The Good Women of China (China)

Book # 14

The Good Women of China by Xinran, translated by Esther Tyldesley

My only experience in China was a dumpling-filled three days in Shanghai using their short-term visitor visa program traveling from Cambodia to Japan. I was in awe of the city, the people, and the modern way of life. Coming from Cambodia - it all felt very foreign.

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There is so much more of China I’d like to experience. And The Good Women of China helped me understand what women experienced in their country during the mid to late 1900s.

The author Xinran, was an employee of the state owned radio group in the 1990s. She had a show that drew a lot of women listeners and she eventually convinced the station leaders to allow a call-in segment so she could share the voices of women throughout the country. What she found, and what her listeners heard, were harrowing stories of loss, assault, and anguish. Most of which were not being shared in other venues. Women had little idea others like them were facing similar hardship.

Xinran weaves together the stories of these women in an emotional book that includes a running narrative of the impact her show had on the other employees of the radio station. The perspectives of the men and younger women she works with pushes her to find even more hidden stories and sends her on travels near and far.

Many of the stories impacted me, but the one I won’t easily forget is the chapter titled, “The Mothers Who Endured an Earthquake”. Xinran visits the city of Tangshan, where an earthquake destroyed the town in 1976 and more than 300,000 people lost their lives. Due to a major breakdown in communication technology at the time, the other cities and communities in China didn’t learn about the earthquake until days later. Many people suffered incredible losses with no immediate help.

Women who lost their entire families eventually started an orphanage in the city to help raise the children who lost their parents. It’s heart breaking to hear how these women watched their family members disappear before them, or be trapped for 14 days before eventually passing away. The images stick with you.

I really appreciated this book for the wide range of stories Xinran shares - from young girls in the countryside, to University students in the city, and successful businesswomen - she digs into the true nature of their history to help us understand what life was like for women in China at the time. I only wonder how much has really changed.