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The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices

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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 t 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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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 t 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.

30 review for The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices

  1. 4 out of 5

    Samadrita

    "At that time in China, I might have gone to prison for writing a book like this. I couldn't risk abandoning my son, or the women who received help and encouragement through my radio programme. In England, the book became possible. It was as if a pen had grown in my heart." A stinging indictment of patriarchal violence in China through the ages and the hypocrisy of the Cultural Revolution, a tribute to the destroyed lives of countless women who have been left brutalized by an unjust, barbaric "At that time in China, I might have gone to prison for writing a book like this. I couldn't risk abandoning my son, or the women who received help and encouragement through my radio programme. In England, the book became possible. It was as if a pen had grown in my heart." A stinging indictment of patriarchal violence in China through the ages and the hypocrisy of the Cultural Revolution, a tribute to the destroyed lives of countless women who have been left brutalized by an unjust, barbaric, corrupt system insisting on treating them as mere tools, and a cathartic memoir written by a woman who should be saluted for her fortitude and determination to give these women a voice despite the towering hurdles she had to overcome. Few other books have left me feeling so numb and incapacitated with the degree of savagery depicted in them. I only leave readers with a polite request to read this.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

    Wow, scrolling down the comments on this book I realized I'm the first guy to review this. Umm, here goes. Continuing my year of China reading I casually picked this up at my aunt's house but pretty soon found myself absolutely glued to it. I've read a few memoirs of modern China and the Cultural Revolution, many of which contained stories of shocking cruelty and incredible endurance, but none have affected me quite as much as the stories compiled in this book. The images are just stunning: a gir Wow, scrolling down the comments on this book I realized I'm the first guy to review this. Umm, here goes. Continuing my year of China reading I casually picked this up at my aunt's house but pretty soon found myself absolutely glued to it. I've read a few memoirs of modern China and the Cultural Revolution, many of which contained stories of shocking cruelty and incredible endurance, but none have affected me quite as much as the stories compiled in this book. The images are just stunning: a girl repeatedly sexually abused by her father recovers in a hospital and in incredible tenderness begins to keep the flies around her bed as pets. In the aftermath of an earthquake a girl is trapped two stories in the air between two freestanding walls, rescue workers unable to free her, her mother comforting her as she dies. Also I am just bowled over by the genius with which these stories were edited into a series of chapters that seamlessly flow from one to the next, and the way each story is both incredibly specific but also echoes larger themes. I thought of comparing it to Studs Turkel's books (which I love) but I think this is edited even more effectively and skillfully than Studs Turkel. One of the best books I've read this year.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sidharth Vardhan

    Have you ever seen a stranger or on a bus and wondered what kind of past they have had? This is a book voicing the fates of faces that are lost in crowds. Xinran hosted a radio call-in show on feminist issues, “Words on the Night Breeze” from 1989 to 1997 which was hugely popular in China. and which brought forth the stories of women from different sections of society, bringing the ugly face of communist China. Almost all stories contain elements of horrible violence, sexual assault, and social Have you ever seen a stranger or on a bus and wondered what kind of past they have had? This is a book voicing the fates of faces that are lost in crowds. Xinran hosted a radio call-in show on feminist issues, “Words on the Night Breeze” from 1989 to 1997 which was hugely popular in China. and which brought forth the stories of women from different sections of society, bringing the ugly face of communist China. Almost all stories contain elements of horrible violence, sexual assault, and social suppression and are greatly depressing. Moreover, many of incidences of violence are met out to them when they were children. The problems faced by the women take many forms - rape cases, kidnapping of girls for forced marriage because village lacks daughter due to female foeticide, bullying of children because their parents are Japanese or use foreign goods - sometimes to extent of turning them mentally unstable, people so poor that all sisters of a family shared a single dress which they wore in turns, since all the little clothing the family went to sons. The stories themselves are worth reading as they draw a kind of social history of Maoist China - with its government control on media, denial of fundamental rights, poverty etc besides doing the service to victims of a ridiculous patriarchy. The patriarchy and poverty creates such ugly forms everywhere in East, but the problems arising out of communism are of unique form, The trouble is they need a better writer to present them. Xinran keeps on using the phrase 'Chinese women' repeatedly to the point that you would believe that they were some sort of exotic animal species or that she herself wasn't one of them. I mean I know it is your buzzword, but come on, Initially when she kept talking about wanting to know Chinese women, I thought she might have done her studies outside China and so knew little about her country, but no, she had always lived in China. The repeated use of national adjective 'Chinese' instead of using something like 'our women' or 'women in our country' or simply 'women' leaves one with the feeling that the book is written for a foreign audience. And in the last chapter, Xinran confirms it. I think if you want to write about problems of a country. you should assume your primary audience to be people of that country. I am no fan of this foreign reporting thing. And so it is four stars, instead of five stars. There are some other issues too. Some of the stories would have left a more powerful impact on the reader if Xinran had let the victims finish their story without frequently breaking in to remind how emotional she is as listens to them - most journalists do let people speak for themselves. It is a translation so, may be, the ridiculously simple language can be forgiven. There are too many coincidences in these stories which take away their credibility - to take an example, Xinran is told by her father about a couple from his college who were separated by revolution, and she is then told about an unknown woman staying at a hotel who later turns out to be the woman her father talked about. A woman falls in love for Xinran and later thinks that she is homosexual since she was raised like a man or since she had come to hate men, an observation which she generalises to all homosexual women. Maybe excusable in a country where even married women do not understand sex properly. Also, it is part biography so she writes about her own childhood sufferings and that of her parents - okay but she must also tell you about office politics, how everyone envies her and so on. Some of these are minor annoyances but they take the focus away from wothwhile things. Definitly worth reading if you are after knowledge rather than mere reading experience.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    This is the saddest book that I have ever read. Heartbreaking stories!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Nicole~

