Chinese Cinderella: The True Story of an Unwanted Daughter

Chinese Cinderella: The True Story of an Unwanted Daughter

by Adeline Yen Mah

Other Format

View All Available Formats & Editions


More than 800,000 copies in print!
From the author of critically acclaimed and bestselling memoir Falling Leaves, this is a poignant and moving true account of her childhood, growing up as an unloved daughter in 1940s China.

A Chinese proverb says, "Falling leaves return to their roots." In her own courageous voice, Adeline Yen Mah returns to her roots to tell the story of her painful childhood and her ultimate triumph in the face of despair. 

Adeline's affluent, powerful family considers her bad luck after her mother dies giving birth to her, and life does not get any easier when her father remarries. Adeline and her siblings are subjected to the disdain of her stepmother, while her stepbrother and stepsister are spoiled with gifts and attention. Although Adeline wins prizes at school, they are not enough to compensate for what she really yearns for — the love and understanding of her family. Like the classic Cinderella story, this powerful memoir is a moving story of resilience and hope. 

Includes an Author's Note, a 6-page photo insert, a historical note, and the Chinese text of the original Chinese Cinderella.


“One of the most inspiring books I have ever read.” –The Guardian

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781428168046
Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC
Publication date: 10/17/2007
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 1.25(h) x 9.00(d)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

Adeline Yen Mah was born in Tianjin, China and has lived in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and England. She is the author of the adult memoir Falling Leaves, which was a New York Times Bestseller and has sold over a million copies worldwide; Chinese Cinderella, her autobiography written for teens which has also sold over one million copies; and other novels. Adeline is Founder and President of the Falling Leaves Foundation, whose mission is to promote understanding between East and West and to provide funds for the study of China's history, language and culture. She and her husband have two children and live in California and London.

Read an Excerpt

Top of the Class


As soon as I got home from school, Aunt Baba noticed the silver medal dangling from the left breast pocket of my uniform. She was combing her hair in front of the mirror in our room when I rushed in and plopped my schoolbag down onto my bed.

"What's that hanging on your dress?"

"It's something special that Mother Agnes gave me in front of the whole class this afternoon. She called it an award."

My aunt looked thrilled. "So soon? You only started kindergarten a week ago. What is it for?"

"It's for leading my class this week. When Mother Agnes pinned it on my dress, she said I could wear it for seven days. Here, this certificate goes with it." I opened my schoolbag and handed her an envelope as I climbed onto her lap.

She opened the envelope and took out the certificate. "Why, it's all written in French or English or some other foreign language. How do you expect me to read this, my precious little treasure?" I knew she was pleased because she was smiling as she hugged me. "One day soon," she continued, "you'll be able to translate all this into Chinese for me. Until then, we'll just write today's date on the envelope and put it away somewhere safe. Go close the door properly and put on the latch so no one will come in."

I watched her open her closet door and take out her safe-deposit box. She took the key from a gold chain around her neck and placed my certificate underneath her jade bracelet, pearl necklace and diamond watch, as if my award were also some precious jewel impossible to replace.

As she closed the lid, an old photograph fell out. I picked up the faded picture and saw a solemn young man and woman, both dressed in old-fashioned Chinese robes. The man looked rather familiar.

"Is this a picture of my father and dead mama?" I asked.

"No. This is the wedding picture of your grandparents. Your Ye Ye was twenty-six and your Nai Nai was only fifteen." She quickly took the photo from me and locked it into her box.

"Do you have a picture of my dead mama?"

She avoided my eyes. "No. But I have wedding pictures of your father and your stepmother, Niang. You were only one year old when they married. Do you want to see them?"

"No. I've seen those before. I just want to see one of my own mama. Do I look like her?" Aunt Baba did not reply, but busied herself with putting the safe-deposit box back into her closet. After a while I said, "When did my mama die?"

"Your mother came down with a high fever three days after you were born. She died when you were two weeks old. . . ." She hesitated for a moment, then exclaimed suddenly, "How dirty your hands are! Have you been playing in that sandbox at school again? Go wash them at once! Then come back and do your homework!"

I did as I was told. Though I was only four years old, I understood I should not ask Aunt Baba too many questions about my dead mama. Big Sister once told me, "Aunt Baba and Mama used to be best friends. A long time ago, they worked together in a bank in Shanghai owned by our grandaunt, the youngest sister of Grandfather Ye Ye. But then Mama died giving birth to you. If you had not been born, Mama would still be alive. She died because of you. You are bad luck."

A Tianjin Family

At the time of my birth, Big Sister was six and a half years old. My three brothers were five, four and three. They blamed me for causing Mama's death and never forgave me.

