The Good Women of China

ISBN: 0099440784
ISBN 13: 9780099440789
By: Xinran

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Reader's Thoughts


Definitely not for the faint hearted or those looking for stories with happy endings. Its easy to depict such a book as depressing but it is an honest attempt to bring to light the stories of women in a country which has no uncensored voice.


The Good Women of China is by far one of the best books I have read about modern China. Honest, frightening and downright depressing at times, this book is a must read. For anyone interested in learning about the real China, I cannot urge you strongly enough to read this book.The book starts off with the author, Xinran, describing the impetus for first becoming interested in a women’s radio show and later, for writing this book: helping save a 12 year old girl from death after learning through an anonymous letter that the young girl had been sold into marriage with a 60 year old crippled man. Fearing the young girl would try to escape, the old man had kept the girl bound to a iron chain which had been rapidly gnawing away at the flesh on her waist where it was tied. In response to Xinran’s pleas to save this young girls life, local officers simply replied, "This sort of thing happens a lot. If everyone reacted like you, we'd be worked to death. Anyway, it's a hopeless case. We have piles of reports here, and our human and financial resources are limited. I would be very wary of getting mixed up in it if I were you. Villagers like that aren't afraid of anyone or anything; even if we turned up there, they'd torch our cars and beat up our officers."The officers believed that they had no clout in the countryside and were thus reluctant to venture there and take action. Thankfully, Xinran persuaded them otherwise and once the girl had been successfully rescued and returned to her hometown where she was trafficked from, Xinran received no praise and "only criticism for 'moving the troops about and stirring up the people' and wasting the radio station's time and money. I was shaken by these complaints. A young girl had been in danger and yet going to her rescue was seen as "exhausting the people and draining the treasury". Just what was a woman's life worth in China?" From this initial experience, Xinran is further impelled to investigate women’s lives, disseminate their experiences, and encourage public dialogue about culturally-sensitive or taboo issues for one of the first times ever. And so begins Xinran’s quest to understand and probe deep into Chinese muted past through the lives of these seemingly ordinary women, whose experiences are anything but the latter.Each story has left a strong and meaningful impression on my mind and led me to reflect even more on the past two years in China as my service here comes to a close. Many times, upon finishing a story in the book, I found myself just staring for several minutes trying to fully absorb what I had just read.


U zadnjih, otprilike, dvije godine pročitala sam dosta knjiga kojima je zajednički "nazivnik" Kina, a posebno Kineskinje i njihov život, položaj u društvu, njihova duša, um i postojanje. I to u različitim vremenskim razdobljima - od, recimo, 17. stoljeća pa sve do danas. Svaki put sam fascinirana pročitanim, na različite načine, naravno, jer su i priče različite. Ali vrlo su dojmljive, zanimljive i posebne - naravno da ovisi i tko je te knjige napisao, ali pretpostavljam da sam imala sreće u odabiru, pa mi se uglavnom sve pročitano svidjelo.Ova knjiga, "Dobre kineske žene", briljantna je. Sastavljena je od petnaestak različitih priča - istinitih priča, dakako - koje je napisala novinarka imenom Xinran, a koje su joj ispričale (ili napisale, ali to je rjeđe) Kineskinje, koje su željele s nekim podijeliti svoje, uglavnom tragične i, za nas, nevjerojatne priče. Koliko god mi mislili da znamo što se u Kini događalo za vrijeme Maove vladavine, prije toga, a i poslije toga, mogu samo reći da bismo se trebali pokriti po glavi i zašutjeti, jer nemamo blage veze. Znamo ono što nam se servira(lo) (kao, uostalom, i kod većine povijesnih detalja i istina, iz bilo kojeg dijela svijeta), a to je tako malo i - proizvoljno. Žene u većini zemalja svijeta žive teže od muškaraca (što god tko mislio o tome i uvjeravao me da nije tako - tako je i nikako drukčije), ali ovo što su prolazile - i na neki način još uvijek prolaze - kineske žene, zaista je izvan svake usporedbe. Xinran piše na novinarski način, naravno, ali moram reći da je i literarno nadarena, sjajno zna prenijeti osjećaje, a ne gubi ništa kod izlaganja i opisa činjenica. Strahovito me dirnula, uspjela me i zaprepastiti (iako sam, kažem, dosta čitala o cijeloj temi), rasplakati (često i od ljutnje) i potaknuti da čitam još o tome i govorim o tome. Prijevod Martine Čičin Šain je apsolutno sjajan. Preporuka od srca.