    Back in Nanjing 1989-1997, Xinran ran a radio program called "Words of the Night Breeze," the motive in her words: "to open a window, a tiny hole, so that people could allow their spirits to cry out and breathe after the gunpowder- laden atmosphere" [of the Cultural Revolution]. The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices is a compilation of 14 life stories taken from personal interviews of some of these 'survivors' - women whose lives were agonizingly destroyed, their families ripped to shreds, thei Back in Nanjing 1989-1997, Xinran ran a radio program called "Words of the Night Breeze," the motive in her words: "to open a window, a tiny hole, so that people could allow their spirits to cry out and breathe after the gunpowder- laden atmosphere" [of the Cultural Revolution]. The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices is a compilation of 14 life stories taken from personal interviews of some of these 'survivors' - women whose lives were agonizingly destroyed, their families ripped to shreds, their existences pummeled into chaotic dust. For possibly the first time, these isolated women, of varying backgrounds and economic conditions, have been given a voice through Xinran. The stories are powerful, gripping, anguished accounts of inhumane treatment, sexual exploitation, torture, rape, hunger, death - direct fallout of the Cultural Revolution. Xinran's compassion for these women inspired her to recount her mother's story and that of her own destroyed childhood when, at age seven, she witnessed the Red Guards march into her home and burn all her family possessions, including cutting off her plaits and throwing them into the fire: "From now on, you are forbidden to tie your hair back with ribbons. That is an imperialist hairstyle!" Her parents were imprisoned and she and her brother were made to suffer daily humiliations, labeled as 'polluters' of the revolution. These stories, as overwhelmingly tragic as they are, are written in Xinran's exceptionally poetic prose, highlighting their deeply inspiring qualities, the unbreakable strength of maternal love and the everlasting endurance of the human spirit.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Larry Bassett

    I am chasing my adopted daughter’s heritage by reading books about China, especially as it relates to abandoned and damaged daughters. If you have been reading my reviews for a while, you know that my daughter who is ten years old was abandoned in Aksu, China at the age of 3½ months. We believe that because she had a cleft lip and palate her parents were unable to nourish her so abandoned her in a safe location so someone with more access to medical resources could save her life. She was very ma I am chasing my adopted daughter’s heritage by reading books about China, especially as it relates to abandoned and damaged daughters. If you have been reading my reviews for a while, you know that my daughter who is ten years old was abandoned in Aksu, China at the age of 3½ months. We believe that because she had a cleft lip and palate her parents were unable to nourish her so abandoned her in a safe location so someone with more access to medical resources could save her life. She was very malnourished when she was found and, in fact, when we adopted her more than three years later, she was still diagnosed by our doctor as “failure to thrive” due to her very low weight. At the age of 3½ years she was eighteen pounds! The Good Women of China is filled with amazing (and appalling) information and observations. For example: Oh, poor Xinran. You haven’t even got the various categories of women straight. How can you possibly hope to understand men? Let me tell you. When men have been drinking, they come out with a set of definitions for women. Lovers are “swordfish”, tasty but with sharp bones, “Personal secretaries” are “carp”, the longer you “stew” them, the more flavour they have. Other men’s wives are “Japanese puffer fish”, trying a mouthful could be the end of you, but risking death is a source of pride. And what about their own wives? “Salt cod.” Salt cod? Why? Because salt cod keeps for a long time. When there is no other food, salt cod is cheap and convenient, and makes a meal with rice… Blood boiling yet? There is much more to create a rolling boil. You won’t believe it. The book has fifteen stories about fifteen different women in China being treated extremely badly. You might wonder if these stories are representative of the Chinese society as a whole. From what I have learned about China these were not rare experiences for women and girls during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s. Their horrid experiences are recalled by women in the 1980s and 1990s and told to Xinran, the author who became a trusted listener as well as recalling her own bad experience as a girl child. At that time women obeyed the “Three Submissions and the Four Virtues”: submission to your father, then your husband and, after his death, your son; the virtues of fidelity, physical charm, propriety in speech and action, diligence in housework. For thousands of years, women had been taught to respect the aged, be dutiful to their husbands, tend the stove and do the needlework, all without setting foot outside the house. I know from the experience of my adopted daughter that many girls, including babies, have a hard beginning if they survive at all. This is a result of both the one child policy and the overwhelming desire that the first child be a boy. Many other reviews on GR go into more detail about the stories in The Good Women of China. I found the individual stories horrifying but I already knew a good deal about the Cultural Revolution. During the Cultural Revolution, anyone from a rich family, anyone who had received higher education, was an expert or scholar, had overseas connections or had once worked in the pre-1949 government was categorized as a counter-revolutionary. There were so many political criminals of this kind that the prisons could not contain them. Instead, these intellectuals were banished to remote country areas to labour in the fields. The stories are individual and therefore more personal than statistics and general recountings of events. Xinran was able to write down and publicize some of the stories she heard once she moved from China to London. In her book she tells about what she heard and what she was able to do while she was a radio broadcaster in China. Journalists in China had witnessed many shocking and upsetting events. However, in a society where the principles of the Party governed the news, it was very difficult for them to report the true face of what they had seen. Often they were forced to say and write things that they disagreed with. When I interviewed women who were living in emotionless political marriages, when I saw women struggling amid poverty and hardship who could not even get a bowl of soup or an egg to eat after giving birth, or when I heard women on my telephone answering machines who did not dare speak to anyone about how their husbands beat them, I was frequently unable to help them because of broadcasting regulations. I could only weep for them in private. The stories are not pleasant and there are not many happy endings. But they expose evils that will only be repeated if nothing is done to change things. Things have changed in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution but many women are subjugated, second class beings. Xinran speaks for them in her books. The Good Women of China delivers an important message to the reader. By telling these stories Xinran exposes a wrong in the world and increases the potential for change. Published in 2002 about the injuries from events twenty-five years before that, Xinran shines a light in the darkness of a past that continues to reach forward into the present.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ivana Books Are Magic