A year later, Father remarried. Our stepmother, whom we called Niang, was a seventeen-year-old Eurasian beauty fourteen years his junior. Father always introduced her to his friends as his French wife, though she was actually half French and half Chinese. Besides Chinese, she also spoke French and English. She was almost as tall as Father, stood very straight and dressed only in French clothes, many of which came from Paris. Her thick, wavy black hair never had a curl out of place. Her large, dark brown eyes were fringed with long, thick lashes. She wore heavy makeup, expensive French perfume and many diamonds and pearls. Grandmother Nai Nai told us to call her Niang, Chinese term for mother.

One year after their wedding, they had a son (Fourth Brother), followed by a daughter (Little Sister). There were now seven of us, five children from Father's first wife and two from our stepmother Niang.

Besides Father and Niang, we lived with our Grandfather Ye Ye, Grandmother Nai Nai and Aunt Baba in a big house in the French concession of Tianjin, a port city on the northeast coast of China. Aunt Baba was the older sister of our father. Because she was meek, shy and unmarried and had no money of her own, they ordered her to take care of me. From an early age, I slept in a crib in her room. This suited me well because I grew to know her better and better. Besides a room, we came to share a life apart from the rest of our family. Under the circumstances, perhaps it was inevitable that, in time, we came to care for each other very deeply.

Many years before, China had lost a war, known as the Opium War, against England and France. As a result, many coastal cities in China, such as Tianjin and Shanghai, came to be occupied by foreign soldiers.

The conquerors parceled out the best areas of these treaty ports for themselves, claiming them as their own "territories" or "concessions." Tianjin's French concession was like a little piece of Paris transplanted into the center of this big Chinese city. Our house was built in the French style and looked as if it had been lifted from a tree-shaded avenue near the Eiffel Tower. Surrounded by a charming garden, it had porches, balconies, bow windows, awnings and a slanting tile roof. Across the street was St. Louis Catholic Boys' School, where the teachers were French missionaries.

In December 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the United States became involved in the Second World War. Though Tianjin was occupied by the Japanese, the French concession was still being governed by French officials. French policemen strutted about looking important and barking out orders in their own language, which they expected everyone to understand and obey.

At my school, Mother Agnes taught us the alphabet and how to count in French. Many of the streets around our house were named after dead French heroes or Catholic saints. When translated into Chinese, these street names became so complicated that Ye Ye and Nai Nai often had trouble remembering them. Bilingual store signs were common, but the most exclusive shops painted their signs only in French. Nai Nai told us this was the foreigners' way of announcing that no Chinese were allowed there except for maids in charge of white children.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Chinese Cinderella 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 347 reviews.
limegreenlvr101 More than 1 year ago
The New York Times bestseller Adeline Yen Mah writes her compelling story of heartbreak. Chinese Cinderella: A True Story of an Unwanted Daughter shows how she goes through hard times and tries to stay strong. Adeline Yen Mah is born into a family who neglects and hurts her physically and emotionally. Her aunt and grandparents are the only ones who believe in her and show their love to her. Mah’s stepmother, Niang, hates her and tries to keep Adeline from having a life outside her home. Her rewards and prizes from school won’t help her family love her. In fact, they dislike her more and more every time she comes home with one. Her siblings take her things and hurt her. Killing her duckling, PLT, and insulting her in front of her family is only the surface of the hard things Yen Mah has to go through. Her father and stepmother send Adeline to different schools but she still is tied to her home, hoping for a letter from her family. Through torment and sadness, Adeline tries to find herself and the world around her. Throughout the novel, the author tells her story through her own eyes. She tells the reader to be strong and that we are all special and unique. She stresses how important it is to be truthful, loyal, and to have a talent you share with the world. Her moral is to be the best person you can and to enjoy even the little things in life. Although her life was not easy, she believes that she should show people how she can be strong and determined to pull through. Adeline Yen Mah writes in an interesting way to pull readers in. She tells her story as if she has something to prove. Adeline remembers her life and tries to write about it. The reader can understand what she went through and feel the pain that she had to encounter. Most readers can relate to Yen Mah and her story in some way. This book is a heart-felt memoir that touches anyone. I enjoyed how it makes you react to the novel. It is told in so much detail that you actually feel like you are in the story. The story moves you before you even read all the way through. It's never difficult to understand what the author goes through. Some situations are vague and lack detail but when you read the book you understand why. When Adeline Yen Mah describes her boarding school in Tianjin, it is described in little detail. She improves the book by trying to let the reader understand how alone she feels and help us create our own images in our mind. Mah tells a story of love and acceptance. Readers will connect with the memoir and believe in change for innocent people and their families. Thanks to Adeline Yen Mah, hope and healing is a place in the world for everyone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So a friend recommended this book because i didnt know what to reas for the summer . So i said what do i have to lose so i got it and it pleasently surprised me that i loved the book ALOT . The one thing that surprised me was i dont really cry for books , but this OMG did i cry during this book . Over all two big thunbs up !!!!!! :)))
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is my favorite book!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read the full book and am excited that I can buy it! I love this book, and for that person who rated three stars and said "Really.", This is great read. I also want to tell you guys to "read/play before you post" because some people just leave reviews when they haven't even read it yet
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read in two days c: It was surely in my top 5 of my most delicate favorite books c: would toatally lend/share this book to my friends. I actually throughout the book... at each moment would be able to connect/relate to the author c: And I liked that... Best book ever (:
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Chinese cinderella is the true story about a young girl who grew up tormented and hated. Always thinking that her mother died because of her, when it was really just the birth. It's a really good book, that'll make you think!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really like this book because it tells how she was raised and treated but its really sad. Has anyone read the second book?
GP07 More than 1 year ago
This book is such a safe one, but written in a phenomenal way. Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah is a autobiography written from her early childhood through the age of fourteen. Adeline - a gifted young girl who is shunned and hated by her family - is seen as bad luck because her mother dies shortly after giving birth to her. Her father re-marries and her step-mother(Niang) is a stylish yet cruel woman who seems to hate Adeline more than her siblings do. Not to mention that her siblings do some really cruel things to her. Adeline's father has no power in the house and he's no resort to Adeline because he doesn't even remember her name or birthday.

