Originally published November 3rd, 2014
“Gender issues” is such a weak term for the subject of this book. I keep coming back to a quote at the beginning from reviewer Jan Wong: “Mao said, ‘Women hold up half of heaven.’ Sadly, this remarkable book demonstrates that he was wrong. Women in China actually hold up half of hell. Xinran has written the first realistic portrayal of women in China. Read it, and weep.”
I wish I could tell you Wong was being overly dramatic. I wish I had any sort of assurance that things were better now. But these stories span decades. Generations. Many of them from the late 80’s. And one of the things I have learned as a woman in a male-dominated field is that the group with the power is loathe to open their eyes to the hardship their actions cause others, and even slower to admit fault. Meaningful change is glacial even in countries where the press and populace are free. How much longer will change take in a country where the rules are so different and dissidence is punishable by death?
It doesn’t seem right to give this book a star rating, as if I could assess the enjoyment I had reading it and that should be the gauge of its value. It’s simple, straight-forward, clear, and with my limited expertise I would say both author Xinran and translator Tyldesley did good work creating the English version of this book. On those aspects I would give it four stars. But that’s kind of like giving a star rating to the (hospital) birth of your first child based on how tasty the food and how comfortable the bed. It touches on some aspects of the experience but completely misses the point. There are some experiences that are unquantifiable. This was one of them.