    The most hearth-breaking stories in this book are those of women that were raped as children. I was somewhat prepared for the descriptions of atrocities committed during Cultural Revolution, and some of the other horrors described in this book but you can never quite prepare yourself for reading about child rape, can you? Perhaps because of that, reading this book reminded me of FDLF cult in USA and its leader Warren Jeffs who was ultimately sentenced for raping 12 year old girls, his ‘brides’. The most hearth-breaking stories in this book are those of women that were raped as children. I was somewhat prepared for the descriptions of atrocities committed during Cultural Revolution, and some of the other horrors described in this book but you can never quite prepare yourself for reading about child rape, can you? Perhaps because of that, reading this book reminded me of FDLF cult in USA and its leader Warren Jeffs who was ultimately sentenced for raping 12 year old girls, his ‘brides’. I saw a film about life in that cult, and parts of some documentaries. I found it extremely hard to watch the documentaries (I think there was a documentary series). Just knowing about such things as child rape is extremely emotionally draining and upsetting, but seeing the victims with your own eyes or reading their stories makes one feel even worse. This book is more like a documentary than a film. It just throws it all in your face. It is one thing to read fiction about such events and quite another to read the ‘real’ accounts. There are many such present day stories, whose horrors are unspeakable. Finding the words to say them must be incredibly hard. Think of the European girl Natasha who was kidnaped and imprisoned for years. When she finally managed to escape, she was the same weight she was when she was imprisoned at 10 years old. Extremely underweight and abused for years, Natasha managed to escape. I was always amazed by her courage and wondered what gave her such strength. These stories are everywhere. They do not happen only in the East, in Africa or China. They happen in Western and European societies as well. Why is paedophilia so present? Why do we still have so many child marriages, even in so called developed countries? I always feel haunted by the numbers I remember. The number of child and incest marriages in the West is enough to make everyone sick to their stomach. It’s a problem that is sadly not limited to a single country, or continent. Reading those parts of the book was as horrible as seeing those FDLP girls with my own eyes and knowing there are so many children still trapped in that cult. They often kick teenage boys out of that cult so they wouldn’t get into the way of all these men who want to marry their baby sisters. I watched those boys coming back, trying to save their sisters. It is a very brave thing to do, being raised in a cult and devoting your life to fight against it. The human instinct would be to flee and never look back, yet past will always caught up with us. Thinking about so many little girls ‘married’ at age of 12 and raped is enough to give anyone nightmares. I’ve read this book yesterday and needless to say I found it very hard to fall asleep last night. I just described what the most difficult part of the book was for me, now I’m going to talk a bit more about the book itself. The author of this book Xue Xinran worked as a journalist for many years, and her stories are presumably based on real events. Some people noted that there seem to be many coincidences in the stories, suspecting that some of them might be fabricated or ‘polished’. I’m not going to make any accusations, because I know life is stronger than fiction. If the author changed some details, or even made up some stories, that won’t really change my opinion of her. I would say that Xue Xinran is a very brave women. As I was reading the book, I wondered how she was able to hear so many heart-breaking stories and keep her sanity. I think Xinran herself admits that at times she feels overwhelmed. As a host of a popular radio show, Xinran received a staggering amount of intimately sad and heart-breaking letters. A young woman that wrote to Xinran asking for guidance killed herself because Xinran failed to read her letter or answer her in time. It is a very heavy weight to carry. What I found very interesting is the questions Xinran tried to answer with this book. This is after all a book about Chinese women and the author does reflect on the state of women in the Chinese society. She doesn’t go into great length, there is no encompassing study but this is certainly a book that makes one thing. Xinran is an excellent interviewer but she is also very human. I liked how Xinran often let the women tell their stories in their own way, showing a great deal of patience and common sense. The author tells the stories of so many women, and for me personally the story seemed a bit too quick at times. I wanted to know more about these women. What happened to them once the chapter answered? The amount of stories shared felt a bit overwhelming. I felt like they deserved more space. At times, the writing even felt a bit cold. I know that the job Xinran took upon herself was incredibly hard. It is not a job any book can fulfilled. I know it must have been heard hearing all those stories, trying to write them down, give them justice and at the same time talk about the complex topic that is the position of women in Chinese society. Wars are a terrible things, not just while they last, but in the years that follow. WW2 was so terrible, that I sometimes doubt our society will completely recover from it. Women, as a perhaps more vulnerable part of the society, are often the ones on whose shoulder it all breaks- the years of chaos and social instability. It is important to write about such things, to give women a change to speak. Many of them are being ‘strong’ for the sake of their families and their sense of duty, and talking care of everyone else women often forget to take care of themselves. That is why writers like Xiran, writers that tell these difficult stories, are so important. I spoke much of the sadness of the stories, and how devastating some of them were, but I should also say that some of them made me hopeful as well. One of the stories that will stay will me is the story of mothers who lost their children and family in a terrible earthquake but have, nevertheless, founded the courage to open and run an orphanage. They were never free from pain, they never forget what happened to them and what they lost- but they found the strength to take care of others. Women can be so strong, this book testifies to that. Still, the book doesn't seem to be that well rounded up. At times it can feel a bit chaotic and overwhelming, filled with so many stories. Is it the fault of the writing? As tremendously important as I think this book is, I felt that the writing perhaps lacked something. A bit more warmth perhaps. The Good Women Of China: Hidden Voice is a very humane book, but the writing felt a bit dry at times. Perhaps the author is more a journalist, than a writer. Moreover, Xinran started to open up a bit about her own life and history in the book, but then she just stops. One gets a feeling that Xinran left many things unsaid when it comes to her own personal history. It’s not a major fault, though. I would still recommend this book to everyone. It’s not an easy read, but it is worth it. I own a copy and I will probably reread it. To conclude, do listen to these hidden voices. We all have so many things hidden in our hearts. I really liked what Xinran at one point in the book says- we all need more understanding.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Wanda

