The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices

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Overview

When Deng Xiaoping's efforts to "open up" China took root in the late 1980s, Xinran recognized an invaluable opportunity. As an employee for the state radio system, she had long wanted to help improve the lives of Chinese women. But when she was given clearance to host a radio call-in show, she barely anticipated the enthusiasm it would quickly generate. Operating within the constraints imposed by government censors, Words on the Night Breeze sparked a tremendous outpouring, and the hours of tape on her answering...
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The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices

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Overview

When Deng Xiaoping's efforts to "open up" China took root in the late 1980s, Xinran recognized an invaluable opportunity. As an employee for the state radio system, she had long wanted to help improve the lives of Chinese women. But when she was given clearance to host a radio call-in show, she barely anticipated the enthusiasm it would quickly generate. Operating within the constraints imposed by government censors, Words on the Night Breeze sparked a tremendous outpouring, and the hours of tape on her answering machines were soon filled every night. Whether angry or muted, posing questions or simply relating experiences, these anonymous women bore witness to decades of civil strife, and of halting attempts at self-understanding in a painfully restrictive society. In this collection, by turns heartrending and inspiring, Xinran brings us the stories that affected her most and offers a graphically detailed, altogether unprecedented work of oral history.
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Editorial Reviews

The New Yorker
In 1989, Xinran, a Beijing journalist, began broadcasting a nightly program on state radio that was devoted entirely to personal affairs -- a radical concept in Communist China. In response, she received thousands of letters from women, many with questions about sexuality; one woman wondered "why her heart beat faster when she accidentally bumped into a man on the bus." Eventually, Xinran persuaded her superiors to let her share some of these letters on the air, and in this groundbreaking book, written after she moved to London, in 1997, she has also included stories that didn't make it past government censors. A teen-ager commits suicide after learning that a neighbor has seen her boyfriend kiss her forehead; a university student speaks casually of becoming a "personal secretary," or mistress, to a rich man; a Kuomintang general's daughter goes mad after witnessing the torture of the family that sheltered her. This intimate record reads like an act of defiance, and the unvarnished prose allows each story to stand as testimony.
Publishers Weekly
In 1988, Xinran (ne Xue Hue) was selected to work in state media and ended up at the Nanjing radio station, where she began broadcasting "Words on the Night Breeze" a year later. The show featured letters and calls from ordinary women discussing their problems, and was hugely successful and revelatory, as women had few avenues, public or private, for talking about their lives, which were frequently grim and often harrowing. Xinran quit the show in 1995 to try to help her listeners directly, but by 1997 she had burned out. She persuaded the radio station authorities to let her travel to England, where she began teaching Chinese, met and married English book agent Toby Eady and wrote this memoir of her experiences on the program, including a compendium of some of the most painful of the "Night Breeze" stories. She presents narratives from women who live "in emotionless political marriages" and those, the majority, who struggle "amid poverty and hardship." They have commonly experienced sexual abuse: rape, frequently gang rape. Apparently designed to bring the women's horrific stories to light, the book doesn't do enough to situate them clearly in the context of the show as a state-produced product, or within Xinran's own difficulties in processing and presenting the material on the air (or in this book). The results will leave readers sympathetic to the grave enormity of the women's circumstances, but-due perhaps to minor translation problems and Xinran's lingering political worries-somewhat confused about how Xinran tried to deal with their plights. (Oct. 8) Forecast: This book includes a very incomplete bio, but diligent reviewers will find an interview Xinran did with the Guardian in July. While the focus should be on the situation of women in China, look for media interest in Xinran's own story, which includes severe childhood trials, to drive sales of the book. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
KLIATT
In 1983 Deng Xiaoping decided on a policy of opening up China. As a result, Xinran, a journalist, was able (under strict government supervision) to begin a nightly radio program aimed at women, who sent letters and left phone messages on the station's answering machine. Their stories are at once inspiring and heartbreaking. The program Words on the Night Breeze brought calls for help Xinran tried to answer. One such problem concerned a 12-year-old girl who had been kidnapped and sold to a 60-year-old peasant. The girl was finally rescued and returned to her distraught parents. Other calls concerned intimate sexual matters. For many decades unmarried men and women were not allowed physical contact; and until she was 22 years old, Xinran herself believed a woman could become pregnant by holding hands with a man. One sad tale related the fate of a young girl repeatedly raped by her father. When her mother learned of it, she advised her daughter to acquiesce quietly because they needed his salary to live on. The girl suffered a breakdown and eventually died. Another girl committed suicide after her boyfriend was seen kissing her on the forehead. She died to save her parents from embarrassment. Mao's Cultural Revolution also led to personal tragedies. One woman waited 45 years for a man who was separated from her by politics. When she finally found him, he was married with children. The Red Guards had told him that she had died in a car crash. The author suffered at the hands of the Red Guards as the "daughter of a capitalist household." Her parents were thrown into prison and she and her brother were placed in a political study class where the politically correct children regularlyabused them. Fortunately a kindly teacher shared his secret library with her, giving her a lifelong love of learning. The stories of ordinary Chinese women who contacted Xinran's call-in radio show are agonizing. Their honesty makes them all the more amazing coming from a tightly controlled society. A remarkable book. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002, Random House, Anchor, 243p., Ages 15 to adult.
—Janet Julian
Kirkus Reviews
A former Chinese radio-show host now living in England delivers a somber, graphically detailed report on the lives of women in contemporary China.

