The Good Women of China by Xinran - Book Review - Kristopher Cook

The Good Women of China by Xinran

An uncompromising look at the lives of women living in China, from the cultural revolution to modern-day life. Xinran’s The Good Women of China packs a serious punch and will make you think long and hard about the notion of change within, until recently, a closed country.

Although these changes have made the country more stable and instrumental in accepting others, at what cost? Specifically, how have the women in China been the ones to carry this significant burden?

Radio GaGa

For over eight years, Xinran uses her radio programme to address women living in China. As her broadcast popularity grows, so does the amount of mail she receives concerning the terrible treatment of women within such a fast-paced developing country.

For centuries of being seen as second-class and having to submit to men along with political turmoil, this has left women in a terrible way.

Through her celebrity appeal, Xinran wins the trust of many of these women. And using her compassionate and caring insight, she has retold many of their stories in this book.

At that time in China, I might have gone to prison for writing a book like this. I couldn’t risk abandoning my son, or the women who received help and encouragement through my radio programme.

Xinran, The Good Women of China

Much like McNamara’s I’ll be Gone in the Dark, Xinran uses her own experiences to narrate the chapters, creating a unique, untold journey through the many struggles of modern-day Chinese Women.

Political Understanding           

Xinran is clearly trying to show other women in China that they are not alone. However, due to the restrictions placed on public broadcasts, her radio show, Words on the Night Breeze, must remain aligned with the communist message. If she deviates too far from this, there will be severe consequences.

As China opened its doors to the outside world, it also began restricting its citizens’ free speech. This is a prominent focus here, where a cultural revolution brought much suffering to many, none more so than women.

The Good Women of China was first published in 2002 after Xinran moved to England five years prior. She claims that the book would never have been printed in China due to its anti-propaganda messages.

A Mother’s Tears

The stories here are truly unforgettable. From the highly resourceful nature of the women to the brutal suffering many endure, there are many insights into China’s past and present.

This book was much more profound than I was expecting. I had a rough idea that things were terrible in the past, but to the exact extent, I was unsure. But to see this inhumaneness still being prevalent after all these years is harrowing.

After her cry for help, it seemed to me even more imperative that I use their tears, and my own, to create a path towards understanding.

Xinran, The Good Women of China

I read much of this book between anger and sadness. The discrepancies aren’t between ethnic regions, religious or political factions, but ultimately between men and women.

No matter what the environment or upheaval, there are always men with power willing to take advantage. The antipathy of this is in chapter five, The Mothers Who Endured an Earthquake. To see their heartbreak repeated over is crushing and will stay with you long after reading.

I should also mention that this book deals heavily with sexual abuse. And that goes for those as young as kids, all the way up to the older generations. Whenever there’s unrest, there’s an excuse for men to take what they want.

But that’s not to say every man in these stories is bad. There are plenty of examples of kind-hearted strangers taking pity on these women, some going as far as imprisonment to protect them. In these moments, we need to take solace and recognise that not everyone on the other side is a bad guy.

Closing Thoughts

This book is a must-read if you want to learn more about how women are seen and treated within the Chinese hierarchy.

Xinran expertly navigates from one anecdote to another whilst intertwining her own personal stories of oppression and heartbreak into the mix. Many of these stories are devastating, but they’re also necessary to better understand how to correct these issues going forward.

Thankfully, China is becoming a much more diverse nation, and the easing of the one-child policy has had a big part in equalling the role of women within society. Just last week, it was announced that Chinese couples will now be allowed three children – although there is scepticism about how much good this policy will achieve – But I’ll leave you to debate that below.

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