    This is a heartbreaking book which I would never have picked up except I was looking for an X author for my Women Authors A-Z reading challenge this year. I never know how to rate books like these because it’s important to know about the situations in countries other than our own, but I always feel helpless and angry when I know that women are having such frightful difficulties. I have to bear in mind that this book was published in 2002 originally, the author having moving from China to England This is a heartbreaking book which I would never have picked up except I was looking for an X author for my Women Authors A-Z reading challenge this year. I never know how to rate books like these because it’s important to know about the situations in countries other than our own, but I always feel helpless and angry when I know that women are having such frightful difficulties. I have to bear in mind that this book was published in 2002 originally, the author having moving from China to England in order to be free to do such a thing. A lot can and probably has changed in 16 years, plus many of the stories related in this book are from earlier years yet. The Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) seems to have disrupted relations between men and women and the nature of family relationships to an extreme. Survival was top of mind for everyone and each did what they had to. Xinran reveals the painful stories told to her by Chinese women—of having children horribly injured, daughters gang raped, husbands treating them like servants (or livestock), work denied, promotions skipped over, you name it. As China seems to be heading into another iteration of their authoritarian regime, there will undoubtedly be more issues for women. I hope there is still someone like Xinran to listen to women’s voices and to articulate what they are able to (Xinran herself had to walk a fine line so as not to offend the Communist Party). In the era of the Me Too and Time’s Up campaigns here in North America, we have to hope that our sisters on other continents are able to achieve some gains as well.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Nicky

    Xinran was the presenter of a radio show in China, during which she would ask women to call her and tell her about themselves. Over the years, she gathered many stories of Chinese women, and this book contains fifteen of them, including her own. It's a diverse collection of stories, including the stories of a lesbian woman, of loveless forced marriages, of hopeless love stories, of women who were raped as children... They're eye-opening, saddening, horrifying. Xinran's matter of fact tone -- thou Xinran was the presenter of a radio show in China, during which she would ask women to call her and tell her about themselves. Over the years, she gathered many stories of Chinese women, and this book contains fifteen of them, including her own. It's a diverse collection of stories, including the stories of a lesbian woman, of loveless forced marriages, of hopeless love stories, of women who were raped as children... They're eye-opening, saddening, horrifying. Xinran's matter of fact tone -- though no doubt partly due to the translation -- doesn't do anything to hide that. I wouldn't say that any story in here is actually a happy one. Worth reading, though, yes. If you want to learn about Chinese women through the eyes of a Chinese woman, The Good Women of China will definitely help, while at the same time it doesn't dump information on you in big blobs -- the idea is to give these women of China a voice, really, not to educate the West. Xinran doesn't just speak of other women, and her own story runs through it all, with her own thoughts and reactions contextualising the stories.

  10. 4 out of 5

    M.M. Strawberry Library & Reviews

    Wow. What a sobering read. Now, it is no secret that women across the world have gotten the shaft throughout history, in pretty much every country/culture around the world, but some grind it into their women more than others, and China is a prime example of this. There are fascinating glimpses into the Cultural Revolution in this book and the way the Communist Party so negatively impacted the lives of countless innocent people. I read 'Life and Death in Shangai' by Nien Cheng not too long before Wow. What a sobering read. Now, it is no secret that women across the world have gotten the shaft throughout history, in pretty much every country/culture around the world, but some grind it into their women more than others, and China is a prime example of this. There are fascinating glimpses into the Cultural Revolution in this book and the way the Communist Party so negatively impacted the lives of countless innocent people. I read 'Life and Death in Shangai' by Nien Cheng not too long before this, so this book and that one make for a fascinating read about life in China under Chairman Mao's control. The collection of stories here is quite heartbreaking, especially the final one, about the women of Shouting Hill. Yes, Xinran says these women are happy, but the story really illustrates the truth of 'ignorance is bliss' when you consider how fucking hard these women have it. They're not even allowed rice (a privilege reserved for the men of Shouting Hill for all the hard work they do farming, even though the lot of the woman is arguably just as hard if not more than the men) The thing with the leaves, and prolapsed uteruses (oh dear god why) sounds absolutely nightmarish, but again, these women are happy because they literally do not know any better. I had to sit and think to myself for a bit of time after reading this story. Water is so rare to the people of Shouting Hill because they live right at the fringes of the desert that makes up much of Northwestern China, in the loess (I actually learned a new word that day, I had no idea what loess was before this!) that I can not help but shudder when I think of their hygiene standards, and how extremely lucky I am to have access to a hot-water shower and sanitary napkins! It truly is sobering to think about how the typical American/European female views standards of living when it comes to things like this. Even the poorest people in first-world nations still have access to running water - if not necessarily hot, it's still clean water that they don't have to hike HOURS for - and even if they don't have toilet paper, they can still use newspaper or other stuff, but that kind of thing simply does not exist in Shouting Hill or other villages like it located amongst the loesses of China. One thing I would have liked in this book is a story from a woman who has/had bound feet. Back in the 1990's, there was still a share of old women who had bound feet, and I wish Xinran had included such a story, especially as this book is less than 300 pages. Nonetheless, this book is fascinating and educational, and I highly recommend it. 4.5/5 stars.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Janet

    This is one of the most tragic books I have ever read. Story after story of shattered lives - simply by being born female. But I recommend it to all women, so that we don't forget how far the world still needs to go and that we who live more comfortable lives don't stay silent. We MUST speak up for those who are powerless to speak for themselves.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Netts