Adeline's only resort is her Aunt Baba, her Ye Ye(Grandfather), and her Nai Nai(Grandmother). Adeline is left out from family activity and works hard to be accepted by her father. Adeline's entire life has been a challenge and this book shows just the beginning of it. If you've ever felt unwanted, think again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Chinese Cinderella is historically informative, and highly emotional. This is not a book to love, yet a must read to see how disturbing some people live, and yet survive.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have to day it has been by far ny favorite book! No doubt that anyone who reads this book will love it. Growing up cinderella had always been my favorite and if it woulnt of been on my summer reading list i wouldve missed out on a great book. It is an easy read heart warming and beautiful book. I will honestly say i actually cryed reading this story. Like someone would watching a chick flick. Read this book you wont regret it!! (:
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read the sample, and i will definetly get the full book.
Gillian Colwell More than 1 year ago
This book is about a chinese girl who is unloved! If you do not like sad books then i do not recomend it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Adeline Yen Mah lived her childhood as an unwanted daughter. Her father ignored her, forgetting her name and birthday. Her step-mother was cruel and abusive, and her siblings blamed her for her mother's death. In her memoir, Adeline describes her childhood in China. This beautifully crafted memoir describes the pain she suffered from her family and shows the political changes of China at the same time. This was an excellent novel and a quick read.
Suko95 More than 1 year ago
My eleven-year-old daughter read Chinese Cinderella first, then passed it on to some friends, and because I sometimes read literature for children, told me I had to read it next. The following review is from my blog about books, Suko's Notebook. When I write book reviews, although they contain my opinions, I try to keep from going overboard emotionally. I'm not a journalist, just reporting the facts--but neither am I an overly emotional writer, or person. However, reading Chinese Cinderella: The Secret Story of an Unwanted Daughter was quite an emotional experience for me. I often felt on the verge of tears, and was completely outraged by the way this poor child was treated, as a nonentity in a rich family. It was unbearable to me, that this innocent, gifted child was ignored, mistreated, and made to feel bad about just about everything. Published in 1999, Chinese Cinderella is a beautifully written memoir by Adeline Yen Mah. The book describes her early experiences growing up in China during World War II, and is a revised version of part of her autobiography, Falling Leaves. Poor Adeline! Her mother died soon after giving birth to her, and the family shuns her and regards her as bad luck. After her father remarries, she receives constant abuse from her stepmother "Niang" (the Chinese word for mother) and siblings. Although she's an outstanding student at school, at home she's made to feel as if she doesn't exist, at the complete mercy of a cold, despicable stepmother. She's forced to become independent at a very young age, walking to school and back by herself in the worst weather. Her father's guilty of neglecting her, and allowing his second wife to be cruel and unjustly punitive towards her. Her saving grace is her scholastic ability and intelligence, and having one person in her life who believes in her, Aunt Baba. In spite of a very difficult upbringing, Adeline is able to triumph over her past and eventually attends medical school. Chinese Cinderella lives up to it's name, and although it's shockingly sad, it's also a book about hope and the resiliency of the human spirit, about reaching dreams in spite of the worst possible circumstances. I'd like to read Adeline Yen Mah's full autobiography, Falling Leaves, an international bestseller published in 1997.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is mostly about a young girl who has a huge family but none of them liked her. Since she has a ton of sivlings, and her father got remarried,and she is not treated very well at all. Everyone in her family treats her like it's her fault their real mother died. Her stepmom favors her children over everyone else, so dose her father. I think the author does a pretty good job of engaging the reader, but sometimes I felt like the book was getting boring. Like when all her brothers and sisters got a duckling was fun to read about, but then something happens to it and the author goes back to telling about how she's neglected. I liked reading about her friend, who is very athletic and is the top athlete in her school. This kind of sounded like me. I don't really get why she went away when she got kicked out because she should've stayed at her friend's house. I think homeless people would enjoy this book because then they know that there are other people out in the world that can have it worse than them.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I’ve enjoyed the novel ‘Chinese Cinderella’ by Adeline Yen Mah. the author tells her readers what her life was like growing up in China during World War II. She transformed from a little, ingenuous girl to a confident, young woman. In the beginning, her stepmother or ‘mother’ (Niang in Chinese) treats her and her siblings differently than she does with her biological children. “Though nobody actually said so, it was simply understood that everyone considered Niang’s “real” children better-looking and smarter than her stepchildren - simply superior in every way” (pg. 10). In the story, the conflict was when her parents has kicked out young Adeline into an orphanage. “It’s your aunt who has taught you how to lie and cheat. She feeds your arrogance by giving you money behind our backs.’ Niang said. ‘She is an evil influence. Before it's too late, you must move out of her room and not speak to her again. We’ll find you an orphanage that will take you in until you’re old enough to find a job to support yourself.”(pg. 117-118). Up to here was the end of young Adeline’s personality. I like this book because it's the remake of the story of Cinderella. And Cinderella is one of my favourite fairytales. Young Adeline felt out of place in her family. In the beginning, she explains how her siblings treat her different. “Big sister once told me… But then Mama died giving birth to you. If you had not been born, Mama would still be alive. She died because of you. You are bad luck.” (pg 3). Throughout the story, Adeline’s siblings blamed her for causing Mama’s death and never forgave Adeline. The only 2 people in her family who actually respects her is aunt Baba and her grandfather(Ye Ye in Chinese.) Mother Teresa once said “Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So yes,it is 2015.This a story I recomend to everyone.It is Touching and very sad but WOW.I am 13 and I enjoyed this book a lot.I am one of those people that don't read at all but this story just somthing I actaully read to the end.