In 1989, as the Chinese authorities cautiously began opening up to the West, Xinran presented a new radio program in Nanjing called "Words on the Night Breeze." It provided a forum to discuss various aspects of daily life, using her own experiences "to win the listeners’ trust and suggest ways of approaching life’s difficulties." Later, with the authorities satisfied by her discreet handling of controversial topics, she was allowed to add a carefully vetted call-in hotline to the popular program. Drawing on her encounters with listeners, Xinran explores such topics as the role of religion in women’s lives (they seem to believe simultaneously in a number of different creeds) and lesbianism (a particularly controversial subject). Sexual abuse, especially incest, too often goes unpunished, she states, illustrating with the example of Hongzue, a teenager who found refuge from her father’s abuse in being hospitalized for various illnesses and, fearful of being sent home cured, deliberately contracted a fatal infection. To underline the pervasively callous treatment of women, especially during the Cultural Revolution, Xinran tells the story of young Shilin, who suffered a breakdown while watching her family being assaulted and was then sent to be "re-educated" in a remote village where she was frequently gang-raped by soldiers. The author also describes her own childhood spent in the care of her grandmother while her parents were away in the army. Her mother, a brilliant technical designer and early revolutionary who was home so infrequently thather daughter called her Auntie, was denied recognition for her achievements because she was the daughter of a capitalist, a "black class" background she shared with Xinran’s father.

An important document that records with intelligent sympathy lives warped or destroyed by political revolutions.

From the Publisher
“Groundbreaking…. This intimate record reads like an act of defiance, and the unvarnished prose allows each story to stand as testimony.” —The New Yorker

“A rare collection of testimonies that show the scale of our humanity, both good and bad, wondrous and horrific.” —Amy Tan

“An important document that records with intelligent sympathy lives warped or destroyed by political revolutions.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Bursting with details that make each account haunting. These stories have all the force of good fiction.” —The Washington Post

“Astonishing.”—Glamour

“Remarkable. . . . Rather than educating readers through facts and statistics, the author takes readers into the world of these Chinese women, printing their testimonies, which are beautiful, simple, honest, but sometimes horrific. Collectively, they are a raw and explosive social history.” –Rocky Mountain News

“An amazing glimpse into [China’s] culture. . .Xinran leaves us wanting to know more about ordinary Chinese women–women like herself.” –The Deseret News

“Strangely poetic as well as disturbing. . .Readers familiar with Wild Swans will know about the endless political campaigns and their malign effect on domestic life. . .the author is at her best when talking to women of that era.” –The Economist

“The power of [Xinran’s] book stems from its simplicity. . . . The often appalling and always moving narratives are based on real scenes. . . . An honest book.”–The Sunday Telegraph (UK)

“Moving . . . horrific. . . . Nothing short of heartbreaking. . . . There’s no denying The Good Women of China is an important book.” –Time Asia

“An enlightening, moving, and sometimes horrifying account.” –The Sunday Morning Post (UK)

“Leads the reader on an anguishing journey of discovery and catharsis. What emerges from the tragedies that have lain silent all these years is awe for those women who survived the horrors of their past, grief for those who couldn’t, and are-examination of one’s own place, identity, and emotional life.” –International Examiner

