The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices

Translation: Esther Tyldesley


Inspiration for the book and for the edition of hundreds of stories for Xinran was a meeting with the tourist from the “first world”, who said in an interview with her that women and men are equal in China. At that time, she hosted the radio broadcast “Words on the Night Breeze”, which, in her words, was “a miniature window, a tiny crack”, offering people a bit of freedom. Over the years, she has become a master at maneuvering around the sea of rules, prohibitions and orders of Chinese media that are completely subordinate to the party line. She took advantage of China’s slow “opening up” under Deng Xiaoping, bending conventions and censorship as much as possible.

The book consists of several stories, each more tragic and heartbreaking than the previous one. Xinran wonders what a woman’s life in China is worth (maybe nothing?) and shows that women’s drama is the norm rather than the exception in her country.

The book is not only a description of various mechanisms of atrocity of the party or deeply rooted Confucian principles. It is also the despair of mothers, sisters, wives or lovers. Xinran introduces us to women whose education and aristocratic roots have been forcibly uprooted, as well as those who sacrifice them to survive. It shows mothers who move to the capital to participate in their son’s life and, despite being well educated, live on collecting rubbish.

We can look at the tragic events in Chinese history from the perspective of women – not only at the Cultural Revolution, but also at the Tianjin earthquake in 1976, for example. Human tragedies are juxtaposed with the helplessness of the Chinese authorities, which for several days did not know that such a tragedy took place. Xinran describes an orphanage run by mothers who lost their children in this tragedy and sacrificed their lives to look after other orphans. It presents the stories of women who stayed watch over the lodged children for weeks, whom no one was able to pull from the ruble. In all of this, however, there is room for the cruelty of men and for paternal love. Nothing is black and white. Everything is in shades of gray, like the huge Tianjin that turned to rubble in the blink of an eye.

It is a highly subjective book, filled with pain. But it’s one of the most iconic titles for everyone who wants to find out how women in China have been treated.

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