Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices by Xinran

# Category: Social Science - Anth/Cultural; Social Science - Women's Studies

# Format: Trade Paperback, 256 pages

# Published: November 11, 2003, Random House

Meet Xinran

An Interview with the author on BBC's Women's Hour

"The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices" is a little book, but whatever you do, don't let its size fool you because its contents are capable of hitting you hard in the solar plexus.

This is a collection of stories about women in China put together by a journalist named Xinran who from 1989-1997 ran an incredibly popular radio show for Chinese women called "Words on the Night Breeze". The show was made possible as a result of reforms brought in by the Deng Xiaoping government and it was groundbreaking in its attempt to allow women, for the first time in sexually and culturally repressed China, to talk about their feelings on love, marriage, relationships, sex, sexual preferences, physical violence and so on. Listeners were encouraged to call the night show and leave messages for Xinran on any topic they felt like unburdening their hearts on (anonymously, ofcourse) and she would play and discuss these messages on the radio the next day. But, BUT, this being a Communist Party controlled radio station, the broadcast ran with a ten second delay and a censor was always on hand ready to pull the plug! All credit must go to Xinran (or the Chinese Oprah Winfrey as she was often referred to) for handling the calls, some of which address taboo subjects like homosexuality etc.) so adeptly.

Historically, women in China have been commodities: things to be used and reused until they were worn out. The Cultural Revolution (which is where many of Xinran's stories have their roots) for all its proclamations of equality, treated women just as badly as in feudal times. Young women were raped mercilessly by the Red Guard in-charge and educated women (from the capitalist class) were forced in marriage to peasant revolutionary men while their peasant wives had to struggle on in the village bringing up kids on their own with no chance at a remarriage- all of this created a generation of women who felt like they were worthless and powerless.

But thanks to this radio program , the Chinese women now had a voice. Many of their stories of incest, rape, forced child marriages, death etc., caused Xinran to weep and made her determined to tell these women's stories to the world, even if it put her life at risk.

While I appreciate Xinran going to such lengths to publish this book, I have to ask myself the question: Who does this book really benefit? No amount of copies sold is going to change the way women in China are treated unless their own government introduces reforms to change their lives. Therefore it stands to only benefit those of us who read it. Although I felt like a terrible voyeur, peeking into the lives of these poor women, it sure made me thankful for the life I have, also, I have come away with keener insights to Chinese thinking on love and sex. It seems to me that they take love to extremes - either they don't expect it at all (most marriages appear to be loveless ones) or they will starve themselves and commit suicide over a lost love they may have hardly known. Sex is definitely a taboo subject as a result of which many Chinese women are woefully ignorant about it - when Xinran was 22 years old she still believed that you could get pregnant simply by holding your boyfriend's hand!

My little peeves about the book: Xinran presents these harrowing stories of women in modern China, but she doesn't provide any solutions or ideas as to how the suffering of the Chinese women may be alleviated. Also, some parts of it, especially the serendipitous meetings with a couple of women callers, seem contrived and not altogether believable. Nevertheless, this is a good book for every woman, and also every man, to read and you come away very thankful for your lot in life. I will warn you however, that should you choose to make this a summer read, be prepared for these sad stories to cause your warm summer air to chill a little.


Dave said...

Testing 123 testing 123 come in lotus can you read me ... over.

Lotus Reads said...

ha-ha, I read you DJ, thanks! I've placed the comments on moderation only because I'll be away for a while. I'm glad to know it works! :)