    The stories are, as you would expect, fascinating and harrowing. The writing on the other hand is unforgivably juvenile. These women deserved better. But let's think for a moment about the type of person who would be allowed to become a journalist for state media in a repressive dictatorship. Logically, their selection would have little to do with any storytelling talent. Instead, it would hinge on being the type of conformist able to swallow and parrot propaganda without any intellectual analys The stories are, as you would expect, fascinating and harrowing. The writing on the other hand is unforgivably juvenile. These women deserved better. But let's think for a moment about the type of person who would be allowed to become a journalist for state media in a repressive dictatorship. Logically, their selection would have little to do with any storytelling talent. Instead, it would hinge on being the type of conformist able to swallow and parrot propaganda without any intellectual analysis. The author tries hard to talk the reader into believing she's an actual journalist but her incompetence (or, if we're being kind, naive bumbling) is painfully apparent. Example: she spends several days with a woman in a hotel, only to realize AFTERWARDS that she was someone for whom she was actively searching. This in a country where you absolutely cannot check into a hotel anonymously. It never occurred to this "journalist" to get the woman's name from the front desk. This was not an exception. I had time and time again the same "how can you be such an idiot?!" reaction to her lack of research. And then there's the writing style, which manages to be simultaneously sterile and cloying. ALL the supposed first person quotes sound exactly the same. Maybe they're not fabricated... It's possible all these women tell their stories in exactly the same way. Or maybe the nuances get lost in the translation. But something is definitely off. Having recently read a couple of good books based on first person accounts of misery and oppression (ex. Behind the Beautiful Forevers - Life Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity and Nothing to Envy - Ordinary Lives in North Korea) throws into stark contrast how bad this one is. I found this really infuriating because these are important stories and they deserve a much more impactful telling.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Dorothea

    My long-held belief that the roots of extreme sexual repression can be traced to Judea-Christian influences has unraveled completely in the first 10 pages of this book. In George Orwell's 1984 it was obvious that his dsytopia was taken directly from Soviet Russia, but I never understood where Orwell was getting his images of sexual repression and taboos against romantic love. Wherever it came from it was also present in China. The stories of Chinese women collected in this book will break your he My long-held belief that the roots of extreme sexual repression can be traced to Judea-Christian influences has unraveled completely in the first 10 pages of this book. In George Orwell's 1984 it was obvious that his dsytopia was taken directly from Soviet Russia, but I never understood where Orwell was getting his images of sexual repression and taboos against romantic love. Wherever it came from it was also present in China. The stories of Chinese women collected in this book will break your heart and make you grateful for any freedom you have, even if it's just the freedom to eat an egg (without first having to bear a son) or to use feminine hygiene products that don't shred your skin. This book has stirred in me the desire to read more about China, especially the period preceding and during the Cultural Revolution. It's hard to believe that I have walked on this earth during a time when women in China were imprisoned for being lesbian or even co-habitating with a man outside of marriage. With the last three books I've read I have come to appreciate some of the redeeming qualities of my own country. America is wrong in a lot of ways but at least we can fly a kite here, at least we can live a life independent of a man, own property, get a divorce if we need to and take a lesbian lover without having to worry about going to prison for it....I wonder how long it will last?

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kavita

    A collection of different true stories from different women, this book is written with the aim of bringing lost voices of Chinese women to the world. In spite of the emancipation of women due to communism, and in spite of the fact that most Chinese women work in positions equal to that of men, there still exists an enormous gender bias in Chinese society. This book explores the stories of women during the Cultural Revolution. I had no idea it was so bad! There are many stories of women being sol A collection of different true stories from different women, this book is written with the aim of bringing lost voices of Chinese women to the world. In spite of the emancipation of women due to communism, and in spite of the fact that most Chinese women work in positions equal to that of men, there still exists an enormous gender bias in Chinese society. This book explores the stories of women during the Cultural Revolution. I had no idea it was so bad! There are many stories of women being sold to higher officers, raped, imprisoned, in many cases, merely for being a woman. There is also a strong gender bias and a preference for sons in the culture which is brought out in many of the stories, and indeed is quite visible in China because of the practices of abandonment or murder of female babies. Many stories are not specific to women, but they are here because it happened to women. Xinran belongs to a previous generation, and herself has faced many problems, some of which she describes in this book. It is clear that mere financial emancipation is just the first step to gender equality. There is so much more to do, especially with providing choices for women, and to ensure that their needs are being met on a level equal to that of men.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    While the stories exemplifying the plight of women in China are interesting, as is the insight into what it means to be a journalist in China, I ultimately found the book a little annoying. The author is a participant in many of the stories, and often she is a heroic participant. The story featuring the author as the object of a mentally disturbed lesbian's romantic obsession bordered on ridiculous. The author seemed to "explain" the woman's lesbianism by reference to her traumatized childhood, While the stories exemplifying the plight of women in China are interesting, as is the insight into what it means to be a journalist in China, I ultimately found the book a little annoying. The author is a participant in many of the stories, and often she is a heroic participant. The story featuring the author as the object of a mentally disturbed lesbian's romantic obsession bordered on ridiculous. The author seemed to "explain" the woman's lesbianism by reference to her traumatized childhood, and did so in a way that hinted this could be the explanation for non-heterosexual behavior in general. The combination of presumption and self-aggrandizement laced through stories purported to be about other women is awkward, misguided and misplaced. Additionally, the unusually high incidence of coincidence in these stories, again often involving the author's intervention, left me a little wary of the book's accuracy.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Irene

    37% -- Sad stories. Well -written though. 2/3 of the way through. Beautiful. I love memoirs and this is very unique because she retells the stories of real people...real women who called her line when she hosted her radio show years ago. The Women of Shouting Hill - wow.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    This was good. Such sad stories though.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Mina

