Self and Other: Narrativity in Xinran's the Good Women of China and Sky Burial

By Lai, Amy | Connotations : a Journal for Critical Debate, January 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

Self and Other: Narrativity in Xinran's the Good Women of China and Sky Burial


Lai, Amy, Connotations : a Journal for Critical Debate


In the past two decades, a number of Chinese diaspora writers have attained worldwide fame and sparked the interests of historians and literary critics. Nobel Prize winner Gao Xingjian aside, one of the most prominent figures is Jung Chang, author of the best-selling and award-winning memoir Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China (1990), while Xinran (her full name Xinran Xue) is a much more recent example. Also born in the 1950s and an emigrant to the United Kingdom, she is the author of The Good Women of China [Zhongguo de haonuyan] (2002) and Sky Burial [Tianzang] (2004), both of which were originally written in Chinese, before being translated into English and other languages and sold all over the world.

Despite the popularity and high appraisal of Xinran's works, to date no critical study of either of them has been documented. This is probably because they have generally been categorized as auto/biographical literature and social documentaries, appreciated more for the realistic portraits which they offer of Chinese women as well as their socio-cultural and historical backgrounds, than for the literary and aesthetic values which are by no means lacking in these genres. This essay aims to explore the images of Chinese women, but especially how the first-person narrator, or "I," interacts with the female characters in a genre that traverses fact and fiction. It will pay particular attention to the narrative structures, which help to bring out the concepts of "sameness" and "difference" in the representation of female subjects.

The Good Women of China is a collection of true stories gathered by Xinran when she worked as the host of Words on the Night Breeze, the first radio talk show in China. The program stemmed from her obsession with the question: "What is a woman's life really worth in China?" (Lambert). After much persuasion and many meetings before getting approved at Henan Broadcasting, it ran from 1989 to 1995, first as a pre-recorded ten-minute slot subject to much editing and examination, and later in the form of hotline, enabling people to openly discuss such personal matters as family, gender and sexuality. As such, the program attempts to offer a realistic and multifaceted picture of Chinese women while fulfilling a therapeutic outlet for them, a large number of whom have lived through the chaos and general poverty in the early days of the Communist takeover and during the Cultural Revolution, to the post-Mao era and the mid-1990s, in a more liberal society with generally better living conditions.

As Liz Stanley explains, most auto/biography is concerned with "great lives" (4),1 but the obsession with the "great and in/famous" would lead to many gaps in history, and stories of "obscure" people are very often more significant historically (8). The artfulness of auto/biography becomes a concern for feminists, as those important enough to have written their own stories, or to have their stories being written, are infrequently women, except those who are "infamous," "glamorous," and those who are "stars" and/or the wives of famous men (26). Describing the lives of ordinary women in Chinese history and labeling them as "good," Xinran not only helps to fill the gaps in Chinese history, but questions the traditional Chinese standards of a "good woman," which stipulate that she must be demure and gentle, a good housewife and a good lover, and that she must produce a son. If Xinran's criteria of a good woman are not exactly obvious from her book, then at least she stated them clearly during one of her interviews: "If we don't look down on ourselves, we are good. If we know how to love, how to give love, how to feel toward other people, then we are good" (Hong).

These good women, among others, include a girl whose only way of escaping from her sexually abusive father is to make herself sick so that she can stay at the hospital; a university student who, after receiving a kiss from her boyfriend and subsequently labeled a "bad woman" by her neighbor and parents, kills herself; a widow and caring mother who turns into a garbage collector so as to be dose to her son, who is now an important government official and lives in the city; a woman trapped in a "family without feelings," whose marriage was arranged by the Communist Party, and who has been used by her husband to prove his upright character, but with neither a wife's rights nor a mother's position; a woman with a lot of "feelings but no family," who was forced to part with her lover during the revolution, only to realize that he has long married another women with three children when they meet again after 45 years; a Nationalist Party general's daughter who, failing to flee to Taiwan, is tortured by the Red Guards and villagers and loses her mind; a "fashionable woman" whose successful career is born of her failed marriage and an unhappy romance; women in a far-off village whose only pleasure in life is the bowl of egg with water and sugar after they have given birth to a boy, and who typically have prolapsed wombs caused by the dry leaves which they use as sanitary napkins. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Self and Other: Narrativity in Xinran's the Good Women of China and Sky Burial
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.