The inspiration for this book, written by a Chinese journalist now living in Britain, came from the period when Xinran lived in China in the 1980’s and 90’s and hosted a call-in radio show where women could describe their feelings about their lives. Most of them are horrible – stories of thwarted and frustrated lives that involved beatings, rape, forced marriages, abuse, and indifference by government officials at all levels.What accounts for this grim picture of a society? One educated Chinese woman put it this way, “I think more than half of all Chinese families are made up of women who are overworked and men who sigh over their unfulfilled ambitions, blaming their wives and throwing tantums.” A question that comes to mind, of course, is that it’s now 2013, 15 to 30 years after these stories were recounted to Xinran. Are conditions still the same? No doubt they’ve improved to some extent, but it’s my understanding that the power and influence of women in China (one fifth of the world’s population of women) is still lagging far behind men. It takes time to overcome prejudice and even if conditions have improved, this book makes a reader realize the origins of why women were and are treated as 2nd class citizens by men. If there’s a common thread that runs through these stories it’s that women have been traditionally seen as mothers, the sole identity of too many women. The physical demands of motherhood only take up a portion of a woman’s life, and beyond that, she was seen as expendable. The book closes with a look at a incredibly poor and backward community, but the author makes the point that “it does not differ from the rest of China in valuing sons more than daughters.” Modern Chinese spokesman would deny this assertion, but Xinran implies it’s deeply rooted in the culture. Chinese men have seen themselves as permanent and indomitable forces to which women are only appendages. They were discarded when they no longer served any “useful” purpose - propagation, menial work, exhausting but necessary, sexual satisfaction. These purposes vanish as the women get older, leaving them tossed on the scrap heap of society. In spite of such cruelty and neglect, women have survived, usually stoically and silently, but when Xinran offered an opportunity for women to express themselves, they jumped at it. Why were their stories allowed? Not all were – many stories were censored or eliminated, particularly if they made officials look bad, but the call-in program was immensely popular and the sheer volume of listeners made the stories impossible to ignore. Women suffered particularly during the “cultural revolution” of the 60’s and 70’s when rigid ideology rejected anything that even faintly smacked of capitalism, brutally relocating people, imprisoning them, and often destroying any family structures that traditionally women held together. Tounghness and resilience enable women to survive, but at a high cost. “A great sadness, virtually no experience of beauty or youth” – those were some of the costs of the Great Leap Forward, and even if progress has been made in China, such practices threw long cultural shadows that still diminish women.


For nearly 8 years in the late 80s and early 90s, Xinran hosted a radio program in China called Words on the Night Breeze where she invited women to call in and share their stories. Unfortunately, because of strong government censorship, many of the calls could not be shared or the experiences talked about in full. Xinran received thousands of letters, voice messages, and personal interviews from women whose stories could not be shared with the women who needed to hear the stories the most - fellow Chinese women.Thus, The Good Women of China was born after Xinran moved to England and was allowed to share the thing she had learned publicly. When Xinran first began collecting stories from women in China, very few people, even women, knew anything about Chinese women. I know that seems like a very bizarre statement to make, but it is true. Women were expected to stay silent and keep their pain and their stories to themselves. Xinran found that women in China usually knew nothing about what it really means to be a woman, knew nothing about their relationships with each other or with men, and knew nothing of sexuality. Xinran's idea of exploring women's lives was considered radical and she was routinely shocked by the things she learned. Even though the book is older (first published in 2002) and the stories are even older (most collected while Xinran was still in China doing her radio program from around 1988-1996), they are a slice-of-life glimpse into the lives of women during the cultural revolution through the great opening up and reform era of Deng Xiaoping. The stories are heartbreaking. Most of the women were victims of rape at one point. I sobbed while I read the chapter on the mothers who lost their children in the great Tangshan earthquake in 1976. I was sickened by the story of the Guomindan general's daughter. These stories are not for the faint of heart, but they are all true. And even though the stories are 30, 40, 50+ years old, they are not so far removed as to be irrelevant and help explain why the role of women in China today is the way it is. If you want to understand more about women in China, this is the quintessential guide. 4 stars.