    An artless collection of very unhappy stories, which could easily challenge both George R.R. Martin or de Sade for shock value. The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices is in many ways reminiscent of Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China : the first-person female narrator, the overlapping cultural settings, the focus on the life of Chinese women, the videogame subtitle. Easily comparable - not for the best reasons. Works of an autobiographical nature walk a fine line between fiction and non-fictio An artless collection of very unhappy stories, which could easily challenge both George R.R. Martin or de Sade for shock value. The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices is in many ways reminiscent of Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China : the first-person female narrator, the overlapping cultural settings, the focus on the life of Chinese women, the videogame subtitle. Easily comparable - not for the best reasons. Works of an autobiographical nature walk a fine line between fiction and non-fiction. If non-fiction audiences expect veracity, fiction audiences cannot. Barely believable, this ‘autobiography’ can be held entertainment standards, but that’s about it. Let’s go over it. The voice of the narrator, whether because of the translation, other cultural differences or artistic license - it was very emotional to the point of being pathetic. In nonfiction, the voice of the narrator has no purpose and she has no shared history with these women, unlike the narrator of Wild Swans. In fiction the pathetic tone is frequently encountered in "misery lit" and is a weak literary device. I told the director about Shilin, but said that we could not broadcast her story. He was surprised. ‘What’s wrong? Usually you are pleading to be able to broadcast things.’ ‘Nothing’s wrong,’ I replied, ‘but I can’t bring myself to tell this story again or make a programme about it. It would be too difficult.’ ‘This is the first time I’ve ever heard you say anything is too difficult, so it really must have been a hard story to listen to. I hope you can manage to put it behind you.’ Brutal rape occurs every two in five stories. At some point repetition renders it quite drab. Finally, this fails as a nonfiction because it often lacks veracity. In the fist half of the book, the author already experienced two or three remarkable coincidences that render it unbelievable: In one case the narrator was invited by a politician immediately after talking to his homeless mother and giving her some chocolates. The narrator was able to infer his parentage by finding the chocolates in his house and find out the rest of the woman's story, which the woman would have rather kept hidden. Moreover, the narrator confessed to usually avoiding such party invitations and only accepting because she wanted to know how he was a politician at such a young age - which we never learned. Another case was her looking for a woman and being telefoned by the personnel of the hotel to ask her to talk to one of their residents who wasn't leaving their room. Naturally it turned out it was the same woman. This happened because her father somehow got hold of a photo which the hotel woman had given the narrator and was able to identify her. In conclusion, the stories are a little entertaining, if not very varied, except in the degree of violent brutality. It has little of the good pacing and framing found in Wild Swans and the matter-of-fact retellings is in no way balanced by the pathetic tone. However, true or not, it does leave a strong impression. Words like these can move the world.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Missy J

    If I could, I would give this book 4.5*! Xinran is (was?) a Chinese journalist, who left China in 1997 in order to publish this book. After reading this book, I can understand why. "The Good Women of China" contains 15 stories, among them "The Guomindang General's Daughter", "The Woman Whose Father Does Not Know Her", "The Fashionable Woman" and "The Women of Shouting Hill" (my favorite stories), which tell of unimaginable sufferings and abuses in the hands of husbands, fathers, strangers and gove If I could, I would give this book 4.5*! Xinran is (was?) a Chinese journalist, who left China in 1997 in order to publish this book. After reading this book, I can understand why. "The Good Women of China" contains 15 stories, among them "The Guomindang General's Daughter", "The Woman Whose Father Does Not Know Her", "The Fashionable Woman" and "The Women of Shouting Hill" (my favorite stories), which tell of unimaginable sufferings and abuses in the hands of husbands, fathers, strangers and government officials. The Party couldn't approve this book and the voices of these women would never have been heard of. These stories are depressing and heartbreaking. I've lived a big part of my childhood in Shanghai (7 to 15 years old), but, apart of the story of our helper, I never heard of such tragic stories of Chinese women. This book taught me much about China during the 60s till the 90s, about the abuses during the Cultural Revolution. It comes to no surprise that a lot of people are still traumatized by these events. Because of their past, there are still a lot of topics where Chinese women would rather stay tight-lipped than tell their stories. I hope everyone of them will have a chance to tell their story; not only to relieve some pain of the past, but to help their daughters understand them and learn about life.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Maja - BibliophiliaDK ✨

    *Popsugar Reading Challenge 2018* **A book by an author of a different ethnicity than you** FOLLOW MY BLOG FOR MORE BOOK GOODNESS I have a mission - to create a world of book lovers. Will you help me? *Popsugar Reading Challenge 2018* **A book by an author of a different ethnicity than you** FOLLOW MY BLOG FOR MORE BOOK GOODNESS I have a mission - to create a world of book lovers. Will you help me?

  21. 5 out of 5

    Katy

    I cannot even begin to imagine life in Revolutionary China -- Xinran has given a voice to women who have.

  22. 4 out of 5

    ♥ Ashleigh ♥ contrary to popular belief i'm not actually mad!

    I feel scrubbed raw from the inside-out. This is a mesmerising, horrendous heart-tearing read, but I'm glad i came across this book. It's hard to imagine the short stories and lives described in this book. I'm well aware of the fact that there's injustices in this world. I live in a country we're speaking of this sort of thing is taboo, we hide the astonishing acts of crime from recent pasts and our histories from our children, it's not something taught through education, the only reason i know l I feel scrubbed raw from the inside-out. This is a mesmerising, horrendous heart-tearing read, but I'm glad i came across this book. It's hard to imagine the short stories and lives described in this book. I'm well aware of the fact that there's injustices in this world. I live in a country we're speaking of this sort of thing is taboo, we hide the astonishing acts of crime from recent pasts and our histories from our children, it's not something taught through education, the only reason i know little of Australia's brutal history is due to higher learning in a particular subject, otherwise i might have never known. Because we know almost nothing of our own history we certainly know nothing of others, this book helped to open my eyes, its a passion of mine to see the world, to help fight some of the wrongs committed. But its a brutal path that causes much sorrow and i find must be taken slowly, with caution. I have read a few books like this over the last few years and every one of them has stuck with me. The Good Women of China, didnt tell just one heart breaking stories but years worth, with thousands of people being affected, were people where left beyond broken and barely shells of their former selves. Even now recalling these stories is heart breaking and brutal beyond compare. To think these stories are not very old, i was a child when some of this was occurring, it is unbelievable and yet sadly true. While I am sad, I'm glad i was able to experience this book, to slowly peel open my eyes, to not live in ignorance. Without knowledge no one is able to fight back, to help, to plead. This book was difficult to read but something i recommend most people do, because without knowledge we will never be able to change. This is not a book for children, or young readers. it has scene's and stories that will tear you apart on the inside from what people have suffered, it has many 'trigger' scene's and will only be appropriate for some. I rated 3 stars because this isn't a book you enjoy, its something you learn from, I'm glad i read it. But i will never read it again, its not something that needs to be read twice, i have no doubt i wont forget this book. Two review you should read: Samadrita's Review & Larry Bassett's Review

