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.
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.
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: SARecommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002, Random House, Anchor, 243p., Ages 15 to adult.
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.
“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
“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