Although this book contained some very moving stories, I felt it was lacking in some areas. Perhaps something of the beauty and cadence of a language gets lost in a translation, because I found the dialogue and voice of the book quite child-like and naive, which detracted from some of the accounts of the women interviewed. The stories themselves were mostly sad and heartbreaking, there seemed to be very little that was positive or uplifting. The author has gone to a lot of trouble to gather these accounts, and re-tell them in this book, but there didn't seem to be any positive outcome to this, other than women unburdening themselves by telling their stories. To me, Xinran came across as a voyeur rather than a champion of women. But on the plus side, it did educate me and increase my understanding of Chinese women.


My long-held belief that the roots of extreme sexual repression can be traced to Judea-Christian influences has unraveled completely in the first 10 pages of this book. In George Orwell's 1984 it was obvious that his dsytopia was taken directly from Soviet Russia, but I never understood where Orwell was getting his images of sexual repression and taboos against romantic love. Wherever it came from it was also present in China.The stories of Chinese women collected in this book will break your heart and make you grateful for any freedom you have, even if it's just the freedom to eat an egg (without first having to bear a son) or to use feminine hygiene products that don't shred your skin. This book has stirred in me the desire to read more about China, especially the period preceding and during the Cultural Revolution. It's hard to believe that I have walked on this earth during a time when women in China were imprisoned for being lesbian or even co-habitating with a man outside of marriage.With the last three books I've read I have come to appreciate some of the redeeming qualities of my own country. America is wrong in a lot of ways but at least we can fly a kite here, at least we can live a life independent of a man, own property, get a divorce if we need to and take a lesbian lover without having to worry about going to prison for it....I wonder how long it will last?


I would never have read this book if I hadn't needed an "X" for my A-Z author challenge. It was certainly an eye-opener!These are true stories from Chinese women about their lives, collected by a journalist and radio presenter. She was also surprised by the stories she was told. Some of the stories of abuse are unbelievable and it is hard to imagine, living in Western society, that these things are going on in modern times. It is pure luck who you are and where you were born but I am so grateful to be living in an open and free thinking society.I had no concept of China at all, and certainly learned a few things about the culture. I may look a bit further into it, but then again I'm not sure I want to either, as I would probably get quite angry about it all.


I have real mixed feelings about this book and found it hard to read. It was so sad to read the stories of the various women of China and when you pile each of these stories upon each other, the effect is very upsetting. Yes, this was propbably the reality for many women in China in 2002 but it was hard to read about it. I would have liked to learn more about the narrator and think she could have put more of herself out there, as she told her stories. The book probably deserves more stars than I selected and if you enjoy Chinese history and can handle reading about these awful experiences, you will find this to be an exceptional book.

