Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Daughter of Han

I am always looking for new (to me) and interesting books on China to read. I recently read an amazing book that explains the life of a Chinese peasant woman in pre-Communist China. The book is, "A Daughter of Han... The Autpbiography of a Chinese Working Woman". This book is written by an American woman, Ida Pruitt, who lived in China in the late 30s. The book was written in 1945. For the book, Ida Pruitt interviewed a woman named Ning Lao Tai Tai (Tai Tai is a formal way to say wife in Mandarin).

Ning Lao Tai Tai had a very difficult life. She came from a poor family, and her father married her to a man who came to have an opium addiction. She had two children (who lived) by this man. She calls him her 'old opium sot' in the book. This man didn't work often, and over the course of her life Ning Lao Tai Tai was forced to work many jobs such as maid, beggar, street saleswoman, etc. She worked hard for her whole life in order to take care of her children (and later her grandchildren). She also married her daughter to a man who had an opium addiction and her daughter had a hard life. She was such a strong woman and she saw so many different parts of Chinese history during her lifetime. Ning Lao Tai Tai lived during the fall of the Qing dynasty, while the Japanese occupied northern China, during the time of the Guomintang, and until the Communists were beginning to take over. The interesting thing about this book is that the ending is such a cliff-hanger. Not only that, I don't think we will ever know what happened at the end of Ning Lao Tai Tai's life. Ida Pruitt had to leave China when the communists defeated the Guomintang because China was no longer safe for foreigners. And when the book ends, Ning Lao Tai Tai's granddaughter (who is a teacher and had actually been sent by the Chinese government to the US for one year to learn more about teaching) is preparing to go to the countryside and fight with the communists. So we never know whether she was successful. As a teacher, it would have been very hard for her to survive during the Cultural Revolution, so even if she made it through the fighting, she may have been imprisoned for being a teacher (or sent to the countryside) during the Cultural Revolution.

Ning Lao Tai Tai has some very funny views about life and the world... One of her views was that the Russians were the best of the foreigners to work for. One reason is because the Russians were less stingy, and another reason is that they ate better food than other foreigners. She also felt that it was harder to work for foreigners (as a maid) than for Chinese. Her Chinese employers would put her up in a house and give her food, but the foreigners paid the same rates without room and board. She also mentions that her weakness in life was always her temper. There are a few times where she is let go from a position or quits a position because she gets mad at her boss. Another interesting viewpoint is her views on Christianity. In China at that time there were a lot of missionaries living there, and there were also Chinese Christians living in her area of China. One thing she says (p. 191) about Christianity and missionaries is that she had heard that everyone in heaven will wear a crown, and the crown will have a gemstone for each person the believer converts to Christianity, and she wonders if the reason that people witness about God is to have plenty of gems in their crown.

Anyway, I highly recommend reading this book, it is super great, and was reprinted in 2010. And if you want to learn more about Chinese art and life, check out this link for Chinese folding fans.

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