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780701173456
  • Publisher: Random House Adult Trade Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/1/2002
  • Pages: 300
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.45 (h) x 0.98 (d)

Meet the Author

Xinran was born in Beijing in 1958. In 1997 she moved to London. This is her first book.
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Read an Excerpt

An unprecedented, intimate account of the lives of modern Chinese women, told by the women themselves -- true stories of the political and personal upheavals they have endured in their chaotic and repressive society
For eight groundbreaking years, Xinran hosted a radio program in China during which she invited women to call in and talk about themselves. Broadcast every evening, Words on the Night Breeze became famous throughout the country for its unflinching portrayal of what it meant to be a woman in modern China. Centuries of obedience to their fathers, husbands and sons, followed by years of fear under Communism, had made women terrified of talking openly about their feelings. Xinran won their trust and, through her compassion and ability to listen, became the first woman to hear their true stories.
This unforgettable book is the story of how Xinran negotiated the minefield of restrictions imposed on Chinese journalists to reach out to women across the country. Through the vivid intimacy of her writing, these women confide in the reader, sharing their deepest secrets. Whether they are the privileged wives of party leaders or peasants in a forgotten corner of the countryside, they tell of almost inconceivable suffering: forced marriages, sexual abuse, separation of parents from their children, extreme poverty. But they also talk about love -- about how, despite cruelty, despite politics, the urge to nurture and cherish remains. Their stories changed Xinran’s understanding of China forever. Her book will reveal the lives of Chinese women to the West as never before.
From the Hardcover edition.

Author Biography:

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Table of Contents

Prologue xi
1 My Journey Towards the Stories of Chinese Women 1
2 The Girl Who Kept a Fly as a Pet 8
3 The University Student 36
4 The Scavenger Woman 53
5 The Mothers Who Endured an Earthquake 67
6 What Chinese Women Believe 88
7 The Woman Who Loved Women 94
8 The Woman Whose Marriage Was Arranged by the Revolution 110
9 My Mother 119
10 The Woman Who Waited Forty-five Years 129
11 The Guomindang General's Daughter 152
12 The Childhood I Cannot Leave Behind Me 170
13 The Woman Whose Father Does Not Know Her 185
14 A Fashionable Woman 205
15 The Women of Shouting Hill 226
Epilogue 240
Acknowledgements 243
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Foreword

1. Do you think that Xinran's mission with the Words on the Night Breeze and The Good Women of China, can ultimately be traced back to her own problematic relationship with her mother, and her absent father?

2. In her prologue, Xinran tells of when she risked her life fighting an attacker for her bag, as it contained her only finished manuscript. Would you do the same? Is life more important than a book?

3. How far do you accept the old Chinese saying that woman's nature is like water and man's nature is like mountains? Consider to what extent this applies to both Western and Chinese cultures.

4. Do you think Xinran agrees with the water/mountain comparison by the end of her stories? Consider this in the light of her use of imagery, and how these two motifs are used within the text.

5. Looking back at The Woman Who Loved Women story, do you think that if Taohong had not been raped she still would have found herself only able to love women? Is she really homosexual or just badly scarred?

6. It might be said that in some way Xinran is worthy of criticism for choosing to settle in England, leaving the women of China to a world that is still so behind Western standards of equality. Do you agree?

7. Which of the stories did you find most disturbing, and why?

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Reading Group Guide

When Deng Xiaoping's efforts to "open up" China took root in the late 1980s, Xinran recognized an invaluable opportunity. As an employee for the state radio system, she had long wanted to help improve the lives of Chinese women. But when she was given clearance to host a radio call-in show, she barely anticipated the enthusiasm it would quickly generate. Operating within the constraints imposed by government censors, "Words on the Night Breeze" sparked a tremendous outpouring, and the hours of tape on her answering machines were soon filled every night. Whether angry or muted, posing questions or simply relating experiences, these anonymous women bore witness to decades of civil strife, and of halting attempts at self-understanding in a painfully restrictive society. In this collection, by turns heartrending and inspiring, Xinran brings us the stories that affected her most, and offers a graphically detailed, altogether unprecedented work of oral history.

1. Do you think that Xinran's mission with the Words on the Night Breeze and The Good Women of China, can ultimately be traced back to her own problematic relationship with her mother, and her absent father?