Larry Bassett

I am chasing my adopted daughter’s heritage by reading books about China, especially as it relates to abandoned and damaged daughters. If you have been reading my reviews for a while, you know that my daughter who is ten years old was abandoned in Aksu, China at the age of 3½ months. We believe that because she had a cleft lip and palate her parents were unable to nourish her so abandoned her in a safe location so someone with more access to medical resources could save her life. She was very malnourished when she was found and, in fact, when we adopted her more than three years later, she was still diagnosed by our doctor as “failure to thrive” due to her very low weight. At the age of 3½ years she was eighteen pounds!The Good Women of China is filled with amazing (and appalling) information and observations. For example: Oh, poor Xinran. You haven’t even got the various categories of women straight. How can you possibly hope to understand men? Let me tell you. When men have been drinking, they come out with a set of definitions for women. Lovers are “swordfish”, tasty but with sharp bones, “Personal secretaries” are “carp”, the longer you “stew” them, the more flavour they have. Other men’s wives are “Japanese puffer fish”, trying a mouthful could be the end of you, but risking death is a source of pride. And what about their own wives?“Salt cod.”Salt cod? Why?Because salt cod keeps for a long time. When there is no other food, salt cod is cheap and convenient, and makes a meal with rice…Blood boiling yet? There is much more to create a rolling boil. You won’t believe it. The book has fifteen stories about fifteen different women in China being treated extremely badly. You might wonder if these stories are representative of the Chinese society as a whole. From what I have learned about China these were not rare experiences for women and girls during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s. Their horrid experiences are recalled by women in the 1980s and 1990s and told to Xinran, the author who became a trusted listener as well as recalling her own bad experience as a girl child. At that time women obeyed the “Three Submissions and the Four Virtues”: submission to your father, then your husband and, after his death, your son; the virtues of fidelity, physical charm, propriety in speech and action, diligence in housework. For thousands of years, women had been taught to respect the aged, be dutiful to their husbands, tend the stove and do the needlework, all without setting foot outside the house. I know from the experience of my adopted daughter that many girls, including babies, have a hard beginning if they survive at all. This is a result of both the one child policy and the overwhelming desire that the first child be a boy.Many other reviews on GR go into more detail about the stories in The Good Women of China. I found the individual stories horrifying but I already knew a good deal about the Cultural Revolution.During the Cultural Revolution, anyone from a rich family, anyone who had received higher education, was an expert or scholar, had overseas connections or had once worked in the pre-1949 government was categorized as a counter-revolutionary. There were so many political criminals of this kind that the prisons could not contain them. Instead, these intellectuals were banished to remote country areas to labour in the fields. The stories are individual and therefore more personal than statistics and general recountings of events. Xinran was able to write down and publicize some of the stories she heard once she moved from China to London. In her book she tells about what she heard and what she was able to do while she was a radio broadcaster in China. Journalists in China had witnessed many shocking and upsetting events. However, in a society where the principles of the Party governed the news, it was very difficult for them to report the true face of what they had seen. Often they were forced to say and write things that they disagreed with.When I interviewed women who were living in emotionless political marriages, when I saw women struggling amid poverty and hardship who could not even get a bowl of soup or an egg to eat after giving birth, or when I heard women on my telephone answering machines who did not dare speak to anyone about how their husbands beat them, I was frequently unable to help them because of broadcasting regulations. I could only weep for them in private. The stories are not pleasant and there are not many happy endings. But they expose evils that will only be repeated if nothing is done to change things. Things have changed in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution but many women are subjugated, second class beings. Xinran speaks for them in her books. The Good Women of China delivers an important message to the reader. By telling these stories Xinran exposes a wrong in the world and increases the potential for change. Published in 2002 about the injuries from events twenty-five years before that, Xinran shines a light in the darkness of a past that continues to reach forward into the present.


