In the late 1980s, Chinese journalist Xinran started a radio program entitled Words on the Night Breeze. She asked women of all walks of life to share their stories with her in order to explore the lives of women in China. At the time, the country was beginning to open up, though many were still recovering from their experiences in the Cultural Revolution. The program proved extremely popular and Xinran received hundreds of stories every single day. In The Good Women of China, Xinran includes several of these stories along with her own experience in collecting them. Some had been censored by Communist Party-controlled media and had to wait until Xinran moved to the West in order to be published.
As in most of Asia - indeed, much of the world - the status of women in China is very poor. Even the egalitarian promises of Maoism did little to change that reality. Men own everything. Women have severely limited rights. Culturally speaking, the best thing a woman can do in her life is bear a son. None of this should come as a surprise to the reader. The personal narratives Xinran shares reveal how it all plays out on an individual level. There are stories of rape, sexual abuse, neglect, public shaming and more. It is by no means an easy read but it's undeniably important.
If you're prepared to be shocked out of your comfort zone, The Good Women of China is certainly a worthwhile read. Westerners tend to see Asia as culturally monochrome, often failing to recognize the diversity among its cultures, not to mention within individual nations. China is enormous, the culture of any one region vastly different from others. Indeed, Xinran's project expands her own concept, putting her in contact with parts of the country she would probably never have seen otherwise. While Wild Swans by Jung Chang adheres to many of the same themes, Xinran's book covers a much broader cross-section of society.