2. In her prologue, Xinran tells of when she risked her life fighting an attacker for her bag, as it contained her only finished manuscript. Would you do the same? Is life more important than a book?

3. How far do you accept the old Chinese saying that woman's nature is like water and man's nature is like mountains? Consider to what extent this applies to both Western and Chinese cultures.

4. Do you think Xinran agrees with the water/mountain comparison by the end of her stories? Consider this in the light of her use ofimagery, and how these two motifs are used within the text.

5. Looking back at The Woman Who Loved Women story, do you think that if Taohong had not been raped she still would have found herself only able to love women? Is she really homosexual or just badly scarred?

6. It might be said that in some way Xinran is worthy of criticism for choosing to settle in England, leaving the women of China to a world that is still so behind Western standards of equality. Do you agree?

7. Which of the stories did you find most disturbing, and why?

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 13 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2009

    An insightful book

    "The Good Women of China" details the tragic lives of many Chinese women who lived through the Communist uprising and Cultural Revolution of China. Each chapter tells a different woman's story. Many of these women were gang raped, forced to "rat on" their family, and accused of being counter-revolutionary. Some were betrayed by friends as their friends tried to secure their own place in the Revolution and the Red Guard. All of the women were forever changed, many times tragically. Although funny at times, the book showed the emotional and physical abuses endured by many Chinese women in those times. I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to understand more of Chinese culture and history.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2009

    Beautiful work

    Excellent story telling. It gives you real insight into the life of all kinds of women in China. Also, it gives you a hint at how dramatic the changes have been there over the last century.<BR/><BR/>It would make a great 'discussion' book club book. It is quite sad and touching at times.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2005

    Great book

    While looking for the required reading for our adoption, I ran across this book. It wasn't what I was looking for but it seemed interesting. I couldn't put it down. I went cover to cover in just over 4 days. As an American woman adopting a Chinese daughter, I think it's important to know what life was/is like for many woman throughout rural China. My heart ached for many of the women in this book. I had no idea of the treatment of women as late as the 1990's. I'd love to hear more of Xinran's stories of the women she met while working and living in China.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 10, 2003

    Riveting anecdotal review of status of women in China.

    In this collection of absolutely gripping true stories from women, predominantly from rural China, the author draws on a vast reservoir of first-hand reports and gives voices to women who usually go unheard in the public forum and unnoticed in history. Their experiences are all the more shocking because they're not intended to be--the pain, waste, sadness and sacrifice in their lives underscore the turmoil of China's recent past and volatile present. For students of China, and anyone visiting or doing business with China, as well as for avid readers of all persuasions, YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK NOW--don't wait for it to come out in paperback! I had frankly decided to read no more of the 'my-family-suffered-in-China-and-I-survived' books (of which there are so many excellent ones), but when I heard Xinran in a TV interview describe how she came to write this book, I became curious. When I started reading it, I couldn't put it down except to dry my tears. I was a student in China in 1979 and I thought things were better today, but I discovered how naive that assumption is--I can't believe the injustices against women in the 80's and 90's!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2013

    Beautiful

    As an American living in China I found this book helpful in understanding them. We tend to forget what the women have endured in this lifetime. Touching, moving account of being a Chinese woman, I have great respect for them

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  • Posted December 28, 2012

    It's amazing how public radio can allow private issues to be dis

    It's amazing how public radio can allow private issues to be discussed anonymously. Xinran has tapped a vein, and the story she unleashes is huge. A hundred things considered too painful or shameful to discuss with family or neighbors come out in the open. Radio show host Xinran shares a relatively few of the most moving and thought-provoking stories. And some of them will almost certainly reduce you to tears. But through all the pain, the reader comes away with deeper respect for these women's strength. These are some of the strongest people in the world.

    --author of A Galaxy of Immortal Women: The Yin Side of Chinese Civilization

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  • Posted February 19, 2011

    Very sad and good book

    This book helps to learn about China history, people and culture by reading simple people very sad stories. Couldnt put id down. I recommend this book together with Zachary´s Mexico ¨China Undeground¨.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2005

    A Great Collection of Stories!

    For anyone who loves to read true stories of human struggle and strength, this is your book!

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    Posted June 6, 2011

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    Posted August 4, 2009

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    Posted April 3, 2011

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    Posted March 19, 2012

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