The Good Women of China

Published on The Independent, Interview by Katy Guest, July 13, 2007.

Xinran Xue: I want to tell the world about the lives of ordinary Chinese women. The author discusses 20 years of research for her book ‘The Good Women Of China’ (link: Author Xinran Xue tells the world about the lives of ordinary Chinese women).

While travelling in the northern Chinese province of Shanxi, Xinran met the family of a woman who had committed suicide by drinking pesticide because she couldn’t give birth to a boy. “You can’t blame them,” shrugged the widower when he heard that the people from the village would not attend her funeral. “It’s her fault that she only managed to give birth to a handful of chopsticks and no roof beam.”

To Xinran Xue, his words spoke volumes about Chinese culture, in which women are disposable tools and men strong providers. The book that resulted, Miss Chopsticks (Chatto & Windus, £16.99), is billed as the first novel from a journalist whose books have consistently caused reviewers to reach for the word “extraordinary”. It follows the stories of three sisters as they leave their poor, rural family to take on the flabbergasting world of the city …

… When Xinran moved to Britain in 1997, things were not always easier. She resented being viewed as “an uneducated, poor Chinese woman”, and once was so insulted by being ignored at dinner by an English lord that she sent him a cheque for the cost of the meal, as if he had been her servant. “My husband said I was naughty,” she glimmers. She is married to the literary agent Toby Eady, and lives in a cool apartment, Zen-ishly serene, four storeys above a bustlingly multicultural west London street. When we meet, she offers Chinese green tea from a choice of colourful little cups. She’s prettier and less forbidding than her author photos suggest, her eyes equally quick to laughter and tears …

… Does she feel personally responsible for every woman and girl in China? To answer, she tells a story about her visits to the Chinese countryside. “I used to go quite a lot,” she says. “I was very naive, honestly. I saw poor children who couldn’t play, so I made them paper rabbits. A few years later I went back and my rabbit was up there with the Buddhas. I wanted to touch it, but the children, who were now grown up, said, ‘Don’t touch! Our parents say this is the only friend we have outside the village’. You know that this family is not strangers any more. It is with you forever” … (full text).

Link: The Good Women of China on wikipedia: (ISBN 0-701-17345-9) is a book published in 2002. The author, Xinran Xue, is a British-Chinese journalist who currently resides in London and writes for The Guardian. Esther Tyldesley translated this book from the Chinese.

The Good Women of China is primarily composed of interviews Xinran conducted during her time as a radio broadcaster in China in the 1980s. However, she also details some of her own experiences as a woman in China. The interviews usually focus on the embedded cultural perceptions in China about women’s rights, roles, and suffering. Many of these interviews were drawn from the call-in portion of Xinran’ widely popular radio program, Words on the Night Breeze. She also interviewed other women, whom she sought out for their experiences as Chinese women or opinions about the status of Chinese women.

This book attacked key issues such as infanticide, son-preference, suppression of sexuality, homosexuality, and the sexism embedded in culture and society. For this reason, Xinran had to leave China in order to write the book, which was published in Britain … (full text).

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