mmyers More than 1 year ago
I've never been a "reader", but my 15 year old daughter read this, and asked me to read it, so I did.  I finished it less than a week.  It is a page turner.  I could actually visualize myself with her, going through what she went through.  A very good book.  May be an inspiration for all the spoiled kids of the world to feel fortunate for what they have.
SalPal More than 1 year ago
The nonfiction novel “Chinese Cinderella” written by Adeline Yen Mah is a true story about her childhood. Her six siblings considered her bad luck, because their mother passed away a few weeks after Adeline was born. Her father remarried her stepmother Niang, and Adeline gained a step-brother and step-sister. She gains no love and affection from her family, except with her Aunt Baba and grandpa. Apart from home Adeline loves going to school because it’s the only place where they treat her equally. Adeline goes through great hardships, she is bullied and teased by her siblings, her parents make her feel unwanted and show no affection for her. The only reason she gets praised by her dad is when she accomplishes something great. Adeline moves from one school to the next, leaving her friends without a goodbye. Adeline becomes class president for her class and she finally feels recognized, but the feeling is shattered when her friends come over without notice and Niang hits her and claims that she is lying and conceited. They then decide to put Adeline in an orphanage for her ignorance. Adeline is thrown back into despair and loneliness. Later she moves back to a boarding school in Hong Kong. She remains at the top of her class and is able to skip grades. She is unsatisfied because most of her friends think of her as a freak. Hope begins to develop when she enters a playwriting competition. Her life changes after the result of the contest. In the quote […] transcend your abuse and transform it into a source of courage, creativity and compassion.” the author’s intention is to teach a lesson from her own experience. The quote shows that no matter what you do, you should do your best even if it feels hopeless. Also to have faith in yourself, because in the end it’s your spirit and the hard work that you put in is what counts. Also you should use the negative things and turn them into a positive thing that drives you forward. I liked Adeline’s determination, it appeals to me because in the hopeless situation she is able to not give up. I can relate because I have the same experiences as her. I can strongly relate to how she feels towards her parents. I always thought that its more than just hard work to be successful, I believe it’s the lessons we learn along our life that help us go stronger. I like how she introduces her Chinese culture in the beginning and middle of the book. At the beginning she explains how her name came to be Adeline Yen Mah. “My given name is Jun-ling. Since my surname comes first, my Chinese name is Yen Junling.” “After I married, I adopted the last name of my Chinese American husband, Bob Mah, and my name is now Adeline Yen Mah.” Also later in the story when she has a conversation between her grandfather of why Chinese characters aren’t boring. […] (wei) means danger. (ji) means opportunity. Add them together and you have a ‘crisis.’ Break them apart and keep in mind that whenever you are in a crisis, you are in the midst of danger as well as opportunity.” I like how she uses her background information in the story so we can get a sense of her personality. She really cares for her Chinese culture. I dislike how the author has a lack of imagery, because I like stories where I can visualize what’s going on. I would recommend this story to people who would want motivation towards their dreams. The book taught me a lesson and let me know it is possible to achieve your own dreams through patience and determination. You will probably feel much more incentive after reading the true story of an unwanted daughter “Chinese Cinderella”.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Left alone in a school completely unloved and unwanted by her family, Adeline Yen finds happiness from within and clings onto the hope that she might be worth something someday. The autobiography, Chinese Cinderella, is written by Adeline Yen Mah about her experiences growing up in boarder schools without love or appreciation from neither her father nor her step-mother.  It takes place in World War II meaning there are dangers for Adeline where she currently lives, Tianjin. Moreover, she remains the only girl left at the catholic school, left to fend for herself in the middle of a war. I was shocked at the ignorance and unkindness of the parents in this book, and I  enjoyed the surprising ending.Teenage girls would fall in love at the tragic lifestyle Adeline is forced to endure. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Chinese Cinderella is a book about this girl named Adeline. Her mother died as she was born. So now most of her family thinks she is the cause of her mother¿s death. Adeline goes throughout her life being mistreated and partly ignored. There are only a few people in her family who know that she is not the cause of her mother¿s death. They are her aunt Baba, grandpa Yeye, and Third Brother. Now she has to live with all her brothers, sisters, and a mean step mother.

