parts of China that they came from and made their way to that little island in Southeast Asia.

This is such a brave collection of the lives of some of the women in China. Not only were the women brave in telling their stories, but so was Xinran in seeking out these women and bringing their tales to life. While the translation is a little iffy at times, The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices is an important, unforgettable read.