Sunday, 5 May 2013

The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices by Xue Xinran

Autobiographies, historical accounts, information texts... none of these really do it for me. As a rule, I don't tend to be a fan of non-fiction books but it's important to step out of your comfort zone every now and again, as you may be surprised by what you might find.   

When I first spotted 'The Good Women of China' on the charity shop bookshelf, I found myself picking it up out of passing curiosity, as I am a huge fan of Asian culture. I almost didn't buy the book but there was something about the format that grabbed me and I am now so glad that I gave 'The Good Women of China' a chance, as it is one of the most powerful and moving books I have ever read.

The author Xinran was a popular radio broadcaster in China during the 1980s, at a time when the country was beginning to open up to the rest of the world following the Cultural Revolution. After years of suppression, women were finally able to speak up about what life was really like under Communist rule and Xinran's radio show, 'Words On The Night Breeze', became a mouth piece for a generation of subjugated women who all had a story to tell. Upon travelling to the UK, Xinran decided to collate all of her most powerful stories and letters into one book, titled 'The Good Women of China'. 

While 'The Good Women of China' is technically a non-fiction title, Xinran shares these stories in such a beautifully moving and lyrical fashion that it feels more like a work of fiction. I had to keep reminding myself throughout that each of these tragic tales are actually real. Xinran clearly holds each woman's plight close to her heart and it is her empathy that makes the book so gripping. Click below to hear Xinran talk about her experiences researching the book in an interview.

Xinran opens the book with a personal account of how a mugger in London tried to take her bag, which contained the only manuscript of 'The Good Women of China' that existed at the time. Unwilling to give up the stories of all those women, Xinran fought back and managed to stop the thief from taking her work, despite great personal risk to her own safety. 

This incredible personal strength is echoed by the stories that follow; which include devastating tales of a girl fighting to remain in hospital, away from her sexually abusive father, a daughter trapped in the rubble of an earthquake for over two weeks, with only her mother to keep her company and a couple split by decades of warfare. Issues of love, gender and sexuality within a repressed society are explored in all their forms here. 

To say much more about the individual plights of these Chinese women would spoil what is a captivating read from start to finish. However, I also think this is an important book to read from an educational stance as well. I had no idea how horrendous life was under the Cultural Revolution in China, even up until recently, and I believe that it is important for these stories to be heard. While purchasing this book
 will not remove the suffering of these women, hopefully reading it will help prevent history from repeating itself again. 

I could not recommend 'The Good Women of China' enough. It is not normally the kind of book I would go for but it is a fascinating and surprisingly uplifting read in places. And if you've read it already, what do you think of the stories contained within? And have you read any of Xinran's other books? Let me know what you think by commenting, liking and sharing below. 

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