*I liked how her aunt Baba kept all her report cards and kept them locked in this box where she keeps all her valuables. Then every time Adeline feels down and discouraged Baba shows her the grades and tells her how proud of her she is and how good she is at school. One thing that I liked was when Adeline had a pet duck, she named it and took care of it as if it was her own child. She named it Precious Little Treasure but its nick name was PLT. PLT was the only other person that Adeline cared about, she fed her everyday, slept with her, kept her well but then a sad day came. One day Big Brother took PLT and let their dog Jackie plays with it but then PLT got hurt and ended up dying. Adeline was really sad. Then another thing I disliked was when every time Adeline got a award or something special from school her dad would be proud of her but her siblings would get mad n hate her. Like¿..
the1butterfly on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I thought this covered half the Cinderella fairy tale motif- yes she was neglected and denied constantly, but she wasn't treated so much as a servant (mostly because there were so many servants that she wasn't needed in that capacity). I wanted a lot of things in this story- I wanted her aunt to tell her friends what happened, I wanted her to tell her stepmother just once that she was a bitter old woman who was jealous because her children weren't as intelligent as she was (in fact, I wanted to yell at her stepmother myself), and I wanted her to tell people her story- tell them that she was getting the short end of things. I admired her intelligence and her strength, and I was really riveted. I might pick up her later autobiography because I just wanted more and more.
imsuebusy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In this autobiography, author Adeline Yen Mah tells the story of her painful childhood in China where she lived until the age of fourteen with her father, stepmother, and siblings, all of whom considered her bad luck because her mother died shortly after giving birth to her.I love to read about other people's interesting lives. This story was one that made me thankful I grew up where and when I did, with my parents! Mah writes about her home, schooling, parents, siblings, and all the misery they cause her. It is so great to find out how wonderfully her life turns out in the end after so much suffering! (It is just like Cinderella!)
izzyx2397 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was so sad! I couldn't stop reading after I picked it up. It really makes you think about how lucky you are to have a family that doesn't neglect you. Overall this book was really good.
sapphire--stars on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very unfair life lived by this character. Pretty interesting, made me think and want to discuss it. There are a lot of comparisons between Cinderella and the main character Adeline. Reading this peaks my interest in her autobiography Falling Leaves.