WildChina Book Club: The Good Women of China By Xinran (Event #56)
For our January 2021 book club, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Xinran, author of the international bestseller The Good Women of China.
This unprecedented work of history, heralded by the Observer as a book that “demands attention,” bears witness to the struggles and pain facing Chinese women in the latter half of the 20th century. During the 1990s, a period of ‘openness and reconstruction’ for China was also one where – beneath the surface – the country’s women were grappling with the consequences of decade-long policies of restriction and cultural expectations of emotional repression and stoicism.
For these people, they hardly had a chance to share their story and [you can] hear their heart shout out to say that they’re not alone.
In her heartrending book, Xinran handpicks these real-life – often harrowing – accounts during her time as a radio show host in China. Her immensely popular radio show, Words On the Night Breeze, offered women the chance to share their stories on air. With hundreds of submissions pouring in, Xinran realized the magnitude of women’s repression and suffering, as well as her platform’s power to share their untold experiences. She was giving them visibility and emotional catharsis in an era when they were often silenced.
Xinran has gone on to found Mother’s Bridge of Love, a charity that aims to support Chinese children around the world, and also continues her work in detailing women’s experiences across China.
In our conversation, Xinran joins WildChina’s founder Mei Zhang to reflect on her experience as a radio journalist, how it has shaped the way she tries to understand today’s society in China, and what it can teach us about the generational and cultural divide.
Here are some highlights from our conversation:
Editor’s note: Text has been slightly modified for brevity. Please be aware that there is a reference to suicide in the excerpt below that some readers might find upsetting.
Mei: One thing that struck me a lot was how much emotion and time you invested with each interviewee, often as their confidante. Describe what your emotional arc was like.
Xinran: When I started my radio show in the late 80s, I got so many letters; about 80% of them were from women. [One of the letters was from a woman who later committed suicide] I learned that had I just been there to listen, even as a drop in the water, it would have made a difference. That was enough for her to live. It got me to reflect on why this happened, and it’s because no one was there to listen [to her pain]…
My late husband [Ted Eady] chose the title for the book. He said, “This book is dedicated to the good women of China.” They neither had the celebrity nor power, but they all had love and a set of beliefs for their children, family, and themselves… so in fact, they are the ‘good women of China.’
Mei: You must have some form of trauma from your experiences reporting. Is writing, for you, a way of healing?
Xinran: It’s a powerhouse to have these stories. So many of them [women in China] want to share their story, but don’t have a chance to do it. For these people, they hardly had a chance to share their story and [you can] hear their heart shout out to say that they’re not alone.
Mei: What’s your next work?
Xinran: I’m writing a new book about Chinese men. A daughter uncovers her father’s letters … to his three loves: his wife, his daughter, and his secret lover… It’s a lot of work but this is my way of trying to understand Chinese men.
WildChina Book Club: The Good Women of China By Xinran (January 28, 2021)
Journalist & Writer
Xinran was born in Beijing in 1958 and moved to London in 1997 to write for The Guardian. She is author of The Good Women of China, a seminal book about the lives of Chinese women, and Sky Burial. Her charity, The Mothers’ Bridge of Love, was founded to help disadvantaged Chinese children and to build a bridge of understanding between the West and China.
- Mei ZhangFounder and CEO of WildChina
Mei Zhang is the founder and CEO of WildChina. Under her leadership, WildChina flourished from a small Hutong operation into an award-winning business. Mei’s own expertise has led her to win a number of personal awards, including Travel and Leisure’s A-List of Top Travel Advisors, Condé Nast Traveler’s Top Travel Specialist, and Wendy Perrin’s #WOW List of Travel Experts. Mei is an Aspen Institute China Fellow and currently serves as a member of Harvard Business School’s Alumni Board.