  23. 5 out of 5

    Gisela Hafezparast

    Although this book is in essence a historical depiction of China since Mao came to power, it is a very readable book. Xinran has lived, suffered, survived and prospered in this period. Her story is one of the stories she tells honestly (although there are many questions remaining) in what must have been in every sense revolutionary radio program in China of its time and to be honest, would probably still be anywhere else. I once heard Jenny Murray talk about the scathing, patronizing and revolti Although this book is in essence a historical depiction of China since Mao came to power, it is a very readable book. Xinran has lived, suffered, survived and prospered in this period. Her story is one of the stories she tells honestly (although there are many questions remaining) in what must have been in every sense revolutionary radio program in China of its time and to be honest, would probably still be anywhere else. I once heard Jenny Murray talk about the scathing, patronizing and revolting reception Womans Hour first received in the UK and transporting, which makes me wonder what Xinran must have experienced in China. However, it was worth it, as she clearly was one of the first to give a voice to the women of China, telling their stories and bringing not only women but societal issues out into the open. She also explains the hoops and regulation she often had to jump through in what definitely was/is one of the tightly and politically controlled radio stations. It definitely was very courageous. After reading these stories (often crying for these women and their families) you cannot help but be amazed at the development China has undergone in the past 30 years and of course before that. The horrors of the Culture Revolutions are clear, but I always wonder, could China have developed so fast to the same degree, without it. One would hope so. I work for an UK universities, who these days, receives much of its income from Chinese students, many of them girls. When I look at there mostly confident faces, working hard to achieve, I can't help but wonder, how different their lives is to their mothers and grandmothers. For me the stories of the cultural revolution were shocking but so was that of the female student in the 80s. I would love to read something about today's Chinese women and the societal attitude towards them. I highly recommend this book to anyone who, like me, is fascinated by this amazing country and its people.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ingrid

    No rating. I know, I know. "What? No rating?" But, this is a biography. In this book are true stories of women's lives. How can I rate someone's life? Especially when it is filled with pain and trauma? The answer is simple. I cannot. I did not enjoy this book much. The translation was poor and the narrator came across as frightfully naive. Those aren't really the main reasons though. Despite them, I couldn't put the book down. I was engrossed. I simply did not like this book because of how dark No rating. I know, I know. "What? No rating?" But, this is a biography. In this book are true stories of women's lives. How can I rate someone's life? Especially when it is filled with pain and trauma? The answer is simple. I cannot. I did not enjoy this book much. The translation was poor and the narrator came across as frightfully naive. Those aren't really the main reasons though. Despite them, I couldn't put the book down. I was engrossed. I simply did not like this book because of how dark it is. Now, I know that the world is a dark place. There is pain and whoever says otherwise is selling something. I understand that. This is why I liked this book, I read this book, but I don't like the truth of it. Could anyone? Fact: The world is full of suck. And because I hate to end on a happy note like that, I'll add this: FACT: THE WORLD IS FULL OF AWESOME TOO Remember that, people who read sad biographies. The world is more than awful, abusive, and traumatic pain. Yes, there is that, and we should fight against it, but there's much, much more.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Astrid Reza

    The "good women" in China, in Xin Ran stories, are not women that view as "good women" in the Chinese society. I had to do some applause for Xin Ran and those women who had shared their stories. It's wonderful and excruciating. I had never found stories as tragic as their stories. Life is just hard, but hey, they move on. They keep on living, even if it only in their own dreams. Their imagination that cannot held back by anyone. Not the government, not the society, not even the people who love t The "good women" in China, in Xin Ran stories, are not women that view as "good women" in the Chinese society. I had to do some applause for Xin Ran and those women who had shared their stories. It's wonderful and excruciating. I had never found stories as tragic as their stories. Life is just hard, but hey, they move on. They keep on living, even if it only in their own dreams. Their imagination that cannot held back by anyone. Not the government, not the society, not even the people who love them. I had to thanks for them for sharing their lives so personally. So close, that I even felt that I related with them (as you know, I'm always in denial with my Chinese blood). Thank you for all your kindness, strangers, friend, enemy, sister, mother, auntie, nieces, grandmother, daughter, granddaughter. Thank you Xin Ran for putting your own life in saving this manuscript in London. I love u all.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Стефан Русинов

    Devastating stories from the dark and distant corners of Chinese society, which would never have been told, had it not been for Xinran's journalistic insight and courage. It's one of these cases when I feel that fiction is seldom as striking, vivid, scary, powerful and heart-breaking as reality. The only trouble I had with Xinran's writing was that at times it felt like she is trying too hard to invoke sentiments, in fact causing the opposite effect and really discrediting her own narrative, lik Devastating stories from the dark and distant corners of Chinese society, which would never have been told, had it not been for Xinran's journalistic insight and courage. It's one of these cases when I feel that fiction is seldom as striking, vivid, scary, powerful and heart-breaking as reality. The only trouble I had with Xinran's writing was that at times it felt like she is trying too hard to invoke sentiments, in fact causing the opposite effect and really discrediting her own narrative, like for example when she receives a letter and for some reason she's certain that it is "soaked with tears". It made me not really believe her a hundred percent, as I believed, say, Svetlana Alexievich. Still, I find all the stories in the book truly important for understanding the pain endured by some Chinese women just because they are women. Thanks to a good friend for the wonderful recommendation. Will pass it on.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Crina Apostol