This book is horrifying and fascinating. Xinran chronicles the stories of a few individuals, and expertly pinpoints how the stories she presents are (unfortunately) not necessarily unique. She explains how Chinese history and culture relate to each woman's experiences, without lecturing or giving a history lesson (some knowledge of Chinese history is useful, although Xinran does an excellent job of concisely describing the key points). Each chapter is masterfully woven into the next, and each interview is distinct but connected to the others by Xinran's narrative. Her writing is beautiful, and she is "present" just enough, at some times more than others. She tells her own story to an extent, which I think is very appropriate to the tone and theme of this book. Throughout her interviews she often tells the women that they can share openly with her because they are both women and can understand each other (or some variation of that statement). It helps to know Xinran's story, to understand how she herself relates to the women in her interviews.At times I was amazed by the bravery of women in these stories, but was almost always struck by the sobering thought "what choice do they have?" It often seems like their choices are to continue living with their pain (or complete numbness) or to kill themselves. For quite a few women in this book, those were the options they felt obligated to choose between. That's really how bleak some of these stories are--imagining how "healing" is possible for some of the women in this book seems like a naive hope either because they have been so horribly traumatized and/or because they live in a society that makes healing impossible for them.The last chapter, "The Women of Shouting Hill", is interesting because it is quite different from the others. In it, Xinran describes her experiences with a group of women in a remote village. The politics and history that so strongly influenced the experiences of other women are seemingly not present here. The women lead difficult, poverty-stricken, primitive, and painful lives. They are not valued at all beyond their ability to produce children (sons being the most highly valued of course). And yet "out of the hundreds of Chinese women [Xinran] had spoken to over nearly ten years of broadcasting and journalism, the women of Shouting Hill were the only ones to tell [her] they were happy." (pg. 239)That one line has left me reeling.This book is wonderful, but horrible, and truly worth reading.


Yhtä aikaa järkyttävä ja mahtava kirja. Kiinan naisten oloista en ole tiennyt mitään ennen tätä kirjaa, nyt tiedän paljon enemmän.

The Airship Librarian

No rating. I know, I know. "What? No rating?" But, this is a biography. In this book are true stories of women's lives. How can I rate someone's life? Especially when it is filled with pain and trauma? The answer is simple. I cannot. I did not enjoy this book much. The translation was poor and the narrator came across as frightfully naive. Those aren't really the main reasons though. Despite them, I couldn't put the book down. I was engrossed. I simply did not like this book because of how dark it is. Now, I know that the world is a dark place. There is pain and whoever says otherwise is selling something. I understand that. This is why I liked this book, I read this book, but I don't like the truth of it. Could anyone? Fact: The world is full of suck. And because I hate to end on a happy note like that, I'll add this: FACT: THE WORLD IS FULL OF AWESOME TOO Remember that, people who read sad biographies. The world is more than awful, abusive, and traumatic pain. Yes, there is that, and we should fight against it, but there's much, much more.


Xinran was the presenter of a radio show in China, during which she would ask women to call her and tell her about themselves. Over the years, she gathered many stories of Chinese women, and this book contains fifteen of them, including her own. It's a diverse collection of stories, including the stories of a lesbian woman, of loveless forced marriages, of hopeless love stories, of women who were raped as children...They're eye-opening, saddening, horrifying. Xinran's matter of fact tone -- though no doubt partly due to the translation -- doesn't do anything to hide that. I wouldn't say that any story in here is actually a happy one.Worth reading, though, yes. If you want to learn about Chinese women through the eyes of a Chinese woman, The Good Women of China will definitely help, while at the same time it doesn't dump information on you in big blobs -- the idea is to give these women of China a voice, really, not to educate the West. Xinran doesn't just speak of other women, and her own story runs through it all, with her own thoughts and reactions contextualising the stories.

Astrid Reza

The "good women" in China, in Xin Ran stories, are not women that view as "good women" in the Chinese society. I had to do some applause for Xin Ran and those women who had shared their stories. It's wonderful and excruciating. I had never found stories as tragic as their stories. Life is just hard, but hey, they move on. They keep on living, even if it only in their own dreams. Their imagination that cannot held back by anyone. Not the government, not the society, not even the people who love them. I had to thanks for them for sharing their lives so personally. So close, that I even felt that I related with them (as you know, I'm always in denial with my Chinese blood).Thank you for all your kindness, strangers, friend, enemy, sister, mother, auntie, nieces, grandmother, daughter, granddaughter. Thank you Xin Ran for putting your own life in saving this manuscript in London. I love u all.

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