    One of the best and saddest books I’ve ever read. Her time with the tribe in the west was heartbreaking, a raw account of her experience of communism in China

  28. 5 out of 5

    Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)

    A friend recently asked me in an exasperated voice, "Why do you read so many books about China?" I couldn't help asking in my turn, "Why not?" (as in, why does it bother you so much?) but it also got me thinking. I'm tired of books "about" China, Japan, India etc written by westerners who lived there for 5 or 10 years or whatever, and think they know all about it. At last we are able to hear the voices of China in their own words, whether it be novels, memoir or other written forms. And I'm curi A friend recently asked me in an exasperated voice, "Why do you read so many books about China?" I couldn't help asking in my turn, "Why not?" (as in, why does it bother you so much?) but it also got me thinking. I'm tired of books "about" China, Japan, India etc written by westerners who lived there for 5 or 10 years or whatever, and think they know all about it. At last we are able to hear the voices of China in their own words, whether it be novels, memoir or other written forms. And I'm curious about the world around me. Growing up in the US during the time of the Cultural Revolution etc., not a lot was known about this ancient culture at the "grassroots" level of the small rural Midwestern town I grew up in. Many of my teachers were women in their 50s who had been teaching the same grade for years--and walking in place for much of that time. My eighth grade Geography teacher actually used the term "Yellow Peril" in all seriousness! When Nixon went to China, most of them reacted with horror. The basic message was "US = good, China = bad." No nonsense about individuals living under a system they didn't agree with for Mrs Martin! Women under any system in China have never been highly valued; baby girls were being left on mountainsides centuries ago. My friend was startled to be told that China has had arranged marriages since time was, and still does. Hardly surprising then, that in the chaos of the dark years many women and girls suffered, and continued to suffer, for their percieved lack of importance as human beings. Don't read this book if you're not ready to have your feelings touched. It is a heartwrenching read, made up of many women's stories from all over China, covering the last 5 decades. I read the first 50 pages just before bed, and found myself unable to sleep, mulling it over. But don't stop at an emotional reaction. Many of the stories are distressing, but the writer does not seek to merely shock her readers. Nor does she maintain a "professional distance." We hear of some mistakes she made in producing the radio programme that inspired the book, and curious events like the time she was being stalked by a woman who had "fallen in love" with the voice on air, forgetting there was a real person there, who didn't know her. We are told of the author's own family history of accusations, undeserved punishment for both parents and children, and its effect on her own relationships. However, there are shining moments as well: the story of the mothers who set up a post-earthquake orphanage is inspiring.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Riya

    When I first started reading this book I had no idea how good it would turn out to be. I was expecting a handful of banal stories about what modern day life is like for a woman living in China. Imagine my surprise when I found myself captivated by the stories in this book, unable to stop reading after I finished the first one, having to read the next one, and the one after that... These stories (I really shouldn't call them this because they are not made up, this book contains real life accounts When I first started reading this book I had no idea how good it would turn out to be. I was expecting a handful of banal stories about what modern day life is like for a woman living in China. Imagine my surprise when I found myself captivated by the stories in this book, unable to stop reading after I finished the first one, having to read the next one, and the one after that... These stories (I really shouldn't call them this because they are not made up, this book contains real life accounts and testimonies of women that the author of this book, Xinran, has interviewed for her radio talk show) are full of love and also much pain that these women have experienced. Despite perceptions of equality, life for Chinese women is still very hard. For example, in one chapter, a woman describes a loveless unhappy marriage that she is in that she cannot leave because her husband is an important government official. In another chapter, a woman cannot abandon her painful memories of rape that occurred during the Cultural Revolution. Speaking of Cultural Revolution, I was both fascinated and terrified when reading about it; the oppression and abuse that people have suffered under the power of Red Guards saddened me deeply as I read. There are also stories of compassion and motherly love that really touched my heart. There is a chapter that tells of a terrible earthquake that left many women without children; this was a great loss to them but instead of giving up on life these women assembled together and built a children's orphanage. There is also an account of a woman that waits every day for forty-five years to see a boy that she fell in love with while in college. Reading that made me tear up - it touched my heart and made me realize how lucky I am to have all that I have in my life and that I need to appreciate everything so much more. This is such a good book - I cannot recommend it enough, especially for women, so that we can be aware of how hard life still is for other women in the world. There is still a lot of progress that needs to be done in terms of education and equal rights.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Lora Grigorova

    The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices: http://readwithstyle.wordpress.com/20... Reading The Good Women of China has been particularly painful – and I doubt as painful for men as it is actually for women. After the Cultural Revolution and Deng Xiaoping’s policies to open up China to the West many journalists began enjoying freedom of speech – or at least much more freedom of speech than during the Communist rule. In the 1980s Xinran, a Chinese journalist, started hosting her own radio show, Words The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices: http://readwithstyle.wordpress.com/20... Reading The Good Women of China has been particularly painful – and I doubt as painful for men as it is actually for women. After the Cultural Revolution and Deng Xiaoping’s policies to open up China to the West many journalists began enjoying freedom of speech – or at least much more freedom of speech than during the Communist rule. In the 1980s Xinran, a Chinese journalist, started hosting her own radio show, Words on the Night Breeze, which gave women the unprecedented opportunity to raise their voice. Within months after the initiation of her radio program, Xinran is overwhelmed with letters – female stories during and immediately after the Cultural Revolution. In The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices Xinran tells 14 of these stories, including her own. There is nothing particularly new, at least from our point of view. Women being raped. Women being forced into arranged marriages. Women being treated inferior. Women living as beggars because their own children disowned them. A girl dying after an earthquake, trapped in a building. And her mother comforting us. Another girl losing her mind because a group of soldiers raped her. Way too many times. From my point-of-view now, more than 30 years later, it feels way too familiar. Yet it always hurts the same for a woman to hear or read about another one being treated that way. Read more: http://readwithstyle.